Which Wolfe?
February 24, 2009 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Nero Wolfe Filter: Give me your choices for best Nero Wolfe novels. I recently finished my first Wolfe mystery -- Some Buried Caesar -- and of course I need more. Here's the thing: I refuse to let myself get obsessed. There is no way I am going to allow myself to plow through all 30-plus novels and god knows how many short stories.

I am not a young man anymore, so I am limiting myself to 10. So please give me your top choices. Leave out Some Buried Caesar and The Golden Spiders, which will be next.
posted by dzot to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Trio for Blunt Instruments, Too Many Cooks, Prisoner's Base.
posted by jet_silver at 12:47 PM on February 24, 2009

Black Mountain. Best Wolfe ever.
posted by chelseagirl at 12:58 PM on February 24, 2009

The Doorbell Rang is the meta-classic, the one that was a real-life middle finger to J. Edgar Hoover and got Rex Stout a real-life place on the subversives list.

If you're limiting yourself, avoid the first two (Fer-de-Lance and The League of Frightened Men, especially the latter), where Stout is still getting the kinks out. Too Many Cooks is possibly the first true classic. For bonus points, it's also one of the few to have a direct sequel - 1964's A Right to Die, in which the angry young waiter on the wrong end of 1930's racial tension now has a son on the wrong end of 1960's racial tension. It's less of a mystery, but worth it as a civil-rights period piece (and a look at how Wolfe and Stout's views have evolved in thirty years).

Prisoner's Base, Murder by the Book, and Gambit are solid picks. The Black Mountain and In The Best Families (Wolfe vs. Yugoslav secret police, Wolfe vs. Moriarty-esque master criminal) are memorable formula-breakers - but if you're reading because you like the usual formula, both are avoidable. The short stories likewise tend to be off-beat takes on the usual routine, and are often weak mysteries to boot.

The last book you should read (non-metaphorically there, book #10 of your 10), should be A Family Affair, which was intentionally written as the end of the series.
posted by ormondsacker at 1:11 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for god's sake, none of the post-Stout continuation novels by Robert Goldsborough.

"I don't know whether to call them [posthumous series continuers] vampires or cannibals. Let them roll their own." - Rex Stout
posted by ormondsacker at 1:24 PM on February 24, 2009

Too Many Cooks, Prisoner's Base, the Silent Speaker.

I disagree with avoiding Fer de Lance. It's a must read as the first.

I also disagree with the comment on Robert Goldsborough's novels. I think they're actually quite good as far as continuation novels go. Goldsborough misses something with the dialog, but gets everything else done right.

I assume you already know about the A&E Nero Wolfe series. A very polished show that ended far too soon.
posted by elpiconeroalcognac at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2009

Oh, Black Mountain too, yes!
posted by elpiconeroalcognac at 2:20 PM on February 24, 2009

It's been many years since I read them, but Black Mountain is the one that most sticks in my mind. I rather liked the Goldsborough novels too, but there's no need for you to read them in place of Rex Stout's books.
posted by maurice at 3:02 PM on February 24, 2009

I agree with Ormondsacker that In the Best Families should be on your list, but I also feel that to miss any of them would be unfortunate.
posted by DanSachs at 3:19 PM on February 24, 2009

Note that you've made it difficult on us by reading one of the best ones first.

"Some Buried Caesar" is my personal favorite.
posted by elpiconeroalcognac at 3:27 PM on February 24, 2009

Black Mountain. Best Wolfe ever.

That's true, but you shouldn't read it until you've read a lot of other titles because it's one of the two most atypical stories in the entire canon. (The other is "In the Best Families", and that one should be deferred, too.)

I really like Gambit, myself. I hoped they'd turn that one into a TV movie back when they were doing them, but they didn't get to it before production shut down.

You don't really need recommendations, because Stout's writing and plotting were very consistent and nearly all the books are good.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:46 PM on February 24, 2009

(By the way, one of the reasons I like Gambit is that it begins with Wolfe tearing apart a dictionary and burning it in the fireplace of the front room.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:50 PM on February 24, 2009

My favorites were Fer-de-Lance and Please Pass the Guilt.
posted by eclectist at 5:32 PM on February 24, 2009

Just get obsessed and read them all. It is worth it.
posted by hworth at 9:58 AM on February 25, 2009

« Older I need a radio   |   My head hurts. Can I have a hat that fits yet? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.