4.18.2011

In Which I Attempt To Broaden My Mystery Horizons

I tried. I really did. After attempting to read Margery Allingham (and I've still got two of hers to give a second chance), I decided to pick up a Nero Wolfe mystery because of some recommendations. Just like when I picked up an Allingham book, I had no idea what to expect from the hero of the Rex Stout novel. I had no idea that he was an American who never left the house, nor that he had a lackey by the name of Archie Goodwin who actually does all the leg work, nor that he had a propensity for beer and orchids. I was in the dark when I picked up Nero Wolfe: Over My Dead Body by Rex Stout (touted as the "grand master of detection").

Over My Dead Body (A Nero Wolfe Mystery)

GENERAL OVERVIEW: In this book, we are informed of the fact that Nero Wolfe not only has a past, but he has a daughter who now happens to be in trouble. The story starts with a young woman who comes begging for Wolfe's help when her friend is accused of stealing diamonds while at their place of employment. It all turns out to be a farce in the end, but then the friend's alibi ends in murder. Archie Goodwin is on the scene and proceeds to abscond with evidence and return to Wolfe where a plan gets put into action. There are various underlings who work for Wolfe and they pop into the story with evidence from time to time. There's a New York cop who has his hands tied by the bureaucracy and relies on Wolfe to put him on the trail of the killer. Another murder occurs, Goodwin rushes here, there, and yon trying to corral people/suspects, and eventually an international plot is uncovered, another death occurs at the hands of Wolfe, and the daughter is left to find a new life in America while Wolfe and Goodwin drink beer in the office. The End.

HERE'S MY OPINION: Like my choice of an Allingham novel, my selection of this Stout mystery was based mostly on price and somewhat on the reviews I had read on Amazon. Unlike Allingham, I'm not willing to give Rex Stout another try - unless I can get a copy of a book for free. Sorry to all who love Stout's books, but I just could not get into his Nero Wolfe character - or Archie Goodwin for that matter. I'm beginning to wonder if I have a "thing" for British mysteries. Even though Poirot is Belgian, he lives in England and reading about his interaction with the culture is part of why I love the books and Miss Marple, though not my favorite character, usually keeps me entertained. I have been a life-long fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, and I'm even willing to give Allingham's Albert Campion another try. American detectives don't seem to do anything for me.

MOST INTERESTING PART: Reading about the author, Rex Stout. I really can't sum up his life easily, so I'm just going to share it directly from the write up in the back of the book - I found it extremely interesting!

Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolfe, was born in Noblesville, Indiana, in 1886, the sixth of nine children of John and Lucetta Todhunter Stout, both Quakers. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Wakarusa, Kansas. He was educated in a country school, but, by the age of nine, was recognized throughout the state as a prodigy in arithmetic. Mr. Stout briefly attended the University of Kansas, but left to enlist in the Navy, and spent the next two years as a warrant officer on board President Theodore Roosevelt's yacht. When he left the Navy in 1908, Rex Stout began to write freelance articles, worked as a sightseeing guide and as an itinerant book keeper. Later he devised and implemented a school banking system which was installed in four hundred cities and towns throughout the country. In 1927 Mr. Stout retired from the world of finance and, with the proceeds of his banking scheme, left for Paris to write serious fiction. He wrote three novels that received favorable reviews before turning to detective fiction. His first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, appeared in 1934. It was followed by many others, among them, Too Many Cooks, The Silent Speaker, If Death Ever Slept, The Doorbell Rang and Please Pass the Guilt, which established Nero Wolfe as a leading character on a par with Erle Stanley Gardner's famous protagonist, Perry Mason. During World War II, Rex Stout waged a personal campaign against Nazism as chairman of the War Writer's Board, master of ceremonies of the radio program "Speaking of Liberty" and as a member of several national committees. After the war, he turned his attention to mobilizing public opinion against the wartime use of thermonuclear devices, was an active leader in the Authors' Guild and resumed writing his Nero Wolfe novels. All together, his Nero Wolfe novels have been translated into twenty-two languages and have sold more than forty-five million copies. Rex Stout died in 1975 at the age of eight-eight. A month before his death, he published his forty-sixth Nero Wolfe novel, A Family Affair.

No too shabby for the sixth son of Quakers, eh?

What about you? Have you ever read a Rex Stout mystery? If so, what did you think of it and am I missing something? Is there a Stout novel that you think I have to read before I give up on him and return to my beloved British authors? I'm open to suggestions.

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