Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Book Look: Some Buried Caesar

Book Look: Some Buried Caesar: First, a word about mystery series. I have read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon. I believe I have read all of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels. I was working my way through John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, but at some point it got too violent. Same for McDonald's and McGee's spiritual successors, Randy Wayne White and Doc Ford. Likewise, I have covered most of the Fleming James Bond books. So I am no stranger to getting attached to well written thriller series (because man does not live by Nabokov alone). Now, perhaps inevitably, the new obsession shall be Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe. I feel a mutli-year project coming on.

Some Buried Caesar is the story of a set of generally feckless and wealthy upstate New Yorkers getting themselves all worked up over cattle to the point of murder. Of course, that is less important than the portrayal of Nero Wolfe and, even moreso, his personal assistant, strong right arm, and wise-cracking narrator, Archie Goodwin.

Nero Wolfe made his first appearance in 1934 and soldiered on through 30-plus novels and nearly 40 shorter works until author Rex Stout's death 1975 (with a couple of posthumous releases a decade later). Wolfe is old school: genius-but-eccentric detective, practical and admiring assistant, and a big dramatic summation in the end. Holmes/Watson, Poirot/Hastings, and Wolfe/Goodwin use the same framework. But Wolfe is not a pie-in-the-sky do-gooder. His work is definitely not its own reward. He will keep his nose out of anything including murder, unless he has a paying client -- and he can be quite clever and manipulative in acquiring one. And Archie Goodwin has more personality than any other detective-foil, often being the true face of the manuscript. This pair is a delight.

I have no intention of reading all the novels. I picked Some Buried Caesar from a website recommendation, and next up will be The Golden Spiders, but I will NOT allow myself to read more than 10 of these. I just don't have enough time left on earth to get obsessed. I don't believe it is necessary to read them in order. I asked Metafilter for which ones to read (results) and I'll likely follow their advice in some form. I'm sure I'll be commenting more on Wolfe, Goodwin, and Stout as time goes on.