I suspect by now that you know I love a good mystery, particularly those that are set between the wars, as I’ve mentioned this liking several times before. On a winter afternoon, nothing beats reading a mystery in a quiet corner of the Estate Library with a post of first blush Darjeeling tea and some chocolate biscuits. Bliss! And that’s why I was in the mystery section of our Library looking for something interesting which is I found this novel.
Fer-de-Lance which was first published in 1934 by Farrar & Reinhart. It’s the first novel in the Nero Wolfe series which lasted until 1975 when Stout died. (Three more stories would be printed in 1985.) Stout would also write The Nero Wolfe Cookbook and several other pieces including one on why Nero Wolfe likes orchids.
Nero Wolfe is an eighth of a ton recluse who rarely leaves the Manhattan brownstones he owns, so he raises rare orchids, enjoys gourmand meals prepared by Fritz, reads a lot of books, and solves mysteries. Stout noted in an interview that Wolfe is fifty six, and, like all the characters in this series, he’s the same age throughout the series.. Born in Montenegro, the best comparison in fiction is Mycroft Holmes, brother of Sherlock , who almost never ventures beyond the Diogenes Club. (English clubs have rooms for members to live in.) So has does a recluse like him gather information and solve mysteries?
That’d be Archie Goodwin, the first person narrator of all these novels. Archie is in his early thirties, fit, and with a memory that’s good enough to remember and recall whole conversations verbatim. He lives at the brownstone, serves as Wolfe’s dogsbody and keeps Wolfe’s correspondence, financial records, banking, and even maintains the records related to Wolfe’s orchid raising. His only eccentricity is he only drinks milk.
Fer-de-Lance is about the murder of a golfer killed by a trick club that shot a poisoned dart into him killing whim within minutes. Need I say that the victim was from the suburbs and all the witnesses are also from the same town? And that nobody Archie interviews is less than honest with him?
As in every Nero Wolfe novel, the mystery, though usually clever, is far, far less important than the characters that inhabit this particular universe and the first person narration. Goodwin’s an intelligent, perceptive narrator who like Wolfe but is fully aware of his limitations.
I should stress that the characters here are not as fleshed out as they will be later in the novels, something Stout noted in interviews he did over the years.
Highly recommended if you like mysteries that are set in this period as it does a very good job of depicted the world Wolfe and Goodwin inhabit.
(Farrar & Rinehart, 1934)