Friday, December 2, 2011

A Family Affair: Review

A Family Affair is Rex Stout's last entry into the Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin mystery series. A word of warning...if you haven't read the other Stout books, you should save this one for last. Most of the stories it really doesn't matter what order you read them in. This one it does. There are several events that will absolutely change how you read the previous novels and perceive some of the characters in them if this book is read out of order. Given the final scenes, you might even think that Stout had a premonition that it would be his final novel.

This book starts...and ends...with a bang. Literally. The beginning finds Archie Goodwin approached by one of the brownstone's occupants' favorite waiters late one evening. Wolfe is already in bed, but the waiter from Rusterman's Restaurant insists that he must talk to the great detective because someone is going to kill him (the waiter). Archie refuses to wake Wolfe, but offers the man a bed and the protection of the house for the night. Shortly after Archie installs the waiter in one of the spare bedrooms, the brownstone is rocked by an explosion....the man has been killed by a bomb planted in his coat pocket. Wolfe is outraged that someone has dared commit a murder under his roof and takes up the investigation without a client--other than himself. But this isn't business. It's personal--a family affair.

In true Wolfe form, he refuses to share any but the most basic knowledge with Inspector Cramer and the D. A.'s office. There will be two more murders and Wolfe and his entire detective force will be arrested for withholding information, before the solution is revealed. And, in a rare event, Archie reveals the culprit to us--there is no final gathering of the suspects and a wrap-up scene in the office.

This is a fitting, if unusual ending to the Stout-written novels. All the regular characters are brought in and there are many of the expected mannerisms and standard Wolfe phrases. The twist and the shock that come at the end are...well...shocking. I certainly didn't see it coming. And I should have. As should Archie--long before he did. Nicely done. Four stars.


Debbie Rodgers said...

I tried reading Nero Wolfe and few years ago, Bev: I read three books that I had taken on holiday, but I just didn't click with him. Maybe I should give it another try? (But not with this book ;-) )

Bev Hankins said...

Debbie: I'm curious which books you tried? I tend not to like the ones that take Stout out of his "natural habitat" so to speak. I expect him to be in his brownstone house and not leaving it for anybody. But, I also think that Wolfe may be the kind of character you either love or you don't. Even when he's not where he's supposed to be, I like the interaction between him & Archie.