Fer-De-Lance (Nero Wolfe #1) ★★★✬☆

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Title: Fer-De-Lance
Series: Nero Wolfe #1
Author: Rex Stout
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 222
Words: 87.5K


From Wikipedia.com

Maria Maffei, a family friend of one of Wolfe’s free-lance men, offers to hire Wolfe to locate her missing brother Carlo, a metalworker. Wolfe, affected by the Depression, decides to take the job, although it is unappealing to him. Archie locates Anna Fiore, a girl who listened in on a phone call Carlo received at his boarding-house shortly before his disappearance. Wolfe learns from her that Carlo had clipped a story from a copy of The New York Times about the sudden death (apparently by stroke) of Peter Oliver Barstow, president of Holland College. However, Anna refuses to provide any further details about Carlo, who is soon found dead in the countryside, stabbed in the back.

From reading the account of Barstow’s death, which occurred during a round of golf, Wolfe conjectures that one of his clubs may have been altered to fire a poisoned needle into his belly. An autopsy proves Wolfe right, and he and Archie begin to concentrate on the Barstow family and their acquaintances, E.D. Kimball and his son Manuel, who had both been part of the golf foursome. While trying to figure out the whereabouts of Barstow’s golf bag, Archie learns from the group’s caddies that he had borrowed a driver from E.D. during the round. This fact, coupled with E.D.’s accounts of his past in Argentina, leads Wolfe and Archie to conclude that Manuel had intended to kill his father, not Barstow, in revenge for the death of his mother years earlier. Archie confirms Manuel’s movements on the day Carlo was killed, making him a suspect in that murder as well. Manuel retaliates by having an associate plant a deadly Bothrops atrox viper in Wolfe’s desk drawer, but Wolfe and Archie find and kill it.

With Maria’s cooperation, Wolfe and Archie arrange a robbery in the countryside to scare Anna into telling what she knows. The trick works, and she hands over documents proving that Manuel hired Carlo to build the driver that killed Barstow. With the Kimball estate staked out, and a copy of the evidence delivered to Manuel, Archie leads the local police in so they can make an arrest. They learn that Manuel, an avid pilot, has taken E.D. up for a flight, and are shocked when the plane suddenly nose-dives into the ground; the impact kills both of them.

Wolfe collects both the $50,000 reward that Barstow’s widow had offered for the capture of his killer, and another $10,000 from a district attorney who had been skeptical of the murder theory. Wolfe comments that the climax of the case gave both E.D. and Manuel a chance to end their lives without any sense of bitterness or despair, but Archie notes that it also keeps Wolfe from having to leave his comfortable house in order to testify at a murder trial.

My Thoughts:

2021 has seen a marked decline in the percentage of SFF that I read. Nonfiction has increased with the Very Short Introduction series, Max Brand is keeping the Western genre alive in the rotation, Dickens has kept the Classics on a roll and tumbled into Chesterton and the Bronte’s, Shakespeare is keeping me firmly in the world of Literature and Lord Peter Wimsey is doing his dashin’ best to keep my interest in the Mystery genre. And now we have old fatso himself, Nero Wolfe, bringing back the Private Investigator. I’ve seen other bloggers change slowly and just wanted to stop and take a second to recollect that my reading is changing and is quite different from even 4 years ago. The reason I got all introspective was because of the main character in this book.

Nero Wolfe is an eccentric private detective who adores food, sleep and mystery and abhors people and leaving his house. As such, he’s hugely fat and I kept waiting for him to keel over dead from a heart attack. He’s a very smart man, able to reason out the much larger picture from just a fragment. He’s also immensely arrogant and beyond self-assured and if he’d been the narrator of the story I would have hated him and despised the author and you’d have gotten one long ranty review where I condemned Rex Stout to the stygian pits of darkness. But he was NOT the narrator. Thank goodness, we are told the story by one of Wolfe’s helpers, Archie Goodwin. Archie is a man’s man, full of vim, vigor and fisticuffs and not afraid to talk back to the police, tell a girl he’d like to pinch her cheeks and fake a robbery on his own client to get her to talk.

The mystery was interesting but seeing Nero orchestrate incidents and get people together or apart is what made this work for me. His manipulation of Archie is hard at times to stomach, but Archie trusts him (even while not necessarily liking him all the time) and Nero is proved right time after time. Nero is the brains while Archie is the foot and fist.

This was written in 1934 and as such is quite an interesting look into the times. The Great Depression, the after-effects of Prohibition, just life in general. I found it fascinating and led me down rabbit trails I wasn’t expecting. One such was the use of the word “spiggoty” by Archie. I could tell it was derogatory but I’d never heard of it before and couldn’t figure out HOW it was supposed to be derogatory. I basically had to chase down the etymology of the word and it turns out it is the predecessor of the slur “spic” today. Now, you’re not going to read books today that take you down trails like that.

There are approximately 47 books in this series. I think that is the longest series I’ve attempted to date. I am a bit concerned that it will go stale on me or, like the Brother Cadfael series, bore me by the end. My other concern is that I’m going to mix up the author with the main character. Nero Wolfe is the main character and he’s immensely fat. The author’s name is Rex Stout, another word for fat. I just know I’m going to mix up the two “fat” men at some point and I’m really concerned about it. What if I hurt their feelings? Fictional characters and dead men have feelings too! Oh wait, no they don’t. Ok, problem solved!

In ending, this was a great start to a series in a genre that hasn’t always appealed to me. Here’s to hoping it keeps me interested the whole time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

40 thoughts on “Fer-De-Lance (Nero Wolfe #1) ★★★✬☆

  1. Interesting word, ‘spiggoty’ because I can’t say I’ve heard that one. The slur was used in a children’s book I just reviewed, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a book in a long time.

    The cover for this one is interesting. Doesn’t sound like a book I’d like, but mystery isn’t my favorite genre. That’s a massive series though. Good luck and great review. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How language changes, even over a mere 100 years is quite interesting. makes me wonder what else I’ll be learning from this series 😀

      The mystery genre isn’t for everyone and even for me it tends to be hit or miss. I’m just hoping this is a hit 😀


  2. Stout‘s wiki biography features a few photos — he was quite a bit slimmer than Wolfe. 🙂 He really was a gourmet, though, and he did collaborate on the cookbook coming with the series (even if the recipes were written by professional chefs) — which cookbook makes for a neat bit of companion literature, btw, because not only does it include pretty much every major dish served up by Fritz, along with snippets from the books, but also plenty of images / photos of and info about Wolfe‘s New York. It‘s not a „must own“ thing, but a hoot and a half to look through, once you‘ve read more than one book. (My recommendation, btw, is not to binge on the books or the formulaic sameness of the style is going to get to you, and get in the way of your enjoyment.) My review of the cookbook is here: https://themisathena.info/rex-stout-et-al-the-nero-wolfe-cookbook

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Themis. After Fraggles comment, I am wondering about breaking this up into smaller chunks (5-10 books) and then taking breaks between chunks. Or maybe do a year on, then a year off. The Brother Cadfael books definitely showed me how easy it is to burn out on a series and I’d like to think I learned something from that 😀

      Thanks for the link.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I‘d say 5-10 at a time is too much — tastes and reading habits differ, of course, but if the Cadfael books (which are vastly *less* formulaic than Nero Wolfe) got to you after a while, I‘d say don‘t do chunks of more than 2. Personally, I doubt I‘ll ever read all 40+ of them because it‘s unlikely I have that many reading years left and to date, I haven‘t even read one a year. (Well, OK, I’d probably only need half that amount of remaining reading time at this point, but you get my drift.) I do enjoy them, but in strictly therapeutic doses!

        And incidentally, along the lines of changing reading habits: I used to enjoy them quite a bit more as long as I was reading them primarily for the snappy dialogue and language, and for the puzzles. But even though underneath the 1930s language women actually do have more agency here than seems to be the case at first blush (especially in Archie‘s books), I notice that Wolfe‘s overall misanthropy does get on my nerves at times of late. — But I hope you‘ll have a long way to go yet to get to that point (if ever)! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m thinking I’ll probably see how this year goes with it being in my rotation. If necessary, I’ll take a break for ’22 and then move it back on.

          As for the misanthropy. You and I have very different definitions of just what constitutes that so I doubt there’s stuff in the books that’ll bother me 😀
          Thanks for being concerned though.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. The Nero Wolfe mysteries are great fun. The actual mystery part is sometimes a throwaway, but the interplay between Nero and Archie is always entertaining.

    BTW, did your WordPress editing template get changed on you recently? Mine did and I’m lost. Just wondering.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never been one of those people who try to figure the mystery out ahead of the character, so even throwaways are good enough for me 😀

      I’m guessing you got the “unified navigation” thingy? Here’s a link from WP about it:

      I’m not sure if I’m switched or not because I started using the block editor and everything last year. This seems to be yet another super popular move on WP’s part. They are really on a roll of doing dirt moves…


        1. If you read through the 4 or 5 (bleeding!) pages, I think someone shows how to still use the classic editor. You have to jump through more hoops than before I believe.

          I’ve just moved over to the block editor. It took me a solid month of misery to get used to it. I still don’t like it, as it is NOT an editor for people who want to write.


        1. and I just visited my dashboard for the first time today and it appears I am switched over as well. It looks very similar to what I was using though, so I don’t think it will be a big deal for me.

          Good luck. I suspect you’re going to need it.


  4. Oh, nice! Glad to see you’ve found yet another promising series! I’ll be closely following your reviews of this one, judging by what ThemisAthena said these might be a tad too formulaic for my tastes, so one book at a time would probably be just enough for me 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cadfael was 20’ish, so I’m thinking if I do a year on then a year off, that’ll be 10’ish books a year, which doesn’t seem too much for me with all the other genres and styles I get into. We’ll see though 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Obviously, it’s dangerous for me to comment about this, I’m liable to accidentally leave a comment 2x as long as your post (including the Wikipeida portion). Yes, you will learn new words and most of them will not be slurs (depending on the edition you get of a future one, you’ll likely find a slur that’s too familiar (thankfully, Wolfe only visits the South in the late ’30s once).

    As for burnout? Yeah, it’s possible. Unthinkable to me, but possible. I’ve been reading these books since the late 80’s and am still captivated every time I open one up–a couple of years before I started blogging, every third book I read for nearly a year was a novel or short story/novella collection in this series. If it wouldn’t mess up blogging, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. See? I’m starting to babble, better shut it down.

    Glad you’re following Wodehouse down this path, hope you enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wondered if you’d drop a comment on this 😀
      Part of the reason I’m reading this series is because of you after all.

      re: burnout
      You’re talking a book a year? or maybe 2 a year? Or have you re-read them?

      What does Wodehouse have to do with this? Was he a big Nero Wolfe fan?


      1. RE: Burnout, yeah, that was a sloppy comment. I’ve read them all at least twice (most of the novels 5x or more, some into the double digits; the novella/short story collections 2+). I also did read the whole series in a year less than a decade ago. Loved it.

        Yeah, Wodehouse was a big Nero Wolfe fan (I believe there are references to Wolfe or Stout in some of his stories)–and Stout admired him in return. In fact, here’s a convenient quotation from Wodehouse about Stout: “He passes the supreme test of being rereadable. I don’t know how many times I have reread the Nero Wolfe stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn’t matter. That’s writing.”

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a strange cover, isn’t it? We’ll have to see if the rest follow it or not 😀

      I don’t know, to be honest. Some of it is that as I’m getting older I simply don’t want to deal with the typical juvenile’ness of a lot of SFF. Another aspect is that certain authors who used to be foundational for me, aren’t any more.

      It is probably something I could look into and write up a whole post about 😀


  6. Mystery/crime and thrillers have been encroaching on my reading materials for some time now (and as far as thrillers are concerned, this is a comeback because way back when I read a good number of them), and I believe that – no matter our genre preferences – it’s always healthy to take some different paths and keep the… reading flame burning bright 🙂
    This seems to be a good find for you, so I hope it remains entertaining for a long time!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This made me realize that “fat” characters… protagonists, especially… is so rare. I can’t even think of one right now. With today’s generation always looking for an “inclusive” cast that covers a whole array of diversity, this probably scores massive points! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect you’d get some chowder head calling it out as body shaming and thus try to get it cancelled. Which is ridiculous here in America, as we’re like the fattest nation on earth. Seriously, we’re fat. Thank goodness for characters like Wolfe who simply don’t care 😀

      Liked by 1 person

        1. You’d have to be blind to not be aware of it. And as a diabetic in the dr’s offices several times a year I see more than I want to. We are eating ourselves to a deathly stupor and complaining loudly whenever someone calls us on it.

          Seeing ourselves is hard 😦

          Liked by 1 person

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