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Since I began writing the Steve “Snap” Malek Chicago historical mysteries for Echelon Press nearly a decade ago, several readers have commented that the brash Malek, a police reporter for the Chicago Tribune, bore a decided similarity to the equally brash Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the Nero Wolfe stories and Wolfe’s right-hand man.
Not surprising, because before publishing my five Malek books, I had written seven Nero Wolfe novels in the 1980s and ’90s, continuing the series created by the late Rex Stout. Had I purposely created Malek in Goodwin’s image, these readers asked? The answer: I’m not altogether sure.
Probably somewhere in my subconscious, I wanted to at least partially clone Archie Goodwin, whom I feel to be one of the most colorful and memorable characters in the history of American detective fiction. In Snap Malek, there are many parallels to Archie, along with marked differences.
Among the similarities: Both Archie and Snap are self-assured to the point of cockiness. Both are street-smart as well as steadfast in the face of danger. Both tend in their headstrong attitudes to rile their superiors–Nero Wolfe and the Chicago Tribune, respectively. And both have an ambivalent attitude toward the major law officer in their stories–New York Police Inspector Cramer and Chicago Police Detective Chief Fergus Fahey. (I also have been accused of fashioning Fahey into a carbon copy of Cramer; let me mull over that charge.)
As to some differences: Snap has battled alcoholism, Archie drinks only in moderation. Snap is married (for the second time), Archie is a bachelor, albeit with a longtime girlfriend, Lily Rowan. Snap lives in a suburban Chicago home, Archie dwells in that legendary brownstone in the heart of Manhattan.
Now that I am back to writing about Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin after an 18-year hiatus (“Archie Meets Nero Wolfe”), I wonder if readers who knew only of my Snap Malek stories will pick up this new book and ask me: Did you model this Archie Goodwin fellow on Snap Malek?