Nero Wolfe and Baseball

Goldsborough_Murder_1[5][2] (1)Given my love of baseball, I suppose it is no surprise that I have finally set a Nero Wolfe novel–my ninth–against a baseball backdrop. “Murder in the Ball Park” will be published by Mysterious Press/Open Road Integrated Media early in 2014.

Without giving too much away–heaven forbid!–I will say this much: the story is set at the midpoint of the 20th century and opens at a baseball game in New York’s Polo Grounds between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, two teams that have long since departed the Big Apple for San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively.

Archie Goodwin, a Giants fan, and Saul Panzer, a follower of the Dodgers, are in the stands on a fateful June afternoon when a political figure of note is gunned down in his seat during the game. Pandemonium ensues, followed by a public outcry, fueled by the newspapers and aimed at the city government and the police department. The police are stymied in their hunt for the killer, and eventually, albeit reluctantly, Nero Wolfe steps in.

Rex Stout, the creator of the Nero Wolfe series, was an avid baseball fan, often attending games at the Polo Grounds and Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, but not Yankee Stadium (he disliked the Yankees). And he set one of his Wolfe novellas, “This Won’t Kill You” from the trilogy “Three Men Out” (1954), at the Polo Grounds, where a murder takes place during a World Series.

“Murder at the Ball Park” is my second mystery with a baseball setting. The first was “Three Strikes You’re Dead” (2005), a Steve ‘Snap’ Malek story from Echelon Press. The year is 1938, and famed pitcher Dizzy Dean has been traded to the Chicago Cubs. Although well past his prime, the colorful Dean helps pitch the Cubs into the World Series. He also saves newspaperman Malek’s life during the hunt for a killer. This book is available from Echelon Press or Amazon. If you love baseball, you might consider adding both of these books to your library.

A Cherished Honor

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough

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I was delighted to learn in February that “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe” had been named “Best Historical Mystery of 2012” at the annual Love Is Murder mystery conference held near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The “Lovey” (as these awards are called) is the culmination of several months of activity for me in introducing my “prequel” to the Nero Wolfe series created and continued for four decades by the great Rex Stout.

It was a special pleasure for me to win this award at what long has been my favorite mystery gathering. Love Is Murder, held each year on the first weekend in February, brings together mystery and thriller writers and fans from across the country. The three days are filled with panel discussions on subjects ranging from how to find a literary agent and how to keep your series fresh to tips preparing your manuscript for publication and strategies for getting your book on the shelves of public libraries.

As interesting and instructive as the panel discussions are, the informal gatherings over food and drinks can be equally stimulating, as best-selling authors mingle with other attendees and share their experiences with publishers, agents, and readers. When a top-flight mystery writer talks about his or her difficulties in initially getting published, it gives hope–and stimulus–to those struggling to get into print and/or the e-book world.

So this new “Lovey,” my third such award spread over the last decade, now occupies a place of honor on a shelf in my den and will, I hope, spur me to keep on writing.

* * *

Publishers Weekly starred review of Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: “Goldsborough hits nary a false note, an impressive achievement…”

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

From the time I began reading Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries some 60 years ago as a teenager, I was fascinated by how Wolfe and his irrepressible sidekick and chronicler, Archie Goodwin, happened to join forces. We don’t know the answer in Mr. Stout’s compelling mysteries because when Wolfe and Goodwin appear in their first novel, “Fer-de-Lance” (1934), there is no back story and little detail about their previous lives.

This fascination with the beginnings of the partnership continued when I became privileged to be the family-approved continuator of the Wolfe series after Mr. Stout’s death in 1975. During the 1980s and ’90s, I was author of seven Nero Wolfe mysteries for Bantam Books but never delved into the origins of the team. Still, I remained intrigued by the possibility of some day writing about how Archie came to meet Nero.

I became further enthused about the idea in 2009 with the publication of longtime mystery novelist Joe Gores’ “Spade & Archer,” a prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon.” Mr. Gores, who died in 2011, had captured the essence of Hammett’s characters and the noir flavor of his writing and his settings.

That sealed the deal for me, and I began to form what was to become “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe.” In developing the story, I made use of what few clues Mr. Stout had sprinkled around in his tales, including a brief reference to the kidnapping of a wealthy hotelier’s son. That kidnapping became a central focus of my book, along with young Archie Goodwin’s coming of age as a detective in the Manhattan of 1930.

Approved by Mr. Stout’s estate, “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe” will be released this fall, both in print and as an e-book, by Mysterious Press and its longtime head, Otto Penzler. Mysterious Press also will be re-releasing my seven earlier Wolfe novels as e-books. For me, working with Mr. Penzler seems fitting, because it was at his Mysterious Bookshop in New York that I had the launch of my first Nero Wolfe novel, “Murder in E Minor,” 28 years ago.

 

 

 

The Good, the Bad, the Sequel

The recent announcement that the late Robert B. Parker’sSpenser” and “Jesse Stone” mysteries will live on under new authors is just the latest in a long line of series continuations. Mystery writer Ace Atkins is writing a Spenser novel for Spring 2012 publication, while Hollywood producer Michael Brandman will bring Jesse Stone back in a novel this September.

Series continuations under later authors have been both lauded and damned. As the one who extended the life of Rex’s Stout’s famed private eye Nero Wolfe with seven novels in the 1980s and ’90s, I got both praise and derision–praise from readers who were glad to have more tales of Wolfe and his loyal right-hand, Archie Goodwin, and derision from those who either lamented that “you haven’t got it right” or who felt fictional characters should be allowed to die with their creators.

Otto Penzler, longtime mystery publisher and bookstore owner, falls into that latter camp. Quoted in an April Wall Street Journal article about the Spenser continuations, Penzler said he has “a philosophical opposition to people picking up other writers’ series.”

In many instances, the estate of the creator approves a continuator. Such was the case with the new Spenser stories, which were approved by Parker’s widow, Joan. The estate of Margaret Mitchell has okayed multiple sequels to her iconic “Gone with the Wind.” Several writers including my friend Raymond Benson got the green-light from the estate of Ian Fleming to do more James Bond stories. And I received the blessing of the Rex Stout estate in my continuations. Interestingly, Parker himself also was a continuator, completing the unfinished Raymond Chandler manuscript of “Poodle Springs,” a Philip Marlowe story. He also wrote “Perchance to Dream,” a sequel to Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.”

In another recent development, novelist Jamie Freveletti has been invited by the estate of the late Robert Ludlum to continue Ludlum’s “Covert One” series. So the beat goes on, and it is a good bet we have not seen the last of continuators rising up to carry on the adventures of fictional characters that have engendered and strong and fiercely loyal followings.

Joe Gores: A Noir Master

I regret I never met mystery writer Joe Gores, who died at 79 in January 2011 in California. Gores, who wrote the kind of hard-boiled short stories and novels that harkened to mystery literature’s “golden age,” lived a life that itself was the stuff of fiction.

Although he was a college graduate, Gores also spent plenty of time experiencing a world far removed from cloistered academia. He worked as a logger in Alaska, an automobile repo man, a truck driver, the manager of a hot-pillow motel, a teacher at a boy’s school in Kenya, and a private investigator in San Francisco. All undoubtedly provided fodder for his spare, crackling prose and his taut, noir plots.

Although Gores won three Edgar Awards for his mystery writing, his last major work, “Spade & Archer” (2009) stands as my personal favorite. This prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 classic, “The Maltese Falcon,” faithfully captures Hammett’s gritty, lean style.

Hammett’s daughter had liked his work so much that she gave her blessings to “Spade & Archer,” the storyline of which ends at the moment “The Maltese Falcon” begins. (Personal note: In both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, reviewers of “Spade & Archer” were kind enough to also mention my continuation of the Nero Wolfe adventures after the death of Rex Stout.)

Gores arrived on the scene in the late ‘50s, when the era of pulp magazines such as “The Black Mask” was coming to a close. But he was very much a part of that tradition, which had its origins in the 1920s and ’30s, when Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly and other classic crime novelists of the hard-boiled school were honing their craft. Joe Gores very much belongs in their ranks.

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