Mystery reader (especially series) and Austen lover
Published in 1934, Fer-De-Lance is the first of more than 40 Nero Wolfe books written by Rex Stout. This classic detective story introduces Nero Wolfe, a very fat and somewhat arrogant genius who grows orchids, eats only gourmet meals prepared by his cook, never leaves his house, and solves murders and other mysteries for very high fees. We also meet Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's secretary, gopher, guy Friday, and general assistant, who is the narrator of all the Wolfe books and does the legwork in the mystery solving business. Wolfe is at times taciturn, rarely expresses any emotion, and is often enigmatic. Archie Goodwin is a bit of a tough guy, a bit of a ladies' man, often utters wisecracks to the cops and others, and sometimes argues with Wolfe. Together they make a great detective, and their adventures are entertaining and sometimes informative. The books were written from 1934 through 1975, and often provide an interesting picture of the changing American society during those times.
Fer-De-Lance has an interesting and entertaining puzzle. The narration by Michael Prichard is quite good, although I could have wished for a bit more of a smart-aleck tone when delivering wisecracks.
I first discovered Nero Wolfe in my early mystery reading days (when paperbacks cost 35 to 50 cents), and read most of them I think. However, that was long ago, and I am delighted at having the chance to "read" them again.
These are mysteries that have some action, some emotion and some violence, but the primary focus is the puzzle and the relationship of Wolfe and Archie. So if you like a mystery that doesn't have a bunch of graphic sex or violence, I recommend Nero Wolfe.
The Miss Silver mysteries are charming reflections of their times, written in what sometimes seems a rather stilted style to today's reader. But once you get past that, the stories are interesting, the puzzles are ingenious, and Miss Silver solves them all.
Miss Silver is not like Miss Marple: Miss Silver actually does some detective work, like tailing suspects and re-enacting certain aspects of a murder. She is also not as endearing as Miss Marple, and I like her the better for it.
The Clock Strikes Twelve involves alibis that depend on times, clocks that are tampered with, and people disguising themselves to look like someone else, all in the context of a family New Years Eve party to welcome in 1940.
This is the seventh book in the Miss Silver series, and I think it is one of Patricia Wentworth's best. Diana Bishop takes a text which might be rather dry and makes it interesting and dramatic.
Edmund Crispin wrote 9 novels in the 1940s and 50s featuring Gervase Fen, an eccentric, often outrageous, sometimes absent-minded, arrogant and madcap Oxford don and lecturer in English literature. In The Moving Toyshop, a friend of Fen's discovers a dead body in a toyshop, but when he returns with the police not only is the body gone, but the toyshop has become a grocery. He seeks Fen's help, and what follows is a strange, crazy adventure involving Fen, his friend, a beautiful young woman, a solicitor (lawyer), various villains, and a large crowd of Oxford undergrads. The murder turns out to be connected to the disposition of the estate of a recently deceased rich old woman.
The story is sometimes tedious, but by and large it is fast moving and very entertaining. I enjoyed the moments when Fen and his friend speak directly about Crispin and Crispin's publisher. Perhaps my favorite moments are when Fen and friend play games involving naming "Impossible to Read Books" and "Characters Impossible to Like," and proceed to name a few of each. The finale of the actual mystery includes a chase through the town of Oxford involving many people, and in atmosphere could be compared to the Keystone Cops, or in a way to the chase in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
These books are probably not for everyone. Like slapstick, either you like it or you don't. But if you do, Gervase Fen can be great fun.
I just finished listening to “Fer-de-Lance”. It was written in 1934 and is the first book in a series that runs to more than 40 books. The Nero Wolfe series is considered by many to be one of the great mystery series of all time.
There are fashions and fads in publishing just as there are in clothing. At the time Rex Stout was writing, the fashion for crime novels was for them to be short. I think they usually ran 180 to 200 pages. Just before listening to this book, I listened to a rather horrible and over-long science fiction novel, and starting this was like a refreshing breath of cool mountain air. The Sci Fi novel ran nearly 24 hours. Fer-de-Lance, at 8.5 hours, was about a third as long. This means that Rex Stout had to make every word in this novel count. The plot had to be tight; he didn’t have any room in his word count for long, preachy speeches or irrelevant subplots. This novel may have been a third the length of the other, but I got three times or ten times or 50 times the pleasure from it.
And yet in that 8.5 hours, he manages to give us vivid characters who are instantly recognizable by the way they speak, a complicated mystery, and a great deal of humor. He does not find it necessary to assault us with bad language, gratuitous sex (or any sex at all), or gruesome details of gory or prolonged deaths. Thank goodness.
I was introduced to this series as a teenager, and every few years I have to reread them. I’m not sure I’ve read every one in the series. It used to be hard to get the whole series. The series was written over more than 40 years so some of them always seemed to be out of print. I’m not sure all of them are available now, but Audible has 19 of the 47 (By my count. I could be wrong.) Kindle has most of them, but I’m not sure if they have them all.
Do not be afraid to start the series because you can’t get them all. This is one series in which each book truly stands alone. You don’t need to read them in any particular order. However, since they were written over such a long period of time, I like to read those I can get in order by publication date because I get some amazement and pleasure out of watching the changes in society over time. For instance, in this book, cars still have rumble seats, housemaids earn $1.00 per week, and biplanes are still the standard. In one of the books in the series written 20 years later, Archie (Wolfe’s assistant) boards an airplane in New York and flies to Italy while wearing his gun in a shoulder holster and nobody even questions him about it.
Now a word about the narrator. I think all the books in this series are read by Michael Prichard. He narrates a lot of crime and suspense novels. He does a good job. I can tell Wolfe from Archie by his voice. I have no complaints about the way he does women’s voices. I am sorry that he doesn’t do accents because there are people in these books that definitely have them. But on the other hand, you probably couldn’t find a single narrator who could do as many accents as you would need for this series, so I guess we have to be grateful for what we get.
Bottom line: I recommend this entire series. Big time.