I've been a member of the Wolfe Pack
, the literary society that celebrates all things Nero Wolfe, for almost 20 years. Our annual winter banquet is a highlight of my year. As soon as one is over, I start looking forward to the next one.
On the one hand, I can't possibly explain why I enjoy Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories so much; on the other hand, it's so intuitively obvious to me, I can't understand how anyone wouldn't.
I feel safe when I read the stories. (Many of which I've read so often I can recite chunks word-for-word.) I feel as if I'm among friends. Think about that: the characters are so real to me, I feel as if I know them… and I like them. A lot. I even like Mr. Wolfe, a notorious misogynist. And I know he likes me, despite his attitude toward women. I just know he does.
A bit of background: There are two main characters in the Nero Wolfe stories, both detectives: Mr. Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
Mr. Wolfe is in his 50s. He weighs a seventh of a ton. He loves fine food and employs a chef named Fritz. He grows orchids, spending four hours a day helping his professional gardener, Theodore, tend to his world-class collection in his rooftop conservatory. He drinks copious amounts of beer. He's reclusive, never (rarely) leaving his house on business. He spends most of his time reading. He works for money, to maintain his lifestyle, and is unmoved by calls for justice. He's a genius.
The other detective, Archie Goodwin, is Mr. Wolfe's amanuensis, just as Mr. Wolfe is Archie's werowance. Archie is in his 30s. He lives in Mr. Wolfe's New York City brownstone and eats Fritz's food, although he's no gourmet. Archie sometimes goes to the coffee shop around the corner for a corned beef sandwich or fried eggs. (Fritz never fries eggs.) Mr. Wolfe thinks he spends too much on his clothes; certainly Archie dresses well. In some books, he wears his tuxedo several times a week. He's a terrific dancer and frequents a nightclub I wish I could visit called The Flamingo. He likes baseball, the fights, and both watching and playing pool. Although he likes Lily Rowan a lot—on, ahem, spiritual grounds—he does play the field.
Lily Rowan is one of several ongoing characters. She once said that Mr. Wolfe liked her and when she was reminded that Mr. Wolfe likes no woman, she replied that at least Mr. Wolfe didn't dislike her. It's unclear why she thinks that. Mr. Wolfe has given her no reason to feel puffed up in that way. He's routinely rude to her. He gripes when she calls too frequently disturbing his reading time. Yet she believes she's the exception to the rule.
Me, too. If Mr. Wolfe were real, if I could meet him, I'm certain that he'd like me. Or at least, that he wouldn't dislike me.
Speaking of Lily Rowan, she's a hot ticket. She's beautiful, rich, and smart—a trifecta of perfection. She lives in a penthouse on East 63rd Street here in New York City. (Although Archie sometimes says that she lives at the Ritz or the Churchill. Mr. Stout once wrote me that try as he might, he couldn't get Archie to pay attention to details. Isn't that charming? I wish I could have met Mr. Stout. You can read his letter to me on the Wolfe Pack's website, www.nerowolfe.org.
Lily owns a small place (ha, ha, small… right!
) in Katonah. That's in Westchester County, just north of New York City. She calls it The Glade. And she spends summers at her ranch, Bar JR, in Lame Horse, Montana. She's 26 years old and blonde.
Despite being neither 26 nor blonde, I played Lily at this year's Bouchercon
mystery conference. I was introduced as one of the most knowledgeable people in the world about all things Nero Wolfe. That got my attention because I don't think of myself that way, but I suppose it's true. Certainly I know the opus well. You can watch the interview with Larry Light
playing Lon Cohen (another recurring character) on YouTube
I am involved in the Wolfe Pack because I enjoy being among kindred spirits; I've met people I never in a million years would have otherwise met. People who share my affection for the characters; who, like me, are willing to overlook the occasional plot flaw; and who also cherish the snapshot Mr. Stout provided of New York City in the 1950s and '60s.
I'm the chair of the Wolfe Pack's literary awards… we're the folks who give out the Nero
for best mystery of the year. We also co-sponsor the Black Orchid Novella Award
(with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
. We define “best” as honoring the literary tradition of the Nero Wolfe stories. We seek books and novellas that feature literary excellence, a solution that depends on the deductive abilities of the sleuth, and some wit!
As you may know, I write the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries
. I integrate all sorts of Wolfeian trivia into my books. You'll find the names of characters, cars, and booze, the back story of one Mr. Stout's most mysterious characters, even a dog's name. If you're a Nero Wolfe fan, this is a bit of extra fun it is my pleasure to provide.
I invite you to join the Wolfe Pack
. We have members from around the world. It only costs $35 for two years. $35—what a bargain! That buys you four issues of the Gazette and hundreds of new friends. Check out our incredibly robust website
maintained by our volunteer web queen, Carol Novak.
If Nero Wolfe isn't your cup of tea (impossible for me to fathom, but theoretically possible, I suppose), consider joining or starting a literary society of your own. It's a wonderful way to celebrate your favorite author. The kinship derived from this kind of shared intellectual pleasure is, to me, precious and priceless.
And no matter what anyone says, I know that Mr. Wolfe would like me.