The perfect read entails curling up in a comfortable chair with a mystery.

I grew up in Asheville, NC

Aug 20, 2018 by R. M. Morgan

Rex Stout wrote forty-seven Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodman books

The first novel was Fer de Lance in 1934 and the last book was Death Times Three in 1985 (published posthumously). Rex Stout was born in 1886 and died in 1975.


What do Dr. Watson and Archie Goodwin have in Common?

Dr. Watson tells his Sherlock Holmes stories in the first person, as does Archie Goodwin tell the Nero Wolfe stories. The reader does not get into Holmes or Wolfe’s head. Since the reader does not know what the genius (Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe) is thinking, the solution of the mystery will NOT be given away prematurely by the character in the novel that solves the mystery at the end. Both Holmes and Wolfe are obnoxious. Wolfe is not a character the reader would want to copy, to be. On the other hand, Goodwin is an everyman character who sees Wolfe’s good qualities and makes it possible for Wolfe to function in the world of people. Similarly, Dr. Watson helps Holmes focus on the case and operate around people.


Rex Stout Talking About His Childhood

The New York Times interviewed Rex Stout. He said that he had a trick mind for numbers. When he was a youngster, not yet a teenager, he exhibited his trick with numbers in tours through Kansas. Re Stout would stand within a classroom with his back to the blackboard. On the chalkboard, an adult would write a matrix of numbers—eleven numbers across in eleven rows. There would be a total of 121 digits. He would turn, view the blackboard for six seconds, and turn his back on the chalkboard. After a moment, Re Stout would give the total of all the numbers. Later in his life, he preferred words over numbers. He said he read the entire bible when he was three to four years old. (Robert van Gelder interview, New York Times, November 21, 1941)


Rex Stout Wrote Mysteries until Late in Life

Rex Stout kept writing Nero Wolfe novels until late in life. He published A Family Affair in 1974. Stout passed away in 1975 when he was eighty-eight years old. Interestingly, at least one other important mystery writer wrote detective stories in their later years. For example, John D. MacDonald wrote mystery books until he was seventy years old when he died in 1986 from difficulties due to a heart bypass operation. His last Travis McGee novel was in 1985, and his final mystery book was Barrier Island in 1986.


Rex Stout Thought Dashiell Hammett Wrote Exceptional Mystery Novels

Rex Stout thought Dashiell Hammett wrote better novels than Raymond Chandler. He felt the detective story, The Glass Key, superior to the Ernest Hemingway novels. Stout suggested, “Hemingway never grew out of adolescence. His scope and depth stayed shallow because he had no idea what women are for.” Stout thought one should read Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Allan Poe, who started the detective novel, for the best American detective stories. “In The Glass Key Dash Hammett did the thing Hemingway tried to do in every book he ever wrote, and a better job of it--establishing the essential manliness of the hero by telling a story about him, what he did and what he said and how he handled a situation.” (New York Times, December 1, 1971)


Rex Stout Wrote A Mystery Novel in About a Month

In a New York Times interview, Stout said "I never worked more than three months a year. Thirty-nine or forty days on each novel, and I'd do two a year.” Stout wrote in longhand and his first draft was the version he submitted as his Nero Wolfe book.

"As for the story, you take a setting that interests you, think of what might happen in that setting, choose the most exciting happenings, and then ask yourself, ‘Well, why would a man want to buy that champion bull? Why would someone murder a man because of a bull?' The answers come right along. You have your plot. You write it." ("An Interview with Mister Rex Stout" by Robert van Gelder, New York Times, Sept 21, 1941.)


Rex Stout Said He Wrote from an Idea and Not a Detailed Outline

In a Life Magazine interview, Stout stated that he would sit down to begin a new novel without having worked out the details of the story. He would know a few general ideas like the few main characters and who gets killed and who did the killing. For example, in the novel The Doorbell Rang, Stout knew the bullet wouldn’t be found in the room of the dead man, but Stout didn’t know why. As he wrote, he decided that the FBI took the bullet. Rex Stout did not drink while writing, but he would imbibe immediately after finishing his book. (Life Magazine interview, December 10, 1965)