Nero Wolfe is far and away my favorite detective. I began reading Rex Stout’s novels as a teenager living in New York City and the sensibilities expressed in the mysteries were woven into my view of city life.
The best parts of Nero Wolfe were not contained in his ample girth, lightning mind, implacable will or hidden sensitivity. No. Nero was a pastiche detective made up of The Fat Guy Who Thinks, The Wise Guy Who Does (Archie Goodwin) The European Guy Who Cooks (Fritz) The Orchid Curmudgeon (Horstmann) The Smart Jewish Op (Saul) The Strong-arm Op (Fred) The Red Faced Irish Cop (Cramer) and the Perennially Pissed Off Cop (Stebbins).
You could just see Rex Stout’s mind working on this structure, particularly after reading his earlier detective novels about Tecumseh Fox and Doll the Lady tec. His first novels were good but when he hit upon Nero the pieces just meshed. Wolfe’s outsize personality served to keep the plot moving and the clues hidden through judicious use of sarcasm and silence. Archie’s ongoing narrative kept the focus on the aspects least likely to solve things. Saul Panzer’s ninja like abilities enabled the rabbit to appear in the hat at just the right time and through it all Wolfe’s rules of work,(Never leave the house on a work assignment, orchids from 9-11 am and 2-4pm, lunch at one, no discussion of work at the dinner table) gives a “one hand tied behind my back” aspect to solving the mystery.
And it worked so well. The structure that was Nero Wolfe, the characters in the supporting cast that went into the structure, the colorful personalities that made up the supporting cast, all contributed to novels that were half done before begun. Once Rex Stout thought of a new mystery plot the book would practically write itself.
The genius (not Nero Wolfe) was in the fact that book after book continued to intrigue and delight. The characters held up and were welcomed back every time with friendship. And Rex Stout’s worldview was and still is a welcome addition of clarity of thought and feeling to the human scene.