Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Montenegro - and Nero Wolfe

Montenegro isn't a country I'd associate with classic detective fiction - at least so I thought, until I remembered belatedly that one of the great sleuths of American mystery fiction hailed from Montenegro. This was Nero Wolfe, who featured in many novels written by Rex Stout. I've only read one or two of them, though, and I can't remember Montenegro featuring. It's years since I tried Stout - I was a bit underwhelmed with the widely admired Some Buried Caesar - and perhaps it's time to give him another go.

All this is by way of preamble to my last bit of reminiscence about last week's Adriatic cruise. The final port of call was a place called Kotor, which I must admit I'd never heard of. It is situated, rather idyllically, at the end of what is sometimes called Europe's southernmost fjord. In fact, it's a river canyon, but however you describe it, there's no denying that it's breathtakingly lovely.

Kotor is a small walled town with a long and notable history. Monttenegro only declared independence about six years ago, but in one guise or another, this little bit of Europe has played a part in much of the continent's history. Today, it's a place where tourism offers the potential for a brighter, and more peaceful future. The idea of a "wine and book shop" certainly deserves to catch on in my opinion, though sadly they didn't stock any Nero Wolfes.

Testament to Kotor's history of getting embroiled in warfare is the walled fortress at the top of the cliff that looms above the town. I started walking up to the fortress without having any real idea of how far away it was. By the time I'd begun to realise, it felt as though it would be wrong to turn back, so I carried on to the top. Apparently there are roughly 1350 steps from the town to the top, a climb that took about an hour, but believe me, I was too busy trying to get my breath back to count. At least the stunning views made it absolutely worthwhile.

I didn't see any reference to Nero Wolfe in Kotor. Maybe he didn't come from that part of the country. But who knows? One of these days Montenegro may have its own Wolfe trail. Nero might even do for the place what Morse did for Oxford. In the meantime, the beauty of the place is a more than good enough reason to visit it.


Lesley Cookman said...

Isn't it beautiful? I've always wanted to go there, and yes, Nero Wolfe came from Montenegro, and in The Black Mountain he and Archie go back to avenge a death. He may have come from Cetinje, but I've just flicked through and can't see if he really does. Yes - I'm a Nero Nerd. Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh and JD Carr/Carter Dickson started me on the path when I was nine and given the run of my parents bookshelves. Carry on.

Christos G. Makrypoulias said...

Very interesting post, Martin. A couple of years ago my wife was writting a book on a 12th-century chronicle, and Kotor was one of the many places mentioned therein. I helped her by researching the various place-names and I feel that I am quite acquainted with (though at times also sick and tired of!) the coastal towns of the region. If only we could visit them like you did! By the way, there is a fjord-like inlet at the small coastal town of Galaxidi in southern Greece, so don't believe everything those Montenegrins have been telling you!
PS: Climbing 1350 steps to visit a castle! You are a braver man than I will ever be!

Kathy D. said...

I confess to being a fan of the Wolfe/Goodwin fan. Who can resist lines such as Wolfe saying to Archie, "Archie, I am a genius, not a god."

Or also to Archie, "With your investigation, and my 'feel for phenomena,' we'll solve this case."

Wolfe was from Montenegro. This is not brought up often by Rex Stout, but plays a big role in Over My Dead Body, when a young woman claims to be his daughter.

The Doorbell Rang is a classic. It's terrific.

I also began reading these books decades ago, as a teenager, encouraged by my mystery-loving father.

I picked them up again a few years ago, inspired by a blogger. I do find the writing to vary. Some books I love; some are just hilarious. Others, no so much.

Martin Edwards said...

Great comments, thank you!
Lesley, of those you mention, I think Carr is my favourite - truly excellent mysteries.
Christos - I must search out that Greek inlet one day!
Kathy D - I will look out The Doorbell Rang on your recommendation; thanks.