I've promised myself for the past decade that, when I finally retire, my first major project will be to reread the entire Nero Wolfe canon in chronological order, a worthwhile occupation if ever there was one.
Although entirely different and not nearly as literary as Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series or the Philip Marlowe novels of Raymond Chandler, the Wolfe saga deserves to be ranked with them as among the finest series of detective stories ever written by an American. Fer-de-lance introduces the brilliant, idiosyncratic, and obese armchair detective to the world and, while it may not be the best book of the series, it provides a wonderful murder set on a golf course and a cast of characters and laundry list of eccentricities that are an integral part of each novel and novella.
Rex Stout has managed to pull off a feat unparalleled to this day: the perfect combination of deductive reasoning--as exemplified by the classic Golden Age writers such as Christie, Sayers, Van Dine, and Queen--with the hard-boiled attitude and dialogue of the more realistic tough guy writers such as Chandler, Macdonald, Hammett, and Robert B. Parker.
The toughness is brought to the books by Wolfe's leg man and amanuensis, Archie Goodwin. The structure and ambience of the books is, quite deliberately, very much like the Sherlock Holmes stories that Stout so admired. The house on West 35th Street is as familiar as the sitting room at 221B Baker Street; his cook Fritz pops up as regularly as Mrs. Hudson; and his irritant, Inspector Cramer of the NYPD, serves the same role as several Scotland Yard detectives, notably Inspector Lestrade, did for Holmes. Fair warning: It is safe to read one Nero Wolfe novel, because you will surely like it. It is extremely unsafe to read three, because you will forever be hooked on the delightful characters who populate these perfect books. --Otto Penzler