Nero Wolfe

Was it a dumb idea for Rex Stout to cause his novels as written by Archie to be real within the stories?
That was the only thing that I disliked about them.

I do apologize, I have been up for a number of hours and I know you usually have logical questions, but I do not understand what you are asking with this.

Are you questioning the first-person narrative by Archie?

If so I always rather enjoyed it. I found it a nice combination of Doyle’s Watson and Chandler’s Marlow.

Since Stout attempted to write within the field of both the classical and the hardboiled detective, it was a nice move.

But you were probably asking something completely different and I just didn’t understand. If that is the case, I apologize. As I said I’m pretty tired.

TV time, I think he was commenting the Nero Wolfe novels existing as Nero Wolfe novels within the Nero Wolfe universe. It’s been a while since I read any Nero Wolfe (a lack which I may have to rectify soon), so I can’t say yea or nay as to whether the previous sentence is actually fact.

carnivorousplant, were the passages I’m assuming you’re commenting on definitely in a Stout Nero Wolfe mystery or might they have been in the Goldsboro run?

They were in the later books written in the 60’s or perhaps the 50’s.
Goldsborough changed the format by using brand names (I believe Wolfe had a Mercedes or a BMW rather than a Hudson) and made mention of time having passed. “The gold bookmark a client had given Wolfe so long ago”…I can’t see Archie driving a beamer, and now he’s too old to beat up anyone who teases him about it. :slight_smile:

Hmmm. Like I said, I’m way out of the memory loop, not having picked up a Nero Wolfe in something like three years now. Definitely wasn’t a Goldsborough, then, since his were published in the late 80s/early 90s. Can’t help you, unfortunately, except to note that in the older books, Wolfe’s car was a Heron, not a Hudson. :slight_smile:

I didn’t bug me, but I always did think it was kind of weird. I love the first person narrative, and think it’s great, but those few references to the fact that he’s actually writing the stories to be read/published do jump out at you.

I’m in the wonderful position of a person who is working through the corpus for the first time. I think I’ve read about half now, but they are getting harder and harder to find (and with a move, I haven’t started ILLing from my new library yet).

Well, I love that sort of thing. I have to start reading more Nero Wolf.

Ellery Queen did something similar. Their stories star Ellery Queen, and in the first novel The Roman Hat Mystery, the introduction states that Ellery Queen is a real detective (they weren’t of course).

And they’re both predated by Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I remember Holmes occasionally mentioning Dr. Watson’s written accounts of their adventures, which he considered exaggerated.

<< I remember Holmes occasionally mentioning Dr. Watson’s written accounts of their adventures, which he considered exaggerated. >>

I agree, and I think this adds an element of realism. If there were a real Wolfe and a real Archie, and if Archie did indeed write up some of their cases, wouldn’t Wolfe comment on them? Wouldn’t other clients?

Seems to me that if you don’t want that aspect, you’d pick a third-person narrator, like the Peter Wimsey stories.

What real detectives write about themselves?
I can only think of JJ Armes, and that my or may not be true.

I think the realism aspect is that within the internal logic of the fictional universe Stout created, Archie must have published these cases in book form. After all, how else could we be reading them? Indeed, why would he have written them down in the first place if not for publication? (Omitting the fanciful notion that Archie Goodwin would keep a diary.)

Once Stout made the fateful decision to use a first person narrator*, the “Archie-chronicles-these-cases-in-book-form” explanation is the only logical rationale for us to have access to Archie’s words. I suppose Stout could have avoided having Archie stating this explicitly within the text, but the readers would likely have inferred it anyway – if only when considering the fact of Wolfe’s oft-mentioned fame. Surely Wolfe and Archie’s worldwide acclaim isn’t just due to all those articles by Lon Cohen in the Gazette! :slight_smile:

I mean, yeah, sometimes it’s hard to imagine exactly when Archie would have time to write, what with dealing with the often skittish clientele who might not appreciate the rigidity of Wolfe’s daily schedule, tipping off the press, handling Wolfe’s copious correspondence, flirting with all women under thirty (and a few select ones over Archie’s age limit), keeping track of thousands of orchids’ germination records, playing poker with the three 'teers (and Lon), baiting Lt. Rowcliff until the thug stuttered or hauled him into the slammer, going to baseball games, dancing with Lily Rowan or date du jour at the Flamingo, accompanying Wolfe to flower shows or Rusterman’s, and of course, being Wolfe’s remote eyes, ears, mouth and legs throughout their caseload.

Maybe those “germination records” he’s always working on were just a cover story he gave Wolfe to explain all the time he was hovered over a noisy typewriter secretly writing his novels!

  • And thank goodness Stout did make that choice! The snap and fizz of Archie’s writing style, peppered with humorous asides, self-deprecating admissions and pointed observations about Wolfe & assorted individuals passed along to the audience, is absolutely integral to the series.

Choie is absolutely right about the importance of Archie’s voice. Ever tried to read anything Stout wrote in third person? Absolutely dead. Yet just about everything Archie writes is gloriously alive.

“Walking up and down the platform alongside the train in the Pennsylvania Station, having wiped the sweat from my brow, I lit a cigarette with the feeling that after it had calmed my nerves a little I would be prepared to submit bids for a contract to move the Pyramid of Cheops from Egypt to the top of the Empire State Building with my bare hands, in a swimsuit, after what I had just gone through.”

That’s the opening of TOO MANY COOKS by the way. I write mysteries (only short stories published, so far) and I would kill to write that well.

Yes, Stout does have Archie make occasional references to writing up “these reports.” He never refers to them by title, or to the publishing process, and never meets anyone in his investigations who says they have read them. Modesty, I suppose. Very, very occasionally he mentions disguising a fact to protect a real person, or mentions that he can only tell this because so-and-so is dead.

But his most prominent mention of the books is in DEATH OF A DUDE. In fact, it is the best passage in that late and mediocre book. I can’t find my copy but basically Archie is in Montana interviewing a cowboy about a visitor who got a local girl pregnant.

Archie pauses to explain that a certain woman has written to him explaining that she has read all of his reports and buys some for her grandchildren when they reach a certain age. He is certain that if he quotes the cowboy accurately he will offend this woman, and what about the grandchildren who haven’t gotten any books yet? So he cleans up the language, putting in his initials after each change.

What follows is a long condemnation of easterners coming out here with their “outstanding (AG) bats (AG).” It is hilarious and manages to poke fun at censorship and profanity at the same time.

I agree that Archie’s references to books-within-books is a clunky thing, but not nearly as bad as the fact that the main characters never get older but sometimes other characters do - a character in TOO MANY COOKS is a college boy. In A RIGHT TO DIE the same man is middle-aged, but he never notices that Wolfe and Archie haven’t aged a day. He should have demanded to inspect the Brownstone for mysterious oil paintings.

Fifteen Iguana

Pfft. He would have found nothing if he were looking for a painting (other than the spy nook behind the waterfall picture). It was the orchids that Wolfe made the age-retarding extract from…

JayJay -


Don;t you mean “Pfui?”

I thought of one more self-referential note. At the end of one of the books Archie says that if the murderer isn’t convicted this report will join certain others in the safe, or words to that effect.

Fifteen Iguana

By that logic, anything written in the first person must be a book within its setting.
The most obvious that comes to mind is Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No MOuth and I Must Scream”; the author has no way to write or record the story.