12-01-1886

Rex Stout

REX STOUT, American novelist, born (d: 1975);American writer best known as the creator of the larger-than-life fictional detective Nero Wolfe, described by reviewer Will Cuppy as “that Falstaff of detectives.” Wolfe’s assistant Archie Goodwin recorded the cases of the detective genius from 1934 (Fer-de-Lance) to 1975 (A Family Affair). The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at Boucheron 2000, the world’s largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century. It’s a mistake to assume there is any direct relationship between the subject matter of a novelist and the novelist himself, especially since imagination is the fundamental resource of the writer.

Before he turned to the detective novel in 1934, Rex Stout wrote an ambiguously Gay Western in which the married hero is attracted to his assistant. The notion, though psychologically plausible, is certainly unique to the Western adventure yard of the period and suggests an equally unusual relationship between two men that was to prove central to Stout’s work over the next four decades. What exactly is the nature of the friendship, if it can be called that, between Nero Wolfe, Stout’s famous detective hero, and his live-in assistant, Archie Goodwin?

Wolfe, of course, is the most eccentric of all detectives, an elephantine genius who is both a woman-hater and almost completely dependent on his assistant who is his junior sleuth, secretary, errand boy, bodyguard, bookkeeper and chauffeur. (Paging Liberace.)

A third member of this melange housed in a brownstone on New York’s West 35th Street is Fritz Brenner, the chef who prepares the gourmet meals that Wolfe prefers to women and which keep his weight at a seventh of a ton. William S. Barington’s full-length biography of this fictional character, Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street, doesn’t touch on the fat one’s sex life. But if Batman and Robin are “suspect,” then what could possibly be so mysterious about Nero and Archie?