Bantam Books, 1992; 290 pages
First published 1934
As any herpetologist will tell you, the fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes known to man. When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin knows he's getting dreadfully close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president. As for Wolfe, he's playing snake charmer in a case with more twists than an anaconda -- whistling a seductive tune he hopes will catch a killer who's still got poison in his heart.My Thoughts:
In Fer-de-Lance, Nero Wolfe solves two seemingly unconnected murder cases, shows that they are indeed connected (making the authorities look like blockheads), and avoids an attempt on his own life -- all without ever leaving his house!
This is the first book in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mystery series, published almost 80 years ago. I've read other books in the series (and enjoyed a lot of the movies and TV shows based on the books), but somehow I'd managed to skip this first installment until this year. What an idiot! Such a wonderful book -- now I'm hooked on the classic series and I'll be moving on to the second book, The League of Frightened Men.
If you're not familiar with the series, you should understand that Nero Wolfe is a crime-solving genius. As the publisher's blurb says, he's an "arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth" who grows rare orchids on an upper floor of his Manhattan brownstone. He runs his detective service out of the same brownstone, and since he never leaves the place (well, very rarely anyway), he employs the younger Archie Goodwin as his more-mobile partner/assistant/legman. They're a very appealing but extremely unlikely duo -- a sort of American Holmes and Watson. That is, if you can imagine Watson as a wise-cracking tough guy in a fedora.
The books are narrated by Goodwin, and he's an excellent story-teller. He admires his employer without being completely overawed by him, and frequently disagrees with Wolfe (although he doesn't always let the great man know it). One interesting note about their partnership -- even though this is the first book in the series, Goodwin establishes early on that they've already been together for a number of years; and he refers to several cases they've solved in the past, as though the reader should be familiar with their work. Sounds like it would be confusing, but it really just adds to the pleasure.
After a string of so-so reads, I'm happy to say this is one I enjoyed without any reservations whatsoever!