Saturday, August 13, 2011

Red Threads, by Rex Stout

Red Threads
By Rex Stout

One of the high points of the Nero Wolfe novels, for me and probably a lot of other readers as well, is the love/hate relationship between Wolfe, his smartass sidekick, Archie Goodwin, and the perpetually harried Inspector Cramer. Which makes for some entertaining exchanges, to be sure. But if you've ever wondered why Inspector Cramer is not the focal point of his own series you need look no further than Red Threads, which Stout published in 1939, after about five or six Nero Wolfe books had seen print.

Which is not to say that Red Threads is necessarily a bad book. I wouldn't go quite that far. What I would say is that it is very methodical and workmanlike and devoid of many of the qualities that made the Wolfe books so easy to breeze through. Without those qualities about all you have left is a plot, which almost nobody ever accused Stout of having a good handle on, and what seem like endless blocks of dialogue. Here's a book that could have been stripped down to the novella length of many of the Wolfe stories and probably wouldn't have lost anything in the translation.

The plot is actually not such a bad one, by Stout's standards. A wealthy man is bludgeoned to death inside the elaborate shrine he's built to his Native American wife. He's found with a scrap of red yarn clutched in his fist of the type known as bayeta, which is apparently a type of Native American fabric with quite a pedigree. From there to the solution it's basically just a whole lot of legwork (and dialogue) to sort out the whole mess.

What I found oddest about this one is that we really don't know any more about Cramer by the time it's all said and done than we did at the beginning or than we might have learned from one of the Wolfe stories - except that he has a daughter in high school. That's really it.

I'd rank this one as an interesting curiosity for serious Wolfe fans, but that's about it. Then again, as a fairly serious Wolfe fan, it might just be that I'm not able to be truly objective about its merits or lack thereof.

For some perspective on this one from back in the day, look here.

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