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Mystery Monday – Fer-De-Lance

Fer-De-Lance by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


About 25 years ago, when I was young and immature, I decided I didn’t like Rex Stout’s mysteries starring Nero Wolfe. After reading a fistful of them – perhaps one after another six times was a mistake – I decided that I had had enough. Wolfe and his pompous vocabulary. Wolfe and his dreary  orchids. Wolfe and his indolent immovability. Archie and his milky milk.

But recently an archeologist lent me the first one of dozens of books, Fer-de-Lance, first published in 1934. In the spirit of open-mindedness, I read a story in which Wolfe and his wiseacre sidekick Archie Goodwin are hired by the sister of a missing metalworker. Then, a university president is killed on the links by the kind of diabolical yet complicated device only found in whodunnits from The Golden Age of Mysteries.

I must confess I found it more enjoyable than I expected. Although this was first of many books, I got the feeling that Stout had been living with the characters a long time. Archie often refers to cases Wolfe and he solved in the past and this imparts a warm, familiar feeling to the reader. Recall that in the Holmes stories, Conan Doyle uses this device to tantalize the reader, making her think, “That would’ve been a cool story.” And like Holmes’ London, we are completely persuaded by Wolfe and Archie’s New York City in the Thirties.

The other strong point was the humorous conversation between two characters that have a core admiration and liking for each other. The squabbles between Wolfe and Archie are at once acerbic and genial. “I am merely a genius,” Wolfe chides Archive, not a god.”

Stout takes a big chance by revealing the identity of the perp about 50 pages from the end. Usually the reveal ends the interest I have in a mystery, especially one like this that approaches 300 pages. But the action as to how they will deliver justice to the perp is spun out so engagingly that I happily finished the book. Stout weakly describes appearances of people and places, the plotting isn’t terribly strong, but the characterization and dialogue make this well worth reading.

So, inevitably older and hopefully wiser, I have seen the light. Maybe what a blog commenter said is true, “Rex’s Nero is an acquired taste although people of a certain age easily acquire it. Younger people seem to find him tedious and pretentious.” While I’m not going to read the entire canon of 70-some novels and 40 or so novellas, I would like to read the more outstanding novels and novellas. Leave a comment or PM me with your recommendations, please.










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One Response to “Mystery Monday – Fer-De-Lance”

  1. Opal Hernandez says:

    I really liked Laura Hilldebrand’s novel ‘Seabiscuit’ so this one looks like a great choice for the Free Friday offer. I had not read the blog but will definitely continue reading it.

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