Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Archie Meets Nero Wolfe" by Robert Goldsborough

Does it ever happen to you that you're in the middle of a book (or four), and then another book arrives at your house, and you're like, "Oh, I'll just read the first page to see what it's like, and then I'll read the rest after I finish the book (or four) I'm working on right now."  And two days later, you've finished the whole new book.

Well, that's what happened to me with Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, which bears the entirely unneeded subtitle A Prequel to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries.  I mean, what else could it possibly be?

You know by now that I love Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries.  They're one of my happy places.  I've never read a Wolfe pastiche before, though, and I was a leeetle nervous going into this.  I've read enough Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen pastiches to know that sometimes you find someone golden who can write those characters they way they ought to be written, but most of the time you get all miserable because it's sort of bad fanfiction written by someone with a tin ear.

Happily, Goldsborough is good.  His pacing is sound, and he plots well.  His dialog for Wolfe was excellent -- I could really feel like yes, this was Wolfe.  Same for Inspector Cramer.  The 'teers, Saul and Fred and Orrie, were good too.  But of course, the quality of any Nero Wolfe pastiche is going to hinge on the portrayal of Archie Goodwin.  He's the narrator of the originals, the real heart of the stories, and by far my favorite character in them.  Archie is make or break.

And here too, Goldsborough made it work.  Not quite so perfectly as Wolfe -- it wasn't until the last third of the story that I really started feel like yup, this is my Archie Goodwin.  But that's actually okay, and may have been intentional, because the book begins with Archie at 19, freshly arrived in NYC and trying to find his niche in the big city.  He's still zesty and charming, but feels a little unformed, and I've decided that Goldsborough did that on purpose, because Archie at 19 obviously wouldn't have yet acquired the flair he has as a grown man.  It's by hanging out with Saul Panzer and Nero Wolfe that he can learn to be more than just brash and brave.  

After I'd finished reading this, I did a little internet sleuthing of my own and discovered that Goldsborough had previously written several Nero Wolfe mysteries, so I'm kind of thinking I'll try to find some of those now too.  Not like I've run out of actual Nero Wolfe books, because I have half a shelf of them I haven't read yet, but... the more, the merrier, huh?

The actual plot of Archie Meets Nero Wolfe revolves around a kidnapping case that Wolfe solves with the help of his go-to independent operatives, Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather, as well as someone who pops up in a couple of the originals, Del Bascom.  And Del Bascom brings along a bright young fellow he's taken on as an assistant, one Archie Goodwin.  By the end of the book, Wolfe has come to appreciate Goodwin's detecting instincts, ability to recall entire conversations verbatim, and energetic inability to sit around and do nothing.  He offers him the job of assistant, warning him he'll need to be part secretary, part clue hound, and part pants-kicker.  And, well... we all know how that turns out.

Particularly Good Bits:

"False humility is a transparent plea for praise and recognition, neither of which I find worth the price of the pretense" (p. 138).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some violence, a child in peril, and a little bad language here and there (the same kind you'd run into in the original books).  

2 comments:

  1. I still haven't found a copy of this one, though I keep looking. I didn't look to see if you have read any of the other Goldsborough entries yet, but they are good. "Murder in E-Minor" picks up where Stout left off (and if you haven't read Stout's last book, "A Family Affair" I suggest you do that first because there is a spoiler in the first page of the Goldsborough book.)

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    1. Nope, haven't read any of his others, but my library has 3 others besides this one, including Murder in E-Minor. It so happens that A Family Affair is (so far) my favorite Nero Wolfe book, so I will definitely check MIEM out.

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