Last night’s discussion on Fer-de-Lance the first Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novel by Rex Stout was quite lively – and included input from Stout’s “son” Robert Goldsborough, who also attended the meeting. (More on Bob will follow!)
We talked about how there was a feel of Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson about the story, but that it was still uniquely its own partnership. Here the partnership involves another eccentric genius of crime solving (Wolfe) but his “Watson” is decidedly different! Archie has far more in common with the emerging American PIs of the time: Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. In a sense, Wolfe crafted a unique merging of traditional mystery with private eye novels – and somehow he got it all to work!
We talked about the pair: how amusing Archie’s narration is, and wondering why he’s always drinking milk; whether Nero was merely large, or heavily overweight, how his insistence in severely limiting his venturing outside the brownstone where he lives, is a major difference between Nero and Sherlock – and how many mystery fans have speculated on whether or not Wolfe is actually the love child of Sherlock and Irene Adler – or even Mycroft and Irene Adler! (We posed this idea to Bob once he joined us, and he was familiar with the idea (but only of Sherlock and Irene) – and that someone at a Sherlockian dinner once pelted Rex Stout with a dinner roll for even suggesting that he (Stout) was inspired by Sherlock in his creation of Wolfe!
He then shared how several things in Fer-de-Lance differ from Stout’s other books about the pair. In particular, he mentioned the hot-tempered Inspector Cramer head of the NYC homicide division who is a worthy opponent for Wolfe, while being a straight-shooter. Bob also mentioned that while Fer-de-Lance includes a very brief appearance by Purley Stebbins, Purley later becomes Cramer’s Sergeant in other books. He also mentioned that there is indeed a specific love interest for Archie as the books progressed named Lily Rowan, a wealthy society woman who insists that she’s lazy, but who organizes a number of charity efforts.
Bob and the group also talked about Stout’s unusual approach to writing the series: he starts “in the middle” with very little backstory on Wolfe or Archie. This enabled him to produce books that can be read in any order, without losing something in the character development. Bob is rightly proud of continuing to ensure that Wolfe, Archie, and Stout’s other characters remain consistent from book to book, so that readers know that the Wolfe, etc. they meet in one book, will be the same Wolfe they’ll read in the others.
Bob Goldsborough not only added fun facts specifically about Fer-de-Lance, but also about Stout, and how Bob came to writing new adventures for Nero and Archie. Bob was selected by Stout’s sisters to publish new stories about Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. This came at a time when the Stout sisters were unhappy with how Bantam was lacking promotion of their father’s backlist and that the stories were not reaching new readers. Bob had written his first Nero/Archie novel, Murder in E Minor, for his mother as a Christmas present, and Bantam used it to stir interest in the original stories by Stout. Bantam published 6 more Wolfe novels with Bantam. He then created his own detective, Snap Malek, who lives in the 1930s-40s time frame, but in Chicago. There are five novels in this series. At that point, Bob became interested in doing another Wolfe & Archie story – but one that preceded Fer-de-Lance. Set in 1930, it is the story of how Archie Meets Nero Wolfe – which is also the title of the book! He has maintained a relationship with the two sisters, and approached them with the idea of doing this, and other “early” stories of Wolfe and Archie – and again, got their permission.
Our library has the current four books of Goldsborough's “prequel” setting for Archie and Nero. They are (ironically, in publication order):
Archie Meets Nero Wolfe
Murder in the Ball Park
Archie in the Crosshairs
Stop the Presses!
Never doubt Bob’s commitment and enthusiasm for Nero and Archie: when we brought up Archie’s curious habit of always drinking milk, Bob shared that Archie is a farm boy from Ohio (?) who would’ve been brought up drinking fresh milk – which we concurred he seems to be a milk connoisseur. But when another member postulated that maybe Archie had an ulcer, Bob responded, “He never mentioned it” (!)
Being the great sport he is, Bob also became a participant in “Stake the Cake” (picture will be up soon), by having at the cake we had that was dedicated to both Rex Stout and Bob as “the writers of Nero and Archie” –Wolfe and Goodwin are lucky to have them both!