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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Holmes, Wolfe, and Their Admirers

The first Nero Wolfe novel, 1934 

“I’ve never read a Nero Wolfe story.”

So said (approximately) one Sherlockian friend of mine to another Sherlockian friend of mine. Sherlockian #2 immediately sent Sherlockian #1 a CARE package of Wolfe books.

Why is there such an overlap of Sherlockians and Wolfeans? Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, was an early member of the Baker Street Irregulars. (Coincidentally, he wrote the first Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, in 1934, the year the BSI started.) But there is much more to it than that.

When I attended an early Black Orchids dinner in New York in 1979, the room was packed with Sherlockians – my friend John McAleer, Chris Steinbrunner, Otto Penzler, and Isaac Asimov spring to mind. Today, the Werowance of the Wolfe Pack, Ira Brad Matetsky, is also a BSI and a Sherlockian scholar of note.

Although Holmes and Wolfe are very different – and Dr. Watson and Archie Goodwin even more so – I believe that their adventures have three things in common that have little to do with the stories as mysteries:

  • The lead characters, minor characters, and the villains are all great. They pop off the page.
  • The writing is terrific. Pick a page of the weakest story in the Canon or the Corpus and read it out loud to see what I mean.
  • More than anything else, though, Holmes and Wolfe inhabit immersive worlds that we want to go back to again and again. Nuno Robles, a Portuguese reader of my own Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries, was kind enough to say that opening a new one was like going home again. That’s the feeling of re-reading a Holmes or Wolfe adventure for the fourth or fourtieth time.

I’ll be interested to hear how Sherlockian friend #1 reacts to Nero Wolfe. I suspect that he will soon be working on a chronology of the Wolfe stories.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, these two live in their own worlds, which run parallel to ours, but are more enticing for many reasons.
    I've maintain the Wolfe stories, after the first half-dozen or so, are really comedies, with each regular playing out their assigned roles to the bewilderment of others and the delight of their readers. But that's just me.