Hello there. Hope you’re feeling well today.You may remember a few weeks remarking a few weeks back that I mentioned in passing on a train journey to Cardiff that I had started to read Might As Well Be Dead. A novel in the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout.
Well I’ve finished it now. You might ask why a book I described at the time as being as like fast food fiction has taken me so long to complete? The answer is that I’ve succumbed to the addiction of the reader and have more than book on the go. In my case five…
Now you also may remember that I said I’d read one Nero Wolfe book before decades ago and whilst I didn’t like it not being able to recall why. Well now I’ve read this I think I’ve got some idea.
Let’s start with the character of Nero Wolfe himself. He’s a gruff, fat agoraphobic private detective who does others to the running around for him (notably Archie Goodwin the narrator). No matter how puzzling the case he can solve them with the walls of his house. Not just that but people (including the police) come to him and he cannot haul his presumably fat backside occasionally out to see what New York looks like now.
Aside from solving puzzles Wolfe likes orchids and fine food (cooked for him by his own butler). Presumably if these books were written today the final novels in the series would have him suffering with diabetes and dying through a massive heart attack.
Must also say that I did wonder whether Wolfe was also gay. After all he lives with other men in the house (Archie Goodwin has a separate bedroom), doesn’t employee any women and wears silk pyjamas. Of course this is all supposition (if you want my guess his partner is the butler) but a quick skim on the internet reveals that I’m not the only one who has that thought.
Of course it doesn’t matter today. The novel though was published in 1957. So if Wolfe really is homosexual then it’s perfectly understandable why Rex Stout would not have made it clear. What isn’t forgivable though is the treatment of women. If this story is a guide the most sympathetic female is the “damsel in distress”. But hey “Damsel in distress” don’t worry your pretty little head about finding evidence to get your boyfriend out of Death Row. We, “the men”, are dealing with it.
At worst? Well let’s put it this way there were many examples to pick. I’ll go with this one though. One female character was described as being good enough to take up the “theatrical aisle” (I’m assuming it wasn’t a euphemism but who knows?) as long as she “shut up”.
If we compare Nero Wolfe with Perry Mason women are ogled at but respected. Don’t forget that Della Street is Mason’s number 2 so whilst beautiful is still depicted as intelligent.
Rather like Perry Mason there is not really a puzzle for the reader to solve. He/she is along for the ride. But even here there’s a moment where Wolfe goes for a course of action through a hunch and nothing else. It works of course but it’s not really impressive. Consequently the big reveal receives an inconsequential shrug from me.
In the interest of fairness I will say there was one unexpected shock in this book which I won’t spoil though but really taken as a whole this isn’t any good. At the end of reading Nero Wolfe I felt like howling in despair at the waste of it all.
Until the next time.