To become part of the Nero Wolfe legend, Archie Goodwin must prove his worth
Archie Goodwin comes to New York City hoping for a bit of excitement. In his third week working as a night watchman, he stops two burglars in their tracks—with a pair of hot lead slugs. Dismissed from his job for being “trigger-happy,” he parlays his newfound notoriety into a job as a detective’s assistant, helping honest sleuth Del Bascom solve cases like the Morningside Piano Heist, the Rive Gauche Art Gallery Swindle, and the Sumner-Hayes Burglary. But it’s the kidnapping of Tommie Williamson, the son of a New York hotel magnate, that introduces Goodwin to the man who will change his life. Young Tommie has gone missing, and only one detective is built for the job: Nero Wolfe, the heavyset genius of West Thirty-Fifth Street. Together they will form one of the most unlikely crime fighting duos in history—but first Goodwin must find Tommie Williamson, and prove to Wolfe that he deserves a place by his side.
So, if you’ve read my blog in the past, you will know that I absolutely adore the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. I was first introduced to the characters through the A&E TV series, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, starring Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. The series was unique in that the same ensemble of guest actors were utilized to play characters in each episode, in a similar style to the traditional theatre troupe. This tv series led to me picking up the novels, and I have shared reviews for both The Black Orchids and Cordially Invited to Meet Death. It is safe to say that I am a Nero Wolfe fan! So, I didn’t hesitate to pick up Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe Mysteries. I have read this novel a number of times, and as I consider it one of my favorites, I decided it was in desperate need of a reread. I still enjoy the story, but sadly I no longer consider it one of my favorites. So let’s get in to the review.
The story is about how Archie Goodwin meets Nero Wolfe, and his journey to becoming the famous detective’s right hand man. Archie has just moved to New York City, and doesn’t last a month at his first job because he’s too deadly with a gun. He takes up as an assistant for gum-shoe, Del Bascom, and discovers there is more to being a detective than what he reads in his favorite dime novels. But not surprisingly, Archie is a natural, and his success on small cases lands him on a crew of detectives working for Nero Wolfe and investigating the kidnapping of young Tommie Williamson.
Archie Meets Nero Wolfe is longer than the short novel style of the original Rex Stout stories, but stays true to the form in that it is told from Archie’s point of view. This style of narrative pulls the reader into the story and gives you an intimate understanding of both Archie and the investigation. The mystery is unique enough to keep the reader involved, with a good steady pacing that pulls you along as the clues unfold. Goldsborough does an excellent job capturing Archie’s charismatic yet headstrong personality, and he accurately presents favorite staple characters, such as Inspector Cramer, Fred Durkin, and Saul Panzer. I had no problem picturing each of them as they stalk through New York City on the trail of the kidnappers. It is a great mystery with a nice crew of quirky characters.
But, there are a couple of things that made me take Archie Meets Nero Wolfe off my ‘favorite books’ list. The first is the story is good if you are already a fan of the original series. Though I felt Goldsborough captured the essence of most of the characters, I would have been a little disappointed in the character development if I didn’t already know who these men were. The mystery is great, but the character development requires previous knowledge of the players. The second is I was disappointed in was the lack of banter between Archie and Wolfe. Sure, I understand that this is just the beginning of their association and the two haven’t had a chance to establish their snarky relationship, but it left Nero Wolfe feeling flat. We don’t see him get flustered. We don’t hear the snark behind his comments. We don’t get to hear one single ‘Phooey!’ Those are things that endear readers to Nero Wolfe, and I definitely noticed that something was missing.
I wouldn’t recommend Archie Meets Nero Wolfe as an intro to the eccentric detective. Read The Black Orchids, watch the tv show, and then come back to this story because you can appreciate it once you actually know the characters.
So, is anyone else a Nero Wolfe fan? Let me know which mystery is your favorite!