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Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

Fer-de-Lance (original 1934; edition 1972)

by Rex Stout

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1,220416,532 (3.8)229
Authors:Rex Stout
Info:Pyramid (1972), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, American Fiction, Murder Mystery, Crime

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Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout (1934)

  1. 00
    Seeker by Jack McDevitt (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Alex Benedict stays at home handling sales and research while Chase Kolpath is the leg (wo)man in the field

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English (40)  Finnish (1)  All languages (41)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
This book is a bit sexist and racist in that old fashioned unthinking way. Of cousre I may be misinterpreting some of the slang. The story is good and told entirely from Archie Goodwin's POV. Will Appeal to people who enjoy Sherlock and Miss Fisher ( )
  SashaM | Apr 20, 2016 |
Six-word review: Classic mystery still delivers satisfying entertainment.

Extended review:

Following an impulse to renew my former familiarity with the Nero Wolfe series after forty-plus years, I began with a used paperback of the first one, Fer-de-Lance, which I purchased online. This happens to be a 1992 reissue from Bantam, and it begins with an introduction by one Loren D. Estleman, whom I don't know. Estleman gives a brief overview of the series and observes that there's no need to worry about reading the books in order because Rex Stout avoided the problem of confusing chronology "by the simple expedient of never changing his characters." How he got them right from the very beginning is a marvel that I had never contemplated before.

I approached this reread with very few memories of specific cases and none of the outcomes, meaning that I could read them all as if new. What I remember--no spoiler here--is the framework: the house setup, the daily routine, the relationship between Wolfe and Archie, the final showdown scene, and how the culprit is always outed in the end. I'm delighted to return to that world-righting certainty, especially after a few too many contemporary murder mysteries in which the author decided to treat us to existential angst instead of a satisfying solution.

Estleman concludes the introduction with this paragraph:

This is a world where all things make sense in time, a world better than our own. If you are an old hand making a return swing through its orbit, welcome back; pull up the red leather chair and sit down. If this is your first trip, I envy you the surprises that await you behind that unprepossessing front door.

I can't remember the last time, if ever, I was ushered into a book by an introduction that addresses repeat readers. That alone suggests how well the series holds up.

Not that this 1934 novel fully withstands scrutiny with a 21st-century lens; dated references aside (how many of us remember Decoration Day?), there are clear, inescapable instances of ethnic and gender stereotyping and prejudice that would never get past the guardians of PC today. For example, one character is suspect because he "look(s) like a foreigner"--a defect that narrator Archie expresses using an epithet that I've never heard before, but that plainly isn't very nice; and young female office workers are girls, but when one is replaced by a male of the same age, he's a man.

However, I do believe that we have to allow for attitudes that are products of their place and time, which is not to condone them, but neither is it to condemn them for not being three-quarters of a century ahead of their time. I'm certainly not going to deny myself the pleasure of revisiting the world of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin on that account. Not when I know that I can rely on it, just as Estleman says, to present a place where truth, order, and justice prevail. That's what I want from an old-fashioned murder mystery, that and the illusion that real life could sometimes work that way. Because the world I come from doesn't.

Fer-de-Lance brings us a full-scale exhibition of Nero Wolfe's eccentricity, audacity, and blazing brilliance right from the start: a missing-persons inquiry leads straight to a deduction of murder from a few seemingly unrelated clues. Finding hard evidence to back up what appears to be a bizarre conjecture becomes the task of Wolfe and his associates. Wolfe allows neither convention nor possible legal impediment to stand in the way of his pursuit of the truth.

Although the climactic final confrontation scene that is the hallmark of a Nero Wolfe mystery does not occur in this initial episode, everything necessary is present. The story drew me in, held my attention, fulfilled its promises, and delivered a satisfactory ending. How nice to know there are several dozen more where this came from. ( )
2 vote Meredy | Mar 10, 2016 |
I'm not a fan of WWI-WWII era fiction, and I picked this book up with trepidation, based on a friend's recommendation. It was a little bit better than I expected. The dialogue stands out as genuine and fun, complete with 1930s New York City jargon. It reminds me of the more modern "Alex Delaware" series by [a:Jonathan Kellerman|43626|Jonathan Kellerman|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1320951950p2/43626.jpg].

The 1930s era entails weirdness, such as police procedure that's backwards by today's standards, the joys of male chauvinism, and unselfconscious ethnic slurs. This would normally annoy me enough to stop reading. But the first person narration is so honest and genuine, I took it as a capture of the time period--as if I was reading a well researched historical setting.

I didn't enjoy Nero Wolfe so much as his interaction with other characters. He lies with elegance, in a way that reminds me of Agent Pendergast in the series by [a:Douglas Preston|12577|Douglas Preston|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1399043352p2/12577.jpg] and [a:Lincoln Child|11091|Lincoln Child|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1241119274p2/11091.jpg].

Other readers have compared this series to Sherlock Holmes, with the narrator, Archie, in the role of Watson. This is accurate, but Archie has a completely different personality than Watson, which I found refreshing. He's plucky, energetic, and impertinent. His genius detective boss hardly ever moves, whereas Archie hardly ever sits still. His youth comes across well. One thing I loved: Archie's intelligence is shown through actions, not through any praise or statements or inner monologue. He thinks of himself as the dumb muscle, and Nero Wolfe treats him as an subordinate. Yet he's clearly entrusted with the most intelligent tasks, and he considers problems from all angles, working them out on his own. Despite his 1930s attitude, I do like his character.

I don't think I can endure 40 novels with sexist and racist happy happy joy joy. But I am going to read another one or two in this series. ( )
  Abby_Goldsmith | Feb 10, 2016 |
I have this because it is a special 50th year edition with a "retrospective' on Nero Wolfe by John McAleer. Also, it permits me to reread one of the best Wolfe stories without damaging my older copy. For review of the story, see the entry for the older copy. ( )
  antiquary | Feb 9, 2016 |
This is not only the first Nero Wolfe, but one of the most ingenious. Wolfe is first asked to find a skilled Italian workman who has vanished; then he connects this to the apparently natural death of a respected university president on a golf course, and ultimately deduces tat the murderer intended quite a different target. The murder method and the evidence are quite orignal, which cannot be said of all the later Wolfe stories (Stout became deplorably fond of cyanide). ( )
  antiquary | Feb 7, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stout, Rexprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Estleman, Loren D.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalvas, ReijoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krieger, Ellen E.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McAleer, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prichard, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There was no reason why I couldn't have been sent for the beer that day, for the last ends of the Fairmont National Bank case had been gathered in the week before and there was nothing for me to do but errands, and Wolfe never hesitated about running me down to Murray Street for a can of shoe-polish if he happened to need one.
Wolfe speaking to the golf club salesman with delusions of superiority......

You know, Mr. Townsend, it is our good fortune that the exigencies of birth and training furnish all of us with opportunities for snobbery. My ignorance of this special nomenclature provided yours; your innocence of the elementary mental processes provides mine.
Archie..............I hated to hear him (Wolfe) curse. It got on my nerves. The reason for that, he told me once, was that whereas in most cases cursing was merely a verbal explosion, with him it was a considered expression of a profound desire.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553278193, Mass Market Paperback)

I've promised myself for the past decade that, when I finally retire, my first major project will be to reread the entire Nero Wolfe canon in chronological order, a worthwhile occupation if ever there was one.

Although entirely different and not nearly as literary as Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series or the Philip Marlowe novels of Raymond Chandler, the Wolfe saga deserves to be ranked with them as among the finest series of detective stories ever written by an American. Fer-de-lance introduces the brilliant, idiosyncratic, and obese armchair detective to the world and, while it may not be the best book of the series, it provides a wonderful murder set on a golf course and a cast of characters and laundry list of eccentricities that are an integral part of each novel and novella.

Rex Stout has managed to pull off a feat unparalleled to this day: the perfect combination of deductive reasoning--as exemplified by the classic Golden Age writers such as Christie, Sayers, Van Dine, and Queen--with the hard-boiled attitude and dialogue of the more realistic tough guy writers such as Chandler, Macdonald, Hammett, and Robert B. Parker.

The toughness is brought to the books by Wolfe's leg man and amanuensis, Archie Goodwin. The structure and ambience of the books is, quite deliberately, very much like the Sherlock Holmes stories that Stout so admired. The house on West 35th Street is as familiar as the sitting room at 221B Baker Street; his cook Fritz pops up as regularly as Mrs. Hudson; and his irritant, Inspector Cramer of the NYPD, serves the same role as several Scotland Yard detectives, notably Inspector Lestrade, did for Holmes. Fair warning: It is safe to read one Nero Wolfe novel, because you will surely like it. It is extremely unsafe to read three, because you will forever be hooked on the delightful characters who populate these perfect books. --Otto Penzler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:15 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A case of multiple murder sends super sleuth Nero Wolfe and his quick-witted legman Archie Goodwin on a desperate hunt for clues, but they soon discover that they may be getting too close to a killer when someone sends them a fer-de-lance, one of the world's most poisonous snakes, as a deadly "gift."… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

Legacy Library: Rex Stout

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