Friday, June 03, 2022

25. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout

I've been on the hunt for an easy find of some classic Nero Wolfe and alighted upon this two-fer (which I later realized was in large print format) of the first two, with some nice introductions and afterwords (including a map of Wolfe and Goodwin's digs).  Because I am perverse, I went with the second one first (actually I just preferred the title and only realized afterwards that this was indeed the first two Nero Wolfe books chronologically).

It did not disappoint.  I get why this series is considered classic.  I have listened to many of the Old Time Radio plays of Nero Wolfe and enjoyed the banter, but the language and interplay between Wolfe and Archie Goodwin in the books is a richer and more pure delight.  There is something about two men of extremely different personalities, united and perhaps trapped by work, who can be wittily candid about each other's perceived failings that is enjoyable to read.  It helps that Stout really is great with character and language.  Furthermore, the dressing around their relationship (Fritz, the elite french chef; the various helper detectives that Goodwin bosses around, New York City and environs) contribute to make this book a true escapist fantasy for a certain kind of reader.

My interest in the mystery itself waxed and waned, though the conclusion was quite satisfying.  A group of Harvard graduates come to Wolfe because two of their number have been murdered and they are receiving threatening letters from the person they know did it.  In their college days, a hazing prank went wrong and they crippled a freshmen. They had tried their best to make it up to him, paying for his care, supporting him to the point that he became a successful writer and befriending him but they all suspected that he still secretly hates them and, without incriminating himself, he makes it clear that he does.  As a group of clients, they are challenging as some of them still feel guilt for what they did and don't want him punished.  He comes off as twisted psychologically (perhaps even before the accident), kind of a psychotic mastermind against which Wolfe must pit his own genius.

Lots of fun. I am looking forward to reading the first one.

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