Friday 11 October 2019

Forgotten Book - Fer-De-Lance

Of all the great American crime writers, Rex Stout has been something of a blind spot for me. Many years ago, Some Buried Caesar was strongly recommended to me, and I was underwhelmed. But he was an important figure in the genre, and I decided to give him another try. I opted for the first Nero Wolfe mystery, Fer-de-Lance, which dates from 1934.

The story was the first recorded case of Wolfe and his sidekick Archie Goodwin, who narrates. But as Loren D. Estleman, who wrote the intro to my paperback edition says, you really wouldn't realise this - the duo are portrayed compellingly, and as Estleman points out, that portrayal really didn't vary during their long career. Wolfe was the supreme armchair detective, and Archie did the leg-work.

It was a clever idea, to combine a Great Detective in the classic mould with a character who might have sprung from the pulp magazines, and Stout married the two traditions to better effect than perhaps anyone else. I was more impressed this time around than on my first encounter with his work, and the mystery is a clever one. But although I'm warming to Stout, I still wouldn't class myself as a devotee.

The principal murder method here is very much in the Golden Age tradition, and so is the idea of murder committed on a golf course, while the vivid finale is in keeping with the action story template. It's also historically interesting that Wolfe is struggling financially because he is as affected by the Great Depression as everyone else in the US at the time, an unusual aspect of the story which did appeal to me. Well worth reading, and some regard this one as a masterpiece. 

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