Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fer-De-Lance, by Rex Stout

By Rex Stout

There was no reason why I shouldn't have been sent for the beer that day, for the last ends of the Fairmont National Bank case had been gathered in the week before and there was nothing for me to do but errands, and Wolfe never hesitated about running me down to Murray Street for a can of shoe-polish if he happened to need one.
(Opening line of Fer-De-Lance, the first Nero Wolfe novel)

In 2010 and early 2011 I read through most of the Nero Wolfe canon, though I came up about nine books short. I also read a handful of the post-Rex Stout novels written by Robert Goldsborough. Rather than seek out the nine books that I have yet to read I decided to give the Wolfe books another go, this time working my way through the series in order.

Which brought me to Fer-De-Lance, the one that started it all. I have to admit that I had some misgivings about re-reading these books but since the Wolfe books are as much about the characters and their interactions as they are about the whodunit aspect that didn't turn out to be much of an issue. Especially since I don't always have the greatest memory for the assorted and sundry details of plot in a book I first read over a year ago.

You may or may not know what a fer-de-lance is. As I recall, I didn't before reading this book. I won't spill the beans for those who don't but it wouldn't be that much of a spoiler. It's fairly early on that Wolfe works out the clever method by which the murder that drives this book is committed. It's not all that much further before he also determines who the killer is. From there it's just a matter of digging up enough dirt to make things stick.

This being the first book of the series, there were a few things missing that tended to turn up in many, if not most, of the later novels and novellas. One of the most notable, and it obviously has to do with the fact that the crime is committed out of town, is that the long-suffering Inspector Cramer is nowhere to be found. Saul Panzer and some of the other regular operatives are on hand as is one who apparently fell by the wayside before long - the name escapes me at the moment. Also worth noting, Archie apparently has yet to develop that amazing recall of his and at one point even has to go so far as looking up a phone number that he called not all that long ago. And there is no gathering together of the principals in the case for one of Wolfe's grand and theatrical summations.

Fer-De-Lance is also a lot longer than many of the Wolfe novels, as it clocks in at nearly three hundred pages. For me, it seems that the shorter books and novellas seem to work better for the most part but this one didn't really seem to suffer much from its added bulk.

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