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A grand master of the form, Rex Stout is one of America’s greatest mystery writers, and his literary creation Nero Wolfe is one of fiction’s greatest detectives. Here, in Stout’s first two complete Wolfe mysteries, the arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth and his trusty man-about-town Archie Goodwin solve their most baffling cases. Fer-de-lance The fer-de-lance is among A grand master of the form, Rex Stout is one of America’s greatest mystery writers, and his literary creation Nero Wolfe is one of fiction’s greatest detectives. Here, in Stout’s first two complete Wolfe mysteries, the arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth and his trusty man-about-town Archie Goodwin solve their most baffling cases. Fer-de-lance The fer-de-lance is among the most deadly snakes known to man. When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, his partner, Archie Goodwin, suspects it means Wolfe is getting close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president. But this is a case with more twists than an angry rattler...and if Wolfe doesn’t handle it with extreme care, he’ll be the next one struck by a killer with poison in his heart. The League of Frightened Men Paul Chapin’s Harvard cronies never forgave themselves for the hazing prank that left their friend a cripple. Yet they believed that Paul himself had forgiven them—until a class reunion ends in death and a series of poems promising more of the same. Now this league of frightened men is desperate for Nero Wolfe’s help. But can even the great detective outwit a killer smart enough to commit an unseen murder…in plain sight?


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A grand master of the form, Rex Stout is one of America’s greatest mystery writers, and his literary creation Nero Wolfe is one of fiction’s greatest detectives. Here, in Stout’s first two complete Wolfe mysteries, the arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth and his trusty man-about-town Archie Goodwin solve their most baffling cases. Fer-de-lance The fer-de-lance is among A grand master of the form, Rex Stout is one of America’s greatest mystery writers, and his literary creation Nero Wolfe is one of fiction’s greatest detectives. Here, in Stout’s first two complete Wolfe mysteries, the arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth and his trusty man-about-town Archie Goodwin solve their most baffling cases. Fer-de-lance The fer-de-lance is among the most deadly snakes known to man. When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, his partner, Archie Goodwin, suspects it means Wolfe is getting close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president. But this is a case with more twists than an angry rattler...and if Wolfe doesn’t handle it with extreme care, he’ll be the next one struck by a killer with poison in his heart. The League of Frightened Men Paul Chapin’s Harvard cronies never forgave themselves for the hazing prank that left their friend a cripple. Yet they believed that Paul himself had forgiven them—until a class reunion ends in death and a series of poems promising more of the same. Now this league of frightened men is desperate for Nero Wolfe’s help. But can even the great detective outwit a killer smart enough to commit an unseen murder…in plain sight?

30 review for Fer-de-Lance/The League of Frightened Men

  1. 4 out of 5

    Megan Baxter

    Nero Wolfe books are always a great pleasure to read, and the wonder is that it's taken me so long to get back to them. There were always a bunch around when I was growing up, but they aren't something I've returned to as an adult as much as I have to, say, John D. MacDonald. As mysteries, they're entertaining, but much of the pleasure lies in the world Rex Stout creates for his main character, the insular haven to which people must bring him problems, and which he rarely ever leaves. Note: The r Nero Wolfe books are always a great pleasure to read, and the wonder is that it's taken me so long to get back to them. There were always a bunch around when I was growing up, but they aren't something I've returned to as an adult as much as I have to, say, John D. MacDonald. As mysteries, they're entertaining, but much of the pleasure lies in the world Rex Stout creates for his main character, the insular haven to which people must bring him problems, and which he rarely ever leaves. Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here. In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hobart

    Rex Stout's Fer-de-Lance is the first of 40+ books (novels or short story collections) featuring the exploits of private investigator Archie Goodwin (2 parts Huck Finn, 1 part Philip Marlowe) and his eccentric employer, Nero Wolfe (1 part Sherlock Holmes, 1 part Mycroft Holmes)--yes, I am one of those who think that Archie's the main character in the mis-nomered Nero Wolfe Mysteries. In reading about Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe (either by fans or professionals) there's an oft-quoted line from Walter D. Rex Stout's Fer-de-Lance is the first of 40+ books (novels or short story collections) featuring the exploits of private investigator Archie Goodwin (2 parts Huck Finn, 1 part Philip Marlowe) and his eccentric employer, Nero Wolfe (1 part Sherlock Holmes, 1 part Mycroft Holmes)--yes, I am one of those who think that Archie's the main character in the mis-nomered Nero Wolfe Mysteries. In reading about Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe (either by fans or professionals) there's an oft-quoted line from Walter D. Edmonds that you simply cannot avoid seeing, "I shall never forget my excitement on reading Fer-de-Lance, sprung like Athena perfect form the Jovian brow, fresh and new and at the same time with enough plain familiar things in scene and setting to put any reader at his ease." Aside from Oliver Wendell Holmes' margin note ("This fellow is the best of them all."), there's nothing that sums up Fer-de-Lance better, sprung like Athena indeed. It really doesn't matter how many times you've read it, but upon re-reading (and probably even initial reading if this isn't your first encounter with Wolfe and Archie--my initial read was more than 20 years ago, so I don't remember) you can't help be struck by how much Fer-de-Lance fits the model of a mature Wolfe novel--almost all the elements are there. These characters are introduced in practically their final format--a little tweak here and there over the course of the first few novels (off the top of my head I can't say how many) will get them in their final form, plus the addition of a few other characters will be necessary, but the cast of characters is already over 90% complete. In the first chapter we already have Wolfe, Archie, Fritz, Theodore, Fred and Saul presented in a manner fully recognizable to the familiar reader. The story follows a fairly typical route ('tho the identity of the murderer is revealed far earlier than is the norm), and the essential environmental elements are there--the beer, Wolfe's eccentric schedule, the orchids, a relapse, the food, a cocky scheme to land a client, an outrageous stratagem for getting that last essential piece of evidence (not that Wolfe needs it to solve the crime, merely to prove he was correct)--the only thing missing is the gathering of the witnesses/suspects/clients for Wolfe to reveal everything in his characteristically dramatic fashion. One recurring thought I had while reading it this time was that this could just as easily have been the fifteenth installment in the series as the first. As I don't recall reading about Stout consulting notes--and he's known not to rewrite any part of these stories--the fact that he can keep all the idiosyncrasies he establishes here well-intact over the next 40 years is a testimony to his mental prowess as much as anything else could be. (Contrast Stout to contemporary authors who find themselves re-writing their own protagonist's biographies thanks to their refusal to check their facts/fix errors). Enough of that--what about the book itself? Wolfe takes a small case as more of a favor/indulgence/get-him-off-my-back to one of his operatives and in doing so, stumbles upon a fact or two that leads him to conclude that a university president has been murdered in a preposterous manner. Seeing (and seizing) the opportunity to earn a large fee from this, Wolfe sends Archie to place a $10,000 bet with the District Attorney responsible for the area the president died in--wagering that an exhumation of the body will produce two particular evidences of homicide. No bet is made, but since it's Nero Wolfe suggesting it, the body's dug up, the evidence found and we're off... A fun read, a decent mystery (Stout will get better at this), great characters, and a good introduction to a wonderful world fit for revisiting over and over again. The second installment in Stout's Wolfe/Goodwin series is a great follow-up to Fer-de-Lance, following up the outlandish machinations of the killer in the first novel with s more subtle, psychological criminal. The main characters don't really develop (ever), but they are honed somewhat as Stout solidifies his vision for the series. Wolfe is approached by a man carrying both a burden of fear and guilt--back in college, he was one of a group of students (associated only by place of residence) played a prank on an underclassman which resulted in a tragedy leaving the victim crippled. Years later, these students are mostly very successful in their various fields but are bound together by this incident, they have periodically helped their victim in various ways throughout the years until he has found his own measure of success. However, it now seems that he has also taken to exacting his revenge on those he holds responsible, and Wolfe's prospective client wants the detective to put an end to it. Wolfe sends him away, but is eventually provoked by circumstances, money and, of course, Archie to take up the case -- investigating a missing persons case, two deaths, and potentially preventing many others. Stout's novels are filled with all sorts of characters--particularly when the clients are committees, as in this novel. Most of the characters (even, occasionally, the villains) are little more than a name and a near-stereotypical collection of behaviors/remarks. But most stories feature a character or two (beyond the regular cast of characters) that really stand out and are memorable. TLoFM features two of these: Paul and Dora Chapin. Paul Chapin is an author of some talent, who was left crippled (physically) after the prank mentioned above, but he seems to have been born with an emotional/psychiatric disability that's worse than that--the physical injury just makes him even more demented. Contemporary authors might do more with his character, might explore the depths of his depravity more than Stout did, but they wouldn't do so as effectively. (incidentally, he has to be played by Michael Emerson if they were ever to film this). I really can't describe his wife without getting into spoiler territory, but the pair are amongst the most memorable of all Stout's creations. This is closer to the fully-formed Wolfe novel than Fer-de-Lance, but it's not all the way there yet. For example, Inspector Cramer was smoking a pipe, not chewing a cigar; the chairs used in the office for the guests are non-descript (now that I'm looking for its first appearance, I'm really missing the red leather chair); and Wolfe uses a top-of-the-line atlas instead of his giant globe to take his fantasy trips away from a complicated case. But we are introduced to what will be mainstays of the series: large crowds assembled in Wolfe's office a time or two; his very dramatic revealing of the solution to the case; and best of all, the introduction of Wolfe's rival, foil, colleague, champion, and almost friend--Inspector Lionel Cramer of Homicide. As with any Stout, there are a few handfuls of lines that deserve quoting and requoting, I really should've kept a notebook or something handy to jot them down. As it was, I only got three of them noted: ...with the quarry within reach, the purpose fixed, and the weapon in hand, it will often require up to eight or ten minutes to kill a fly, whereas the average murder, I would guess, consumes ten or fifteen seconds at the outside. - NW She was following what Wolfe called the Anglo-Saxon theory of the treatment of emotions and desserts: freeze them and hide them in your belly. - AG I felt uncertain too, when I saw her. They don't come any uglier...At that she wasn't really ugly, I mean she wasn't hideous. Wolfe said it right the next day: it was more subtle than plain ugliness, to look at her made you despair of ever seeing a pretty woman again. - AG

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    More like 3-1/2 stars, but a pair of enjoyable tales. Having just read three very early Perry Mason novels—which were pretty bad, I'm afraid; maybe Erle Stanley Gardner got better over time—these were both fun and a relief that Rex Stout knew what he was doing. More like 3-1/2 stars, but a pair of enjoyable tales. Having just read three very early Perry Mason novels—which were pretty bad, I'm afraid; maybe Erle Stanley Gardner got better over time—these were both fun and a relief that Rex Stout knew what he was doing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Kucharski

    I've read the first book before, but could only find the 2nd book in the series in a combo book. The League is a really complicated story, all sorts of twists and turns, and I think in this book Archie's voice starts to really get set. Lots of action and danger here. And the character of Paul Chapin is very interesting as well. I've read the first book before, but could only find the 2nd book in the series in a combo book. The League is a really complicated story, all sorts of twists and turns, and I think in this book Archie's voice starts to really get set. Lots of action and danger here. And the character of Paul Chapin is very interesting as well.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    These books are a total pleasure. Not only are the characters rock solid, but the prose is highly entertaining and the puzzles are never along the same lines. A great ride that keeps you guessing, enthralled and thoroughly engaged to the very last sentence. I love Nero Wolfe!

  6. 4 out of 5

    thecrx

    Finally some Stout turns up at the NYPL! This is the ne plus ultra of detective fiction, no matter what the print size.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I love Nero Wolfe, but the editor of this edition is really bad. I especially liked The League of Frightened Men. Strangely enough the women in the story were not frightened at all.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I want to live in a lovely brownstone with a fabulous Swiss chef and 10,000 orchids.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Fer-de-lance review, finished Sept 26, 2019: Truth be told, I was expecting more of the first Nero Wolfe novel. I wanted backstory. How did Archie and Wolfe meet? What was their first case like? How did Nero settle into his rigid schedule of tending orchids, and how did that obsession begin and how did he amass his collection? Even in this first novel allusions to other cases and characters abound, leaving you feeling still as though you walked into a room in the middle of a conversation. Graspi Fer-de-lance review, finished Sept 26, 2019: Truth be told, I was expecting more of the first Nero Wolfe novel. I wanted backstory. How did Archie and Wolfe meet? What was their first case like? How did Nero settle into his rigid schedule of tending orchids, and how did that obsession begin and how did he amass his collection? Even in this first novel allusions to other cases and characters abound, leaving you feeling still as though you walked into a room in the middle of a conversation. Grasping. At this point, Archie has already been in Wolfe's employ for seven years. In the introduction, Loren Estleman heralds the consistency of Stout's approach: the benefit is that it doesn't matter where in the series you decide to start reading, the characters are ever-constant. Some see that as a pro, but I do enjoy watching characters evolve and grow over the course of a series and it seems like a missed opportunity. The mystery is interesting, but Stout gives it away about 2/3 of the way through and we watch Wolfe and Archie muddle through trying to find enough evidence to make a case against the murderer. My biggest complaints: 1. The main characters in the murder mystery were not as compelling this time around. 2. The story dragged on too long, as this could have been tightened considerably and be all the better for the effort. Of the other Stout mysteries I have read in the series, the writing zips along. It's concise, and the plot is action packed. Not in this case. 3. The morality of the ending. I'm still struggling with Wolfe's decision on how/when to time his grand reveal, when to involve the police, and the outcome that plays out as Wolfe predicted it would. A couple of Christie's later Poirot novels wrestled with morality, and the worth of a human life. Is it relative, based on the person's actions in their lifetime? Or is it absolute? Is a human life a human life regardless of context? Christie/Poirot has several perspectives on this in the later stories. Still trying to discern Wolfe's rationalization/philosophy here, as Stout only gives us about 1.5 paragraphs during Wolfe's patronizing and impatient explanation to Archie - if you can even call it an explanation, as Wolfe doesn't seem to think he owes anybody any explanations, ever. Still struggling with that, very unsatisfied. Will read the #2 story in this volume, the League of Frightened Men eventually, but putting this aside for now to simmer on the back burner. Need a break from Wolfe. (Though Archie's sarcasm still wins me over every time...) The League of Frightened Men review, finished Oct 24, 2019: This one took awhile to finish. I kept leaving it for a day or two, then reluctantly coming back to it, little by little, trying to make progress. The setup was quite dark. A Harvard student is crippled in a hazing accident, and the 20+ students involved form The League of Atonement to ease their guilt. Some are more sincere than others, but then the "victim" doesn't inspire much sympathy. The crippled man is Paul Chapin, an acidic gentleman who found success late in life writing gruesome murder mysteries. Years later, two members of The League of Atonement die unexpectedly and then not so cryptic poems are delivered to the rest of the league, claiming credit for the deaths and threatening more to come... and then another member disappears and his niece appeals to Wolfe. Archie reports that the coffers are low, and Wolfe denies the entreaties of the niece to instead pursue a larger commission of his own devising. He assembles the members of the league and submits a proposition to resolve the problem and dissipate their fears, for a price - a calculated rate based on each man's ability to pay. The trouble with this story, as with the first novel in my opinion, is that it's less a mystery and more a suspense novel without much suspense, at least for 80% of the book. There are some psychological elements to be sure, but it's more a game of cat and mouse, in this case with Wolfe and Chapin. The members of the League are for the most part window dressing, aside from a few that get time on the page, and then the efforts to develop them as true characters are half-hearted at best. I still enjoyed the banter with Wolfe and Archie, but frankly once again I was hoping for more of a robust cast of suspects with personalities, motives, intentions, flaws, and most importantly, messy relationships with one another and the deceased. Thinking I may have done myself and the series a disservice by starting with books further in Stout's writing career, when he had developed a better rhythm and tightened his writing. Will give the series a few more chances - from what I understand the characters don't develop significantly over the course of the series, but hoping the plot lines and casts of suspects do!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Book #68 -Fer-De Lance and The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout - As a teenager one of my first favorite mystery series was Rex Stout's novels about Nero Wolfe. I read a lot of them but I doubt I read them all. So since I have been reading lots of books right now, with plenty of time to read them during COVID, I thought this would be a good time to go back and re-read the Nero Wolfe books, ideally in order. Which brings us to these two books - sold together with Fer-de-Lance being the fi Book #68 -Fer-De Lance and The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout - As a teenager one of my first favorite mystery series was Rex Stout's novels about Nero Wolfe. I read a lot of them but I doubt I read them all. So since I have been reading lots of books right now, with plenty of time to read them during COVID, I thought this would be a good time to go back and re-read the Nero Wolfe books, ideally in order. Which brings us to these two books - sold together with Fer-de-Lance being the first book in the series and involving, in part, a murder and, as the title implies, a dangerous snake, and The League of Frightened Men. The League, the second book in the series, involving some Harvard graduates who did a prank that crippled a friend, Paul Chapin, and now, years later, some in the group are dying. This book is unique in a few ways: Instead of a single client Nero Wolfe has a group of clients, the League. This book also is notable for a complex adversary, Paul Chapin, as well as Nero Wolfe stating he once was married. There's another way it is notable but to say it would be to provide a spoiler, which I refuse to do. A big part of why I loved, and still love, this series, is the character of Archie Goodwin, the narrator, who is quick, clever and witty. Anyways... I remember these books being great fun and very clever. Re-reading these two they are indeed fun and have some good plot twists..... The book has an introduction by author Loren D. Estleman who says, in part, "We read Nero Wolfe because we like a good mystery. We reread him not for the plots, which have neither the human complexity of Raymond Chandler's nor the ingenuity of Agatha Christie's" and goes on to say we read them because of the relationship between Nero Wolfe and all those working with him. He concludes, "This is a world where all things make sense in time, a world better than our own. If you are an old hand making a return swing through its orbit, welcome back; pull up the read leather chair and sit down. If this is your first trip, I envy you the surprises that await you before that unprepossessing front door." I give both these books 8's.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mark Lisac

    For the first entry in a series that lasted decades, Fer-de-Lance is remarkably well realized. Yes, it's rough around the edges. Stout tolerated a lot of questionable attitudes and at least as much judge-and-jury decision making as Conan Doyle in certain stories. But the atmosphere compensates. The gauze-filtered views of New York during its 20th-century heyday, as well as the often fractious but always respectful relationship between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, are here in full. It's a pip — For the first entry in a series that lasted decades, Fer-de-Lance is remarkably well realized. Yes, it's rough around the edges. Stout tolerated a lot of questionable attitudes and at least as much judge-and-jury decision making as Conan Doyle in certain stories. But the atmosphere compensates. The gauze-filtered views of New York during its 20th-century heyday, as well as the often fractious but always respectful relationship between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, are here in full. It's a pip — or whatever word Archie would have used in the 1930s.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    This book consists of Rex Stout's first two Nero Wolfe novels. I found the first novel a little disappointing. The prose was a little thin, the characterizations a little sparse and the pacing a little off. Its saving grace was the plot, well crafted with an unusual ending. The second novel was better with a bit more sense prose, more support of the characters and better pacing. Again, the plot was masterful. While I did enjoy the second novel, these are not stories I will probably read again. This book consists of Rex Stout's first two Nero Wolfe novels. I found the first novel a little disappointing. The prose was a little thin, the characterizations a little sparse and the pacing a little off. Its saving grace was the plot, well crafted with an unusual ending. The second novel was better with a bit more sense prose, more support of the characters and better pacing. Again, the plot was masterful. While I did enjoy the second novel, these are not stories I will probably read again.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Having read several Nero Wolfe novels and watched both TV incarnations completely I finally got around to the first two novels. I was not disappointed. Stout very quickly developed a rhythm for the series and developed the characters in the fly. Fer-de-lance was a very interesting first novel but The League of Frightened Men was a masterpiece. It kept me guessing until the reveal in the last ten pages.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Deodand

    I couldn't seem to buy into the story. The dialogue is odd. Maybe this book is starting to show its age in its idioms. This series is so highly regarded and well-dissected that I gave it an extra hard try but there is not much plot movement in Fer-de-Lance and I didn't feel the necessary thrill a crime novel should impart. I couldn't seem to buy into the story. The dialogue is odd. Maybe this book is starting to show its age in its idioms. This series is so highly regarded and well-dissected that I gave it an extra hard try but there is not much plot movement in Fer-de-Lance and I didn't feel the necessary thrill a crime novel should impart.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Antoinette

    I read this for a book club assignment. I have read others in the series but Fer-de-lance was Stout's first in the series. I was appalled by the level of disdain for women and the verbal and physical abuse of women portrayed in Fer-de-lance. I am finished with Rex Stout. I read this for a book club assignment. I have read others in the series but Fer-de-lance was Stout's first in the series. I was appalled by the level of disdain for women and the verbal and physical abuse of women portrayed in Fer-de-lance. I am finished with Rex Stout.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Snap

    Four stars for Fer-de-Lance and 3 for The League of Frightened Men.....

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dean

    An enjoyable read. Love the banter and language.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fangfei

    I'd recommend these two stories for anyone who's looking for breezy set of mysteries to read. Just keep in mind that these stories were written in the 1930s, when people were less "woke." I'd recommend these two stories for anyone who's looking for breezy set of mysteries to read. Just keep in mind that these stories were written in the 1930s, when people were less "woke."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I first read a Nero Wolfe mystery when I was about 13 or 14, right at the height of my interest in classic detective fiction. Probably, because I normally stuck to British detectives, I picked up a Wolfe because my grandfather liked them and had a small boxed set of paperbacks on his shelf. He didn't keep many books in his house, so I can only guess that they were a gift - and/or he simply liked them a lot. Coming back to Rex Stout's famous sedentary sleuth a decade and a half later, I think the I first read a Nero Wolfe mystery when I was about 13 or 14, right at the height of my interest in classic detective fiction. Probably, because I normally stuck to British detectives, I picked up a Wolfe because my grandfather liked them and had a small boxed set of paperbacks on his shelf. He didn't keep many books in his house, so I can only guess that they were a gift - and/or he simply liked them a lot. Coming back to Rex Stout's famous sedentary sleuth a decade and a half later, I think there's a pretty good case to be made for the latter possibility. The joy of a Nero Wolfe mystery isn't actually the mystery; it's all in the interactions between Wolfe, the educated, upper-class armchair warrior, and his "extension," the hardboiled, ready-for-action Archie Goodwin. It doesn't take more than a few chapters to realize that the identity of a murderer, the location of a weapon or the revelation of an important clue is an entirely secondary concern to what Archie and Wolfe will have for lunch, how Wolfe will convey emotion through the slightest of physical movements, and crucially, the manner in which Archie chooses to colorfully phrase it. Knowing my granddad, I'm sure he found these books really, really funny, and extremely entertaining. I do, too. In the last few years, Bantam has released five "2-in-1" trade paperbacks of selections from Stout's seventy-odd Wolfe novels and novella anthologies; going by the change in fonts and page numbers, these appear to be a cost-cutting method to rid them of unwanted stock. By luck more than design, it seems, the first of these "2-in-1"s collects the first two Nero Wolfe novels, Fer-de-Lance (1934) and The League of Frightened Men (1935). Something told me I had read both of these books before, and I wasn't wrong; I've never had a memory for mystery solutions, though, so aside from a few familiar details they were essentially new to me all over again. I also had a small recollection that Frightened Men was the better of the two, and once more, that proved to be the case. Fer-de-Lance is, frankly, an absolutely typical murder mystery, without a whole lot of special interest; it's even got an almost arbitrary title, justified by a single comment from Archie toward the end of the book. Mostly, it's a good example of world-building, because even without making this "the first Nero Wolfe story" in narrative terms, Stout puts all of his energy behind his construction of Wolfe and Archie's existence: how they act, what they say, Wolfe's schedule, Archie's habits, the roles of regulars like Fred Durkin, Fritz Brenner and Saul Panzer, and (of course) many, many mealtimes. To become invested in Fer-de-Lance is to become invested in the reality of the brownstone on West 35th Street. As a "pilot," then, it works quite well, but it's not a particularly exceptional debut from the mystery standpoint, and Wolfe's dispensation of justice at the conclusion is even a little bit bizarre in its callousness. The League of Frightened Men ups Stout's game considerably because it not only provides Wolfe with an excellent puzzle to solve, it gives him a great antagonist from the outset. This isn't a "whodunnit" but a "howdunnit," and perhaps more importantly, how are Wolfe and Archie going to stop him? The entire scenario allows Stout a great deal of opportunity for excellent character work on both sides of the equation, and I wouldn't be too surprised if he had a film adaptation in mind. Like the preceding novel, the technical aspect of the solution is a bit anticlimactic; this time, though, there is a marvelous verbal showdown between Wolfe and the focus of the book, Paul Chapin, that pretty much makes it worth the price of admission. It's likely that these are neither the best Nero Wolfe novels nor the ones hardened enthusiasts would recommend to newcomers. I've read other reviews that suggest they are both "a little bit patchy" or that Stout is still "working out the kinks." Even without the experience of more than six or eight books in the series under my belt, I can see the validity of the criticism. That said, they are still great fun, highly flavorful, and at around 300 pages each, remarkably quick and addictive reads. Perfect reading for a rainy afternoon.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    How does one reconcile the "cerebral" or "refined" detective--like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, etc--with the more hard-bitten detectives in the style of Continental Op/Sam Spade/Mike Hammer? If you're Rex Stout, you can have your cake and eat it too by pairing up an exemplar of each type: the brilliant, inscrutable Nero Wolfe and his rough-about-the-edges assistant (and each story's narrator) Archie Goodwin. And if Wolfe's chef Fritz is doing the cooking, odds are that cake is worth waiting How does one reconcile the "cerebral" or "refined" detective--like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, etc--with the more hard-bitten detectives in the style of Continental Op/Sam Spade/Mike Hammer? If you're Rex Stout, you can have your cake and eat it too by pairing up an exemplar of each type: the brilliant, inscrutable Nero Wolfe and his rough-about-the-edges assistant (and each story's narrator) Archie Goodwin. And if Wolfe's chef Fritz is doing the cooking, odds are that cake is worth waiting for. This volume is the first in Bantam's excellent "Two-in-One" series of Nero Wolfe paperbacks, and fittingly enough contains Wolfe & Goodwin's first adventure, Fer de Lance . It is quite good, better than one might expect for an introductory piece of serial fiction of this sort (cf. A Study in Scarlet). But the heavy hitter here is the second included story (which is also chronologically the second Wolfe mystery, a pattern which is not always followed in subsequent Bantam installments), The League of Frightened Men , which has rightly taken its place among the greatest examples of all detective fiction. One's mileage may vary, of course, but for me a great part of the charm of these stories is that Nero Wolfe doesn't suffer fools, and as is evident from his erudite, witty prose, neither does Rex Stout. The "whodunnit" aspect is really irrelevant to proper enjoyment of the Nero Wolfe books: Stout's skills are formidable enough to ensure that the journey is always worthwhile, regardless of the destination. It's hard to imagine paying a writer a greater compliment than that.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brian Grover

    I like to occasionally read mysteries, and I'd heard of Nero Wolfe as a character somewhere in my upbringing, so when I saw that these books are set in 1930s New York City I took the plunge and picked up this copy of the first two Wolfe mysteries. Let me say first that these books are fun to read. I don't think either of these qualifies as a great mystery, but the characters of Wolfe and his henchman Archie are enjoyable. Wolfe is a genius but also an unbelievably arrogant asshole, and he's basic I like to occasionally read mysteries, and I'd heard of Nero Wolfe as a character somewhere in my upbringing, so when I saw that these books are set in 1930s New York City I took the plunge and picked up this copy of the first two Wolfe mysteries. Let me say first that these books are fun to read. I don't think either of these qualifies as a great mystery, but the characters of Wolfe and his henchman Archie are enjoyable. Wolfe is a genius but also an unbelievably arrogant asshole, and he's basically housebound given how morbidly obese he is, so he's got poor Archie (who doubles as our narrator) running all over the greater NYC area trying to brace suspects and gather clues for him. And the way Stout writes in Archie's voice is great, real Humphrey Bogart stuff. Sample sentence: "I can stand a real tough baby, but a bird that fancies himself for a hot mixture of John D. Rockefeller and Lord Chesterfield, being all the time innocent of both ingredients, gives me a severe pain in the sitter." I mean, that's great. Anyway, I can't imagine why you would want to read all 72 of Stout's Wolfe stories, but if you want a fun beach read and like mysteries I think you could do a lot worse than one of these.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Over the summer I set a goal of reading all of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories. I read Robert Goldsborough’s continuation also. What wonderful books. I had forgotten how much I loved Nero and Archie. My Dad introduced these stories to me when I was kid and had graduated from Nancy Drew. We read them together and discussed. Although my Dad has been gone for over 30 years, as I re-read these mysteries I could picture him reading in his chair and would even catch a whiff of his Old Spice after shave Over the summer I set a goal of reading all of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories. I read Robert Goldsborough’s continuation also. What wonderful books. I had forgotten how much I loved Nero and Archie. My Dad introduced these stories to me when I was kid and had graduated from Nancy Drew. We read them together and discussed. Although my Dad has been gone for over 30 years, as I re-read these mysteries I could picture him reading in his chair and would even catch a whiff of his Old Spice after shave. He would have loved Robert Goldsborough’s continuation of the series, I know I did. I chose the first in the series for this comment but this applies to all 50+ stores. I loved each and every one of these mysteries and if you like a good mystery to read on a warm summer’s night you can’t go wrong with hanging out with Archie and Mr. Wolfe.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    There are so many reviews of the writings of Rex Stout that I don't feel the need to say more about that. It is far more important to review the failings ofthis particular edition, printed in 2008. The entire volume is littered with spelling errors, and a few punctuation mistakes as well. This may seem a minor thing, but the difference of one letter can be the difference between talking about "the murdered" and talking about "the murderer." I find that important. I'm accustomed to an occasional There are so many reviews of the writings of Rex Stout that I don't feel the need to say more about that. It is far more important to review the failings ofthis particular edition, printed in 2008. The entire volume is littered with spelling errors, and a few punctuation mistakes as well. This may seem a minor thing, but the difference of one letter can be the difference between talking about "the murdered" and talking about "the murderer." I find that important. I'm accustomed to an occasional typo in a manuscript, but the large number of them in this edition makes me think Bantam Books lacks not only editors, but proofreaders as well. There are just too many mistakes to ignore. I'm aware that Bantam has produced other "two-in-one" editions of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, but I would advise looking elsewhere for this material.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series is a true joy and pleasure...this volume contains the first two novels in the series and while I had red Fer-De-Lance before I had never read The League of Frightened Men...and the League is just fantastic...a marvleous piece of writing about writing and the then emerging idea of psychology in all aspects of life....Wole and Goodwin are such stunning detective creations...brilliant in their own right but also a great caricature of the classic staple of detective fic Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series is a true joy and pleasure...this volume contains the first two novels in the series and while I had red Fer-De-Lance before I had never read The League of Frightened Men...and the League is just fantastic...a marvleous piece of writing about writing and the then emerging idea of psychology in all aspects of life....Wole and Goodwin are such stunning detective creations...brilliant in their own right but also a great caricature of the classic staple of detective fiction.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jessi

    An incredibly rich man has died and only Nero Wolfe seems to think that it is murder. He starts working on finding a client. "The League of Frightened Men" has twelve men who have been paying for their guilt in a life-maiming accident ever since college. Now the man they hurt seems to be picking them off one by one. Is this mysterious writer really killing the men or is there something darker going on? An incredibly rich man has died and only Nero Wolfe seems to think that it is murder. He starts working on finding a client. "The League of Frightened Men" has twelve men who have been paying for their guilt in a life-maiming accident ever since college. Now the man they hurt seems to be picking them off one by one. Is this mysterious writer really killing the men or is there something darker going on?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    I didn't really know what to expect from Nero Wolfe. I hadn't seen the television series, and had no idea who Nero Wolfe was. It's an okay series, solidly written. Definitely a product of their time, but that's a positive thing. But I never found myself getting caught up in Wolfe - unlike Poirot. I didn't really know what to expect from Nero Wolfe. I hadn't seen the television series, and had no idea who Nero Wolfe was. It's an okay series, solidly written. Definitely a product of their time, but that's a positive thing. But I never found myself getting caught up in Wolfe - unlike Poirot.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Years ago I watched the Nero Wolfe tv series on A&E. When I realized there was a book series behind t I found this book at the library. They are good detective stories with twists and turns, but what makes it is the voice of the narration and the dialogue. My reading was very colored by what I remember of the show, but in a good way.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sue Jochens

    Can anything compare with an old film noir type detective book? Going back to my childhood, I have recently picked up some old Rex Stout books and have decided to read them in order. As good in 2015 as they were in 1964. They just don't write cool stuff like Stout, Hammett, Chandler, and the like anymore. Can anything compare with an old film noir type detective book? Going back to my childhood, I have recently picked up some old Rex Stout books and have decided to read them in order. As good in 2015 as they were in 1964. They just don't write cool stuff like Stout, Hammett, Chandler, and the like anymore.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kristy

    I liked the League of Frightened Men more than Fer de Lance but both were quite good. I like the combination of noirish hardboiled dialogue and time period with a British Christie-style bloodless plot and a slightly ridiculous egomaniac detective.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Walker

    Of their time - it's been amusing how many words the Kindle dictionary showed up as "[ARCHAIC]" - but an entertaining read. The two main characters aren't just ciphers - particularly Archie, where there must have been a temptation to Watson-ise him. I'll be reading the next one(s) too. Of their time - it's been amusing how many words the Kindle dictionary showed up as "[ARCHAIC]" - but an entertaining read. The two main characters aren't just ciphers - particularly Archie, where there must have been a temptation to Watson-ise him. I'll be reading the next one(s) too.

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