I’m going to be shamelessly stealing an idea from my wife. She keeps track of the books she reads every year and writes up reviews, part of what she calls the “Read Some More Damned Books Initiative.” I’m a voracious reader myself, so I figure I might as well join in the fun and see just how much I actually do read.
First some background: some network, I forget which, did a television adaptation of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe back in the early 80’s. They had a couple of big name actors – William Conrad was Wolfe – and while they’d kept the main characters and the basic personalities and relationships, the show’s plots ignored most of the original mysteries and updated the era to modern times. I wasn’t even in my teens at the time, but I remember watching it and liking it, but being only slightly disappointed that it was never renewed after the first season.
Back in 2000, A&E came out with a newer adaptation of the Wolfe stories. These were much more faithful to the original stories with gorgeous period sets, a great stable of character actors and everything done with A&E’s exceptional production values. I caught a few episodes when they first aired, and added the series to my NetFlix queue when I saw that it was out on DVD. It’s worth watching the A&E series for an episode or two before reading the books. They did a stellar job casting Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as his chief assistant Archie Goodwin. After having seen the episodes, it’s nearly impossible to avoid having the actors’ voices in mind when reading the books.
So. The books. Rex Stout wrote 46 Nero Wolfe novels and a similar number of short novellas starting in the mid-1930’s up to his death in the mid-1970’s. A month or two ago, we started looking for the books and found a Bantam reissue of the first four novels in omnibus editions. We bought two big, fat trade paperbacks with two novels in each one. Last year I finished up the first two novels: Fer-de-Lance and The League of Frightened Men. They were both very good, but obviously I can’t count those two for books read this year. Fortunately earlier today I wrapped up the third novel – The Rubber Band.
Like the first two books, it is a bit of a period peice. Several of the more elderly characters reminisce about their youth in the (at the time) Wild West, and occasionally someone will be compared in appearance to an actor or public figure who would have been a household name at the time, but whose fame hasn’t quite endured for 75 years. Those minor quibbles are the only ones I’ve got, it’s a tight and clever mystery with some excellent characters. My favorite part of it, without getting into any spoilers, is that even though I’d figured out who the culprit logically had to be fairly early on, the way that character behaved – especially compared to the other suspects – was enough to plant seeds of doubt that weren’t dispelled until the final chapter.
Page count: 189 pages. Highly recommended.