To mystery fans, they will always be the odd couple.
Nero Wolfe is gigantic. Archie Goodwin is slim.
Nero Wolfe is sedentary. Archie Goodwin is dynamic.
Nero Wolfe is a genius. Archie Goodwin, who supplies the brawn and the narration, is smart, but no genius.
Nero Wolfe is a misogynist. Archie Goodwin is...well, he's not.
I could go on at some length about Rex Stout's most famous characters, but one thing is certain: while they are quite different from each other, they make an incredible team - and for many decades, their escapades have excited and entertained us.
But you have to wonder: how did two such different people ever get together to form a team? Rex Stout, in all his writing, never really told us.
Wonder no longer. Robert Goldsborough, with the blessings of Rex Stout's estate, has written an account of that historic meeting, in "Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries," published today by MysteriousPress.com/Open Road. It is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Robert Goldsborough had already written seven other post-Rex Stout novels about Wolfe and Archie before this one. They were enjoyable - but, to many Wolfe fans including myself, they weren't quite on target all the time. Writing new books about existing and popular characters isn't easy (look at all the Sherlock Holmes pastiches!).
This time, though, Goldsborough really has found a way around that problem by writing an account of the first meeting beetween Wolfe and his future right-hand man. In other words, this takes place BEFORE the two men had a chance to get to know each other. So if a particular line of dialogue doesn't sound like the Nero Wolfe or Archie Goodwin we all know...well of course it doesn't; they were both still unused to each other and developing as characters. (Frankly, I find that even in the earliest Rex Stout novels, particularly "Fer-de-Lance," the rough edges on the characters are very apparent.)
And so, in this story, we learn about Archie's early days in New York, how he got himself fired from a night watchman's job after a shootout with a couple of small-time thugs, how he drifted into private eye work, and how he (and his then-boss, Del Bascom), along with several other soon-to-be regular characters, were hired by Nero Wolfe to find a kidnapped boy. Along the way, there are murders to be solved, and Archie and Wolfe discover that they rather approve of each other - or, as Wolfe might say of their relationship, "Satisfactory."
What we have here is an enjoyable mystery in its own right and its own voice. Regular readers of the Wolfe-Goodwin canon will recognize references to events that are mentioned in Rex Stout's books. Taken for what it is - a prequel involving some very familiar and endearing characters - it's really worth reading. As it was literally published today, you should have no difficulty in finding copies, whether in print or as ebooks.