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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,476 other followers

%d bloggers like this: