I've been recommending the Nero Wolfe novels to my buddy Rod Lott who run smy favorite book review site Bookgasm. I'm not the only one. LOTS of people have been recommending the Wolfes to him.
Well, Rod finally got around to reading the first two and he did not, to say the least, enjoy them. I love them but I have to admit he had me laughing out loud in places. Here are a few of his takes on those sacred books.
Fer-De-Lance / The League of Frightened Men
Author: Rod Lott
I’ve long been intrigued by Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, especially with comparisons that place the detective character alongside Sherlock Holmes or Perry Mason. With Bantam now reissuing the mysteries in affordable two-in-one trade paperbacks, starting with FER-DE-LANCE / THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN, I was able to see what the fuss was all about.
I’m no longer intrigued. Now I’m just perplexed. There may be dozens upon dozens of Wolfe novels out there, but I honestly can’t see how he became so popular. Let’s face it: The guy’s an absolute asshole. There, I said it.
Call me crazy, but aren’t protagonists supposed to be likable? Or at least get to that point before the last page? In his introduction to FER-DE-LANCE, Loren D. Estleman makes a big to-do about Wolfe never changing over the course of some 46 books; in that case, I look forward to never reading the other 44. Wolfe is a morbidly obese man who rarely moves from his chair, talks down to everyone else when he isn’t merely insulting them, and has his younger associate Archie Goodwin do most of his dirty work. (Don’t get me started on Goodwin, either; he has arrogance to burn as well.) In short-story form, that’s tolerable; in novels, not for me, thanks.
Stout certainly couldn’t have known that seven decades later, America would be a fast-food nation that would make Wolfe’s weight commonplace. But remove even that from the equation, and you still have the problem of thoroughly unpleasant personalities. In real life, I wouldn’t want to spend two minutes in the same room with someone whose mood is so pompous and foul, so spending several hundred pages was a true struggle.
I’m fully aware all of the above will strike some as sacrilege. For them, you’ll be pleased to know this special edition includes Stout’s character sketches and drawing of Wolfe’s pad in between the two novels. Eat it up! —Rod Lott