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Crime/Mystery Series: Nero Wolfe

"You wonder," said my companion, "why it is that Mycroft does not use his powers for detective work. He is incapable of it."

"But I thought you said—!"

"I said that he was my superior in observation and deduction. If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy."

--The Greek Interpreter,
Conan Doyle

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe

About the Author

There is no great shortage of material about Rex Stout on the web, but I for one am disappointed at the lack of insight exhibited by most of it, even that which undertakes to praise.

About the Character

Many of the sites and pages listed just above are as much about the character as about the author (Stout's non-Wolfe works invariably receive short shrift). In addition to those, there are:

(In case you came to this page you are reading from a search engine instead of through its site, I will here repeat the brief remarks on the main mystery/crime page that points here.)

It is easy to create an eccentric genius: it is nearly impossible to do what Rex Stout did, make such a creation humanly credible. As with Doyle (and Wolfe is essentially Sherlock Holmes's older brother Mycroft transplanted to modern America), Stout forever deals in unlikely or absurd crimes, but so charmingly that we scarcely notice the implausibilities, for we are reading to see Nero Wolfe and the intimate supporting cast--notably Archie Goodwin, his chief aide and the first-person narrator of the tales--in action. Archie is the paragon of manly American virtues--smart, handsome, personable, witty, brave, and so on--just as John Watson was the paragon of British manly virtues. Archie is therefore also a smartass, but an intelligent and witty one. And Wolfe? Well, he's eccentric--in too many ways to list here--and he's a genius; and he's both things in ways we can believe. Moreover, the Wolfean household is a model of carefully civilized life: one can learn a lot about the decencies of human behavior from Wolfe and Archie:

You must know that a man can have only one invulnerable loyalty, loyalty to his own concept of the obligations of manhood. All other loyalties are merely deputies of that one.

The Books

There were 33 Wolfe novels plus 13 to 15 (depending on how one counts) collections of novellas and stories, most as trios; not included in those counts are some "peripheral" books featuring characters from the Wolfe saga, but without Wolfe himself (or his regular entourage). Fortunately, there is virtually zero overlap, so one can acquire the collections without duplication (the sole exception is the novella "Bitter End", which first appeared in a Wolfe tribute book Corsage, then later in a peculiar collection titled Death Times Three). There have also been numerous Wolfe omnibus volumes, but there is no uniform edition or complete set.

Note that I emphatically do not include here any of the dreadful Wolfe imitations by Robert Goldsborough, produced after Stout's death. Whoever is the Stout estate the property of now? Whoever it is should be ashamed.

In these lists, the links are all to used-book searches for the title (via Abebooks). Some few can still be found in print new, but not many. As usual, the search results are sorted from lowest price up (note that, as always in used-book searches from this site, the price sort is by actual book price, not total shipped price, though each listing also always shows the true total shipped cost; occasionally, a slightly more expensive title will be slightly cheaper shipped--but the differences are never much and you can easily eyeball those cases.) Most titles represent a number of varying editions, from original hardcovers to late paperback reprints.

The Individual Novels

The Story Collections

There are 13 "regular" books that include Wolfe novellas and short stories, and two special items.

The "special" items are these. First, the tribute book about Stout, Corsage, which included the previously uncollected story "Bitter End"; that story was a cobble-up--Stout had written it as a Tecumseh Fox tale (see "Stout's Other Detectives" farther below), but was persuaded (by double the fee) to revise it to a Wolfe tale. It's not bad, but one can still see occasional signs of the cobbling. Second, Death Times Three includes not only "Bitter End" (making it unnecessary to acquire the now rare and expensive Corsage to be a completist), but two materially differing version of tales appearing elsewhere in print--so different that they are virtually different stories. So I suppose the count of novella collections is best put at 14. These are they:

Wolfe Omnibus Editions

There have so far been a dozen Wolfe omnibus volumes published. For reasons best known to publishers, these--as with so many omnibuses--jump all over the place chronologically. Also regrettable is that there is some overlap between volumes. In the list below, I have put # hash marks before all included titles that appear in more than one volume. Titles that are themselves collections are followed by an asterisk * mark.

Generally, if you stick to the "poker-hand" omnibuses, you will avoid duplication; I have put a little line in to separate them from the others.

  • Full House
    • #The League of Frightened Men
    • #And Be A Villain
    • Curtains for Three *

  • All Aces
    • Some Buried Caesar
    • Too Many Women
    • Trouble in Triplicate *

  • Five of a Kind
    • The Rubber Band
    • #In The Best Families
    • Three Doors To Death *

  • Royal Flush
    • Fer-De-Lance
    • Murder By the Book
    • Three Witnesses *

  • Kings Full of Aces
    • Too Many Cooks
    • Plot It Yourself
    • Triple Jeopardy *

  • Three Aces
    • #Might as Well Be Dead
    • Too Many Clients
    • The Final Deduction

  • Three Trumps
    • The Black Mountain
    • #If Death Ever Slept
    • Before Midnight

  • The Nero Wolfe Omnibus
    (Note that owing to the generic title, this search will pull up many of the Wolfe omnibus volumes, not just this one.)
    • The Red Box
    • #The League of Frightened Men

  • Triple Zeck
    • #And Be a Villain
    • The Second Confession
    • #In the Best Families

  • The First Rex Stout Omnibus
    • The Doorbell Rang
    • The Second Confession
    • #And Be A Villain (under its British title More Deaths Than One)

  • Seven Complete Nero WolfeNovels
    • The Silent Speaker
    • #Might As Well Be Dead
    • #If Death Ever Slept
    • #Three At Wolfe's Door
    • A Family Affair
    • Gambit
    • Please Pass The Guilt

  • The Nero Wolfe Primer
    • #And Be A Villain
    • Champagne for One
    • Black Orchids *

Peripherally Wolfean Books

Even in Rex Stout's day, there were such things as "spin-offs". Stout wrote two books centered on recurring characters from the Wolfean sage, but with no appearances by any of the Wolfe standard entourage (save those normally associated with the focus character).

Stout's Other Detectives

Nero Wolfe was so popular that Stout's regular venues pleaded with him for some non-Wolfe stories, so that the appearance of a Wolfe flood could be avoided. Stout came up with two new series (or so it was planned), neither of which exactly set the world on fire: one had three novels, the other but a singleton.

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