Tag Archives: Nero Wolfe

Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, and the Devious & Dangerous Arnold Zeck – a little Escape Reading for Pandemic Season

Here are a few of the Nero Wolfe books on my hall shelf

Here are a few of the Nero Wolfe books on my hall shelf

I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.
— Archie Goodwin in The Red Box, 1937


{Note:  I usually blog about books that “matter” – business books, and books dealing with issues of racism and social justice.  Consider this a diversion post, about a different kind of book}.


We are hunkered down, waiting, waiting, waiting…  We are waiting for the vaccines to arrive; waiting for the election to be decided.  Waiting to be able to resume “normal” life.

So, while we wait, we need to “escape” a little.

I escape with reading.  And, ever since I first discovered Nero Wolfe as a boy (I think during junior high school; no guarantee about the accuracy of my memory), I always go back to my Nero Wolfe books.  I own all of the ones written by Rex Stout.  And, I re-read them every few years.

In the last week, I kind of threw down my iPad, and went to my shelves of Nero Wolfe books again.  The last time I read through the whole corpus, I did it in chronological order.  This time, I started with the Arnold Zeck trilogy, and now I am going to read the rest of the books in reverse-chronological order:  his last book first, working backwards.

I am firmly convinced that Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin would find a way to outdo Jack Reacher, Orphan X, and maybe even Gabriel Allon.

So, a few words about Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe.

And here are a few more from my shelf...

And here are a few more from my shelf…

In 2000, The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon 2000, the world’s largest mystery convention. And Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century. By the way, for the Writer of the Century, Rex Stout and the other nominees lost to Agatha Christie; and for the Series of the Century, Nero Wolfe and other nominees lost to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Rex Stout was a prolific writer, but his most-beloved and read series were his Nero Wolfe books.  He wrote well into his 70s (maybe his 80s), and he is read to this day.  There was one period during the 20th Century when there were more Rex Stout books in print than books in print from any other author.

And, here’s an inventive tidbit: Nero Wolfe’s biographer (of his fictional character), William Baring-Gould, “reported” that Nero Wolfe was the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler: Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street: The Life and Times of America’s Largest Private Detective. Mr. Baring-Gould was also the biographer of Sherlock Holmes:  Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street).

Rex Stout’s greatest creation, in my opinion and in the opinion of many mystery-loving experts, was the creation of Archie Goodwin.  Nero Wolfe “never left his house on business,” and seldom left it otherwise, so Archie Goodwin was the wise-cracking right-hand man.  Archie Goodwin was also the narrator for all of the Wolfe books.

As I mentioned, I just finished re-reading the Arnold Zeck Trilogy:

And Be a Villain (1948)
The Second Confession (1949)
In the Best Families (1950)

Arnold Zeck was the “Moriarty” for Nero Wolfe; a devious opponent indeed.  And in the final encounter between the two, Nero Wolfe was quite inventive in the way that he won the contest.

I’ve read plenty of other mystery and thriller authors:  from the Jack Reacher books, to the Orphan X books, to quite a few of the Grisham novels.  I am especially fond of some of the books by Anthony Horowitz (he is maybe best known for creating Foyle’s War, which we see in the U.S. on PBS).  And, my current contemporary favorite is Daniel Silva, and his Gabriel Allon books.  I have read all of these. In fact, I purchase Silva’s new one every summer on the day it is published: and I simply devour it.

But, after all of these, the only one I go back to re-read, and re-read, is Nero Wolfe.   This pandemic season, I am enjoying them as much as I ever have.


There have been a few film and tv versions of Nero Wolfe.  Maybe the best is with Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin.  You can actually watch a few of these on YouTube. Here is the link to The Doorbell Rang.  It comes quite close to capturing the Nero Wolfe character, and Goodwin’s also, along with his household, team, and overall approach.



It is worth perusing these Wikipedia articles on Nero Wolfe and Rex Stout and Archie Goodwin.  Here are the links:

Rex Stout

Nero Wolfe

Archie Goodwin

And, here is the link to the Boucheron 2000 nominees and winners: Bouchercon XXXI


The Joy Of Reading More Than One Book At A Time – The Confessions Of Culture Critic Julia Keller

At any given moment, I have at least six half-finished books sitting within easy reach. But which six? How do I choose? Ah, that’s where the magic happens.
A wonderful literary synergy is created by the accidental juxtaposition of reading materials.
Julia Keller, CULTURAL CRITIC, Chicago Tribune — Why need read many books at once?


So I really meant that it’s something I think is kind of part of the human species, to always be kind of looking over the horizon to the next thing. And I think that when you break off your reading to go read something else, the first thing is enhanced. It’s enhanced by that contrast by realizing all the different varieties of voices that there are out there.
The Joys Of Reading Many Books At Once (from an interview conducted by Jennifer Ludeen, for NPR’s Talk of the Nation)


You are either a reader or you are not.  That’s my theory, anyway.  I have always loved reading. I started with comic books (if only I still had my original collection!).  I used to hide a book propped up in an open textbook during class as far back as junior high school.  (I think the first books I propped up in such manner were the Nero Wolfe mysteries, which I still re-read every few years).    It probably (ok – definitely) hurt my grades – but I loved my reading.

Anyway, I got the link to this NPR interview in an e-mail, sent by another book lover.  Here’s Jennifer Ludden’s introduction to the interview:

Many people are serial readers — they pick up one book and read it cover-to-cover before putting it down.
And then there are poly-readers like Julia Keller.
The Chicago Tribune cultural critic juggles four, five, or even six books at any given time, never able — or willing — to choose just one.
Some have frowned when Keller mentions how many books she’s reading…
But she’s nurtured her habit not because she’s flighty or easily bored — or even because it’s her job to read many books at a time. It’s just because she finds life is simply better when lived among multiple books.

If you love to read more than one book at the same time, then you know the joy of this approach.  If you don’t – well, I just feel sorry for you…

Developing a Love of Reading

Books to love

Books to love

I have a confession.  I love to read.  It started with comic books, then progressed to the Hardy Boys, and then really took hold with all of the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout (I own the entire collection, and re-read them every few years).  I admit that I took a brief trip into Mickey Spillane for awhile (no, I didn’t tell tell my mother).  But for as long as I can remember, I have loved to read.

I speak to residents of retirement communities, and recently one such resident had to move from independent living to assisted living.  He is quite a man, and has read all of his life.  In World War II, he was among those who liberated Flossenbürg concentration camp just a short time after Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the camp.  (If only they had gotten there a little earlier).  Well, this man moved into assisted living because he has lost his sight.  His greatest loss, in his own words:  “I can’t read any longer.”

My bias is clear.  We need a new generation of folks who love to read.  So I read with enthusiasm this article, A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like, in a recent New York Times.  The approach is simple.  The teachers let the students pick their own books, rather than assigning every one the same book to read.  It’s a middle school inititative, sweeping across the country.  Here’s the key paragraph:

But fans of the reading workshop say that assigning books leaves many children bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading.

One Book at a Time

One Book at a Time

“I feel like almost every kid in my classroom is engaged in a novel that they’re actually interacting with,” Ms. McNeill said, several months into her experiment. “Whereas when I do ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,” I know that I have some kids that just don’t get into it.”

Is it working?  Not for every student, but it is for some.  Here is a letter that every teacher longs for:

In the final week of school Helen Arnold, Jennae’s mother, sent Ms. McNeill an e-mail message thanking her. “She never really just read herself for enjoyment until she took your class,” Ms. Arnold wrote.

This is a primarily a business book blog, usually dealing with business issues.  Here’s a business issue worth pondering – how do we build a generation of people who love to read?  Because if we succeed at this, more will read all types of books – including good business books.


Personal note — a suggested place to start:  with either Some Buried Caesar, an early volume, or The Doorbell Rang, a later volume, and maybe his best.  These present Nero Wolfe and his Watson, Archie Goodwin, at their best.