Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

June 6, 2013

Plot summary (from the publisher): Barstow dropped dead on the golf course – heart attack, said his doctor . . . his family . . . and the police.

But Nero Wolfe looked at a cutup newspaper and some steamship tags . . . and called it murder – a unique and incredibly complex murder! A wild guess? Not when Wolfe bet his last $10,000 that he was right!

He had two “perfect” killings to his credit – but Nero Wolfe, never stirring from his old New York brownstone, had been able to tell the police how they had been done, and where they’d find the evidence.

The next step would be for Wolfe to tell them who – and the murderer meant to see that Nero was very, very dead before he got the chance.

Wolfe never left home . . . so the killer had to trap him there. And he set the trap with a fantastic bait . . . a drawer filled with beer-bottle caps!

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • Archie Goodwin is probably the best detective’s assistant I’ve come across in my fiction reading. This was my first introduction to the Nero Wolfe series, and I really had no idea that Archie was the one who did all the leg work because Wolfe stays in his apartment. Having the assistant actually be front and center like that was unexpected and new to me. I like the twist.
  • Nero Wolfe seems like a good character in the making as well. Although he didn’t strike me as a major genius (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by reading about and watching too many other super detectives), his quirks and eccentricities certainly set him apart. I wonder what the deal is with all the orchids and beer. Is there a deeper meaning that’s supposed to be gleaned from those affinities? Wonder if he also has some fancy humidors stocked with Cubans?


  • The mystery was kind of hard for me to follow. I gave up on trying to figure out the intricacies of the crime and focused instead on character development since I knew full well that this series goes on and on.
  • The convoluted main story made it difficult to really get into the book. I had to put it aside for a couple of days at around the midway point and never truly looked forward to reading it. I mostly got through the book out of a sense of duty.


I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed in Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout. I was expecting an awesome mystery with incredible characters, but ended up with only half of that equation. Obviously I’m not going to judge the entire Nero Wolfe series by the very first book alone, so this won’t be the last Stout novel I tackle. As it is, however, I give this one just 3 stars out of 5.

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