A critical analysis of the different re-creations—in books, television, and film—of Rex Stouts’ Nero Wolfe series.
According to Shaw, Rex Stout’s fictional detective, Nero Wolfe, and his sidekick, Archie Goodwin, together constitute a “cultural landmark,” a “timeless” literary creation refashioned many times by others—evidence of its value. The author provides an impressively exhaustive account of what amounts to decades of homage to Stout’s work as well as the extant literature on it. He covers not only the movies made from Nero Wolfe’s debut, but also subsequent attempts to capture the quirky character on television and in novels featuring him written by other authors like Robert Goldsborough, who has produced more than a dozen reprisals of the protagonist. Ultimately, Shaw concludes that the film and television adaptations, while some had their virtues, miss the authorial “craftsmanship” of Stout’s “writing prowess,” which is the primary attraction of the series. Goldsborough, however, “captures and transmits the characters’ personalities through incisive descriptions, accurate dialogue, and references to events in Stout’s original body of work.” The author also discusses in great detail the narrative genius of the original series, expressed in Stout’s decision to make Archie’s perspective the principal one, a literary strategy that, in eschewing omniscience, permits a more accurate representation of the investigatory search for truth. Shaw’s command of the material is astonishing—his knowledge of all things related to Stout is encyclopedic. And more than just a storehouse of trivia, he furnishes consistently incisive interpretations of both Stout’s work and the attempts to re-create it. Also, despite his obvious admiration for Stout, Shaw’s study is not hagiographic—he sensibly points out Stout’s vices as well as virtues: “Not every Rex Stout story is at the lofty levels of his best. Some are mundane, lack vivid characters, have muddled plots, and present Wolfe and Goodwin in cranky, sometimes lackluster moods.” For readers with a similar enthusiasm for Stout’s work, this is a perspicacious analysis written with verve and infectious admiration.
A brief but thorough look at Rex Stout’s literary accomplishments coupled with a thoughtful assessment of the many attempts to reproduce it.