Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe Series)

Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe Series)

by Rex Stout

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As any herpetologist will tell you, the fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes known to man.  When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin knows he's getting dreadully close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president.  As for Wolfe, he's playing snake charmer in a case with more twists than an anaconda -- whistling a seductive tune he hopes will catch a killer who's still got poison in his heart.

From the Paperback edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307755926
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/21/2010
Series: Nero Wolfe Series , #1
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 33,299
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Rex Stout (1886–1975) wrote dozens of short stories, novellas, and full-length mystery novels, most featuring his two indelible characters, the peerless detective Nero Wolfe and his handy sidekick, Archie Goodwin.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
There was no reason why I shouldn’t have been sent for the beer that day, for the last ends of the Fairmont National Bank case had been gathered in the week before and there was nothing for me to do but errands, and Wolfe never hesitated about running me down to Murray Street for a can of shoe-polish if he happened to need one. But it was Fritz who was sent for the beer. Right after lunch his bell called him up from the kitchen before he could have got the dishes washed, and after getting his orders he went out and took the roadster which we always left parked in front. An hour later he was back, with the rumble seat piled high with baskets filled with bottles. Wolfe was in the office—as he and I called it, Fritz called it the library—and I was in the front room reading a book on gunshot wounds which I couldn’t make head or tail of, when I glanced through the window and saw Fritz pull up at the curb. It was a good excuse to stretch my legs, so I went out and helped him unload and carry the baskets into the kitchen, where we were starting to stow the bottles away in a cupboard when the bell rang. I followed Fritz into the office.
Wolfe lifted his head. I mention that, because his head was so big that lifting it struck you as being quite a job. It was probably really bigger than it looked, for the rest of him was so huge that any head on top of it but his own would have escaped your notice entirely.
“Where’s the beer?”
“In the kitchen, sir. The lower cupboard on the right, I thought.”
“I want it in here. Is it cold? And an opener and two glasses.”
“Mostly cold, yes, sir. Very well.”
I grinned and sat down on a chair to wonder what Wolfe was doing with some pieces of paper he had cut into little discs and was pushing around into different positions on the desk blotter. Fritz began bringing in the beer, six at a time on a tray. After the third trip I had another grin when I saw Wolfe glance up at the array on the table and then around at Fritz’s back going through the door. Two more trays full; whereupon Wolfe halted the parade.
“Fritz. Would you inform me when this is likely to end?”
“Very soon, sir. There are nineteen more. Forty-nine in all.”
“Nonsense. Excuse me, Fritz, but obviously it’s nonsense.”
“Yes, sir. You said one of every kind procurable. I went to a dozen shops, at least that.”
“All right. Bring them in. And some plain salt crackers. None shall lack opportunity, Fritz, it wouldn’t be fair.”
It turned out that the idea was, as Wolfe explained to me after he had invited me to draw my chair up to the desk and begin opening the bottles, that he had decided to give up the bootleg beer, which for years he had bought in barrels and kept in a cooler in the basement, if he could find a brand of the legal 3.2 that was potable. He had also decided, he said, that six quarts a day was unnecessary and took too much time and thereafter he would limit himself to five. I grinned at that, for I didn’t believe it, and I grinned again when I thought how the place would be cluttered up with empty bottles unless Fritz ran his legs off all day long. I said to him something I had said before more than once, that beer slowed up a man’s head and with him running like a brook, six quarts a day, I never would understand how he could make his brain work so fast and deep that no other man in the country could touch him. He replied, also as he had before, that it wasn’t his brain that worked, it was his lower nerve centers; and as I opened the fifth bottle for him to sample he went on to say—not the first time for that either—that he would not insult me by acknowledging my flattery, since if it was sincere I was a fool and if it was calculated I was a knave.
He smacked his lips, tasting the fifth brand, and holding up the glass looked through the amber at the light. “This is a pleasant surprise, Archie. I would not have believed it. That of course is the advantage of being a pessimist; a pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises, an optimist nothing but unpleasant. So far, none of this is sewage. As you see, Fritz has marked the prices on the labels, and I’ve started with the cheap ones. No, here, take this next.”
It was at that moment that I heard the faint buzz from the kitchen that meant the front door, and it was that buzz that started the ball rolling. Though at the time it appeared to be nothing interesting, just Durkin asking a favor.
Durkin was all right up to the neck. When I consider how thick he was in most respects I am surprised how he could tail. I know bull terriers are dumb, but good tailing means a lot more than just hanging on, and Fred Durkin was good. I asked him once how he did it, and he said, “I just go up to the subject and ask him where he’s headed for, and then if I lose him I know where to look.” I suppose he knew how funny that was; I don’t know, I suspect him. When things got so Wolfe had to cut down expenses like everybody else from bankers to bums, Saul Panzer and I got our weekly envelopes sliced, but Durkin’s was stopped altogether. Wolfe called him in when he was needed and paid him by the day, so I still saw him off and on and knew he was having hard sledding. Things had been slow and I hadn’t run across him for a month or more when the buzzer sounded that day and Fritz brought him to the door of the office.
Wolfe looked up and nodded. “Hello, Fred. Do I owe you something?”
Durkin, approaching the desk with his hat in his hand, shook his head. “How are you, Mr. Wolfe. I wish to God you did. If there was anybody owed me anything I’d be with him like a saddle on a horse.”
“Sit down. Will you sample some beer?”
“No, thanks.” Fred stayed on his feet. “I’ve come to ask a favor.”
Wolfe looked up again, and his big thick lips pushed out a little, tight together, just a small movement, and back again, and then out and back again. How I loved to watch him doing that! That was about the only time I ever got excited, when Wolfe’s lips were moving like that. It didn’t matter whether it was some little thing like this with Durkin or when he was on the track of something big and dangerous. I knew what was going on, something was happening so fast inside of him and so much ground was being covered, the whole world in a flash, that no one else could ever really understand it even if he had tried his best to explain, which he never did. Sometimes, when he felt patient, he explained to me and it seemed to make sense, but I realized afterward that that was only because the proof had come and so I could accept it. I said to Saul Panzer once that it was like being with him in a dark room which neither of you has ever seen before, and he describes all of its contents to you, and then when the light is turned on his explanation of how he did it seems sensible because you see everything there before you just as he described it.
Wolfe said to Durkin, “You know my failing on the financial side. But since you haven’t come to borrow money, your favor is likely granted. What is it?”
Durkin scowled. Wolfe always upset him. “Nobody needs to borrow money worse than I do. How do you know it’s not that?”
“No matter. Archie will explain. You’re not embarrassed enough, and you wouldn’t have brought a woman with you. What is it?”
I leaned forward and broke in, “Damn it, he’s alone! My ears are good anyhow!”
A little ripple, imperceptible except to eyes like mine that had caught it before, ran over Wolfe’s enormous bulk. “Of course, Archie, splendid ears. But there was nothing to hear; the lady made no sound audible at this distance. And Fritz did not speak to her; but in greeting Fred there was a courtesy in his tone which he saves for softer flesh. If I should hear Fritz using that tone to a lone man I’d send him to a psychoanalyst at once.”

Table of Contents

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Fer-de-Lance 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is just one of many great books by Rex Stout in his Nero Wolfe series. He is an author everyone can enjoy, from a seventh grader to Ph.D.s. Have a dictionary at hand because your vocabulary will improve! Suspenseful, entertaining, clean, with compelling characters and brilliant prose. Try it! Tou'll like it!
LovesReadingCB More than 1 year ago
I read all the Nero Wolfe books 35 years ago. They are easy reading and very entertaining (Archie, the side kick, has a great wit). I read all kinds of books and sometimes I like to pick up one that will read quickly. I am going to read all in the series again. I recommend them to anyone who likes detective mysteries that are not graphic or full of 4-letter words and have some humor to them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book you can't put down. It is the first book to feature the lazy sleuth, and his straight-out-of-the-movies Watson, Archie Goodwin. It starts with the disapearance of an imagrint welder but ends with the death of a college president. Really good!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As enjoyable as when I first read it forty years ago. Highly recommended
PM55 More than 1 year ago
This is a very enjoyable, cozy mystery. Nero Wolfe is an eccentric and a genius. Archie Goodwin is his quintessential right hand man - he acts as Wolfe's eyes and legs. The story has twists and turns and only Nero can put the puzzle together.
wildbill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book in Rex Stout's lengthy Nero Wolfe series. It was written in 1934 and I liked the period touches that remind me how much life in America has changed. The main characters, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, complement each other well and bear some resemblance to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson who supposedly were favorites of the author. Although Goodwin is closer to a noir detective than the strictly English Dr. Watson. Wolfe as a detective who never goes out of his house and spends four hours a day with his orchids qualifies as an eccentric and displays the arrogance and genius of Holmes. The house on 35th street in New York City with a live in cook round out the resemblance to the Holmes stories. While the rest of the characters in the book were well written I cannot say the same for the plot. The first half is interesting and has some surprises but after that I could see what was going to happen far in advance.The last half of the book is not as much a mystery as a morality play. Wolfe exhibits the same attitude as Holmes towards the law. He engineers the ending to cheat the law and see that right is done.There was enough that I enjoyed that I will proceed with the series. It could be fun to read a series of sixty nine books in order and I have the feeling that they will get better.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book I got acquainted with a pair of sleuths as memorable as Hercule Poroit or Lord Peter Wimsey. Or rather Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, since in some ways Archie Godwin is to Nero Wolfe what Dr Watson is to Holmes. Archie is our narrator, the one who gives us a look at Nero's genius--but he's also less and more than Watson. He's not a friend to Wolfe, he's an employee--but since Nero is an eccentric recluse who never leaves his West 35th Street brownstone in New York City, Archie is also his legman--brawn to Nero's brain, and the two characters couldn't be more distinct in voice, manner and figure--Archie athletic, a scrappy fighter with a sassy, folksy tone--and milk is his drink. Nero Wolfe? Well, he's cultured, educated, sedentary, fat--but more than that, he at times reminds me of a Severus Snape or Gregory House--he doesn't suffer fools gladly, and can slice them into little pieces with a razor sharp mind--making him rather fun to read. The plot involving the murders of an Italian Immigrant and a wealthy patrician college president hung together well, with more than one clever twist, and this was a fun period piece, set in the Prohibition Era--the first in the series and published in 1934--but it's Archie and Nero and their interactions that really make this so fun to read.
Brandon.Law on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this because my grandfather is a big fan of Stout's. I'm on the fence about Stout at this point, as this is his first novel, I can only assume his writing will improve. The story is entertaining, Nero Wolfe is quite entertaining. The mystery is clever and the plot is well developed. I just can't put a finger on what I found annoying about reading it.
veevoxvoom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fer-de-Lance is the first of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, chronicling Nero Wolfe, a fat, erudite genius who loves food and orchids, and Archie Goodwin his street-savvy assistant. In Fer-de-Lance a woman comes to Wolfe and Archie asking them to find her missing brother, a case that grows more complex when they get involved in the murder of a man whom nobody would want to murder, a deadly game of golf, and snakes.The synopsis sounds kind of silly, but Fer-de-Lance is a worthwhile book. I first got into Nero Wolfe by watching the television series but the books live up to the show (not surprising because the show is supposed to have stuck fairly faithfully to canon). Rex Stout has the ability not only to be good at plotting mysteries but good at writing¿ his prose crackles along sharp enough to cut. Wolfe and Archie are both intriguing 3D characters with their own quirks and follies. The background characters have depth too. You end up feeling kind of sorry for the villain. Stout is also good enough to characterize both women as well as men; though there are echoes of old-fashioned attitudes towards women (and foreigners), Stout does not turn his women into beautiful playboy bunnies.The plot of Fer-de-Lance isn¿t spectacular but it carries its own weight and neatly, efficiently ties its loose ends together. It¿s one of the better detective novels I¿ve read in the past while.
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first Nero Wolfe story. I was surprised by how the characters are already complete in their quirks and their relationships with one another. I wouldn't say it's my favorite in the series, but I did enjoy it enough to look for another audiobook.
mrtall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I¿d never read a Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe murder mystery, much to my embarrassment as a fan of the genre, so I decided I¿d start at the beginning with Fer-de-Lance. And a good start it is. The story involves a rather complicated set of murders, one of which is enacted by a truly ingenious method; although I¿ve read hundreds of murder mysteries, I¿d never come across anything quite like it. And although it¿s quite easy to figure out the mystery, the book¿s extended wind-up maintains interest through a series of perhaps predictable but never the less well-executed scenes.The book¿s most surprising feature is the way in which a complex crime-solving set-up involving several well-drawn characters ¿ especially Nero Wolfe himself, and his right-hand man Archie Goodwin ¿ spring forth fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus¿s head. There is no sense of the series just beginning; indeed, the book is littered with allusions to other cases and adventures. The mood and tone of the story are also surprisingly contemporary. Yes, there are references to the 1930s context, but the characters¿ attitudes and back-and-forth banter would be right at home over a few beers today.My only hesitation in recommending this one is that at times the pace of the story flags a bit. There¿s a lot of back-and-forth driving so that meetings can be held, and the main characters¿ interactions with some of the supporting cast feel a bit mechanical at times. Overall, though, this was an interesting read, and I¿m looking forward to continuing reading more from the series.
yosarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first Nero Wolfe book that Rex Stout wrote and the first Wolfe book I read, though it certainly won't be the last. I've always loved the hardboiled detectives of America, authors like Chandler, Hammett, Himes and Block but I've recently started reading the more genteel English detective stories and this is a perfect combination of both the styles of detective fiction. The cerebral Nero Wolfe who, being a "mountain of a man" stays at home, refusing to go out but instead pieces the clues together by deduction and the streetwise and 'hardbolied' assistant Archie Goodwin who goes out to interview people, do the leg work and collect the clues necessary for Nero to make his amazing leaps of deduction. As one reviewer called the pairing it is like; "Mycroft Holmes working alongside Sam Spade".the story Rex introdces the world to Nero Wolfe with doesn't quite have the human complexity of Raymond Chandler but it does have the language and sense of the time in which it was written that he does and it also has a story with enough ingenuity and originality to rival Conan Doyle, Poe's detective Dupin or Agatha Christie with an eloborate murder weapon, some neat twists and turns and enough clues that the reader can look back and exclaim; "of course! how could I not see that?", though of course I don't want to spoil it for any newcomer and reveal any here. It also has that great relationship between the private detective and DA's office that Chandler and Hammett have, the push and pull of them rejecting each others help but needing them and the threats by the DA that Archie neatly sidesteps.This is a book and, hopefully, series i could happily recommend to fans of detective fiction and I will certainly be re-reading this myself so it gets 4 stars.
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best of the Nero Wolfe series. The huge detective and his bon vivant sidekick Archie are one of the detective pairs, but the plots are more exciting and a lot less formulaic than several other classic detective series. They can't help seeming dated to a modern reader, but that makes them more interesting -- if no one is yet writing historical crime fiction about NY in the 30's and 40's, these books may inspire them.
bookswamp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book 1, 1934; The "First" of the Nero Wolfe books, as mostly the Firsts belong to the Bests. Nero Wolfe wagers a 10,000 $ bet with the district attorny for the innocence of his client's mother, the client being a young girl. "modern" in the 1930s...
MrsLee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Even though it is his first Wolfe and Archie novel, and about a snake, I still like this as well as the others. The characters burst forth almost fully conceived. Stout tackles many issues in this book, honor, justice and truth, which are not spoken of much today.
pw0327 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is remarkable in two ways. One is in how consistent the writing has been in the series, and the second is how true the television series on A & E had been in presenting the stories. Unless you checked the chronology, or nitpicked throughout the story, most readers would not be able to find any discontinuity or breaks in flow or inconsistency in style in this story. I was hard pressed to believe that this is the first book in the series. Rex Stout made no special effort to introduce the characters that we all know and love in this book. They were introduced, but to no great fanfare, very little background was given, yet he was able to get the reader involved in the plot. Archie starts out in his inimitable style, as does Nero Wolfe. The intelligence, was there, the styling is there, and the eccentricities are there. I came to the Nero Wolfe mysteries through the A & E series: Nero Wolfe - The Complete First Season and Nero Wolfe - The Complete Second Season. It struck me while reading this book as to how true to the stories the producers were in putting the same ethos and peculiarities. The furnishings were very well described in the book, and the show did a remarkable job filling in the blank spots. The story itself was classic Nero Wolfe, lots of thing going on to derail the line of reasoning, yet everything falls together brilliantly. Stout doesn't overly indulge in springing surprises, always a turnoff in a good mystery, nor does he telegraph his hand until the very end. The mystery was well paced and the dialog was clever and streetwise, all at the same time. The book was written in 1933, so one would expect the dialog top be very corny and conspicuous in its datedness, but it wasn't really noticeable, besides, this gives the story a noirish spin that is both entertaining and cool sounding. This book, being the first book in the series, is an anomalous book because one would expect something that is less than perfect from a first book. Even though this book isn't perfect, it is, however, quite satisfactory.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the writing too dated and the prose to flowery. While it was a nice story, the 1930s slang and use of ten-dollar words made it hard to get through. Rex Stout is not an author for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great character and scene building. The writing is interesting. The lead character is rough but not completely unlike able. The lead detective, Nero Wolfe is not the lead character but I appreciate his chastising the narrator.
mndoc More than 1 year ago
This is Rex Stouts first Nero Wolfe mystery. These books harken back to a simpler time when writers in the genre were expected to deliver an entertaining yarn and a pretty good puzzle. I've read all of the Wolfe mysteries and I think this is the best of them. It's worth a read for anyone who values good writing.
lobowolf More than 1 year ago
I just recently got back to some of the older authors and this first novel of Nero Wolfe was a good restart for me.
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Sweetie6452 More than 1 year ago
Read the entire set and in a few years you'll want to pick one of the favorites up again. you'll keep going back over and over again. I even went as far as to find the cookbook. Nero Wolfe is a true excentric, but like Sherlock he's brilliant! Archie is an interesting sidekick. Enjoy it is good for most readers, not raunchy, yet interesting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago