Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, by Robert Goldsborough

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe
By Robert Goldsborough

I've read a couple reviews of Archie Meets Nero Wolfe thus far. Wolfe fan Patrick liked it, with a few minor reservations. Puzzle Doctor has never read an entire Wolfe book and didn't like it. Which makes sense. With apologies to the author and his publisher, who surely want to sell as many truckloads of books as possible, this one is pretty much for the Wolfe fans.

I've read all but a few of the many Wolfe books by original author Rex Stout and most of the ones by Goldsborough, who took over writing them after Stout's death in 1975. I'm not normally keen on writers pinch-hitting for dead authors but I liked the Goldsborough books for the most part and thought he did a good job of capturing the ins and outs of life at the old brownstone.

But let's move on to Archie Meets Nero Wolfe. First, the plot. There is one and it's perfectly serviceable but in the tradition of most Wolfe fiction it's not really a dazzler. That's to be expected. Most people I know read Nero Wolfe for other reasons and turn to the likes of John Dickson Carr and whatnot for those dazzling plots, intricately worked out impossible crimes and all that sort of stuff.

While I too liked this book for the most part, I can't really complain too loudly about the things I didn't like, or more correctly the things that I felt were lacking. Since it's clearly marked as a prequel it's reasonable to assume that it's not going to be the standard Wolfe novel.

One of the things that's most lacking here, as Patrick noted in his review, is Archie Goodwin's voice. Given that he narrates all of the Wolfe books that's a major issue, but it's understandable. Since he's still a relative youngster and fresh off the train (bus?) from Ohio he has yet to develop into what will be one of the great wiseacres in mystery fiction.

Also lacking is that comfortable and highly structured routine at the brownstone, a routine that's shaken up to good effect from time to time in service of the latest yarn. Obviously since Archie is not yet in Wolfe's employ, we're not going to see any of that daily routine simply because it doesn't exist, at least not in the form we've come to know.

Along the same lines are the lack of interactions between key Wolfe characters. Most notable is that curious relationship between Archie and Wolfe, which finds the former goading the latter at nearly every turn and the latter putting up with it, simply because he knows he needs Archie or someone like him to do his leg work. Ditto for those mostly confrontational interactions between Archie and Wolfe with Inspector Cramer and the other guys at the police station. On the plus side of all this, the better part of the book involves many of the freelance operatives that Wolfe so often employs, including a few who rarely appeared in the Wolfe books proper.

Having re-read this review a few days after originally writing it I'm not sure what I think of it but I'll let it stand. I guess I can best summarize by saying that Archie Meets Nero Wolfe is a well-written and entertaining book and an interesting look at the early days of the Wolfe-Goodwin partnership but I much prefer to read about that partnership in the established form of the "later" books.

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