Fer-de-Lance or Golden Spiders? Did I choose the right Nero Wolfe?
When I suggested Fer-de-lance as our read for this month, I did in a sort of quandry, should I suggest The golden spiders instead?
If you were showing someone Sherlock Holmes for the first time, would you give them A study in scarlet or The hound of the Baskervilles? If you were offering them Poirot, would you give them The mysterious affair at Styles or Murder on the Orient Express?
Fer-de-lance is the first of the Nero Wolfe novels, but in much the same way that Poirot is not at his best in his first book, and Holmes is not fulled rounded in A study in scarlet, so similarly the characters in it are not at their best. Archie is a bit of a racist here, and a bit more abrasive than later. His smooth, quick patter is one of the features of the stories. Wolfe is a little less overtly vain in later books. He thinks highly of himself, but you see his vanity in his acts, not so much in him noting his own genius.
The lesser characters are also stronger. The doctor in Fer-de-lance sounds very like Wolfe himself. This doesn’t happen in the stories. The basic formula is here, and I love the characters in the series, but I’m concerned I am not showing them at their best.
Eventually I settled on Fer-de-lance because it is the first book, even if it pretends otherwise, and because the library doesn’t have Golden spiders in paper. We have electronic audio and DVD instead. Nero’s Wolfe’s books flip in and out of print on a rotating basis and Fer-de-lance is one which is pretty much constantly available.
I would, however, like to suggest to readers that if they kind of liked the book, but aren’t sure, they should check out the excellent DVD of the television series, which is available from the library service. This will tell them, in a few brief hours, if this series in its later form is the sort of thing they will enjoy.