Title: “A Family Affair” by Rex Stout
Rate: 5/5—a best of 2012 read
I forget who once called them the Three Musketeers. Saul was in the red leather chair, and Fred and Orrie were in the two yellow ones I had moved up to face Wolfe’s desk. Saul had brandy, Orrie had vodka and tonic, Fred had bourbon, I had milk, and Wolfe had beer.
Having read this book before, it held no surprises; but it still was one heck of a story. Well written, good plot, terrific ending—Stout was truly in his prime when he wrote this book. As with all the Nero Wolfe stories, this one has fun with words:
…he said my guess of fifteen hundred dollars was probably too low with the bloated prices of everything from sugar to shingles, and I said I was glad to hear him having fun with words, tossing off an alliteration with two words that weren’t spelled the same.
But mute doesn’t mean pick and choose, it means mute, tongue-tied, aphonous, and don’t forget it.
I’m going to loaf, drift, for the first time in ten days. Read books, drink beer, discuss food with Fritz, logomachize with Archie. Perhaps chat with you if you have occasion to drop in. I’m loose, Mr. Cramer. I’m at peace.”
If you have read other Nero Wolfe stories, and if you read this carefully, you will see enough clues to know the ending. I did the first time I read this book, and for me it didn’t take anything away from the story—it added to my enjoyment, although I was puzzled. So I found this read all the more enjoyable because I wasn’t thinking, “No way.” After all, by now I know these characters.
We’re talking just to show how different we are. If we were just ordinary people we would be shaking hands and beaming at each other or dancing a jig. It’s your turn.” Fritz entered. To announce a meal he always comes in three steps, never four. But seeing us, when he stopped, what he said was, “Something happened.” Damn it, we were and are different. But Fritz knows us. He ought to.
I admit that I both applauded and cried at the end. Applauded because it was the best Wolfe story, ever. Cried because the extra in this edition is the final 2 pages of the book, in Stout’s own handwriting—his last words about a great adventure. There is one more book in the series, published 10 years after Stout’s death, and because I’ve been reading these in publication order, it will be my last book; but truly, “A Family Affair” is the end of the series and should be read as the end of your Nero Wolfe journey. One which hopefully be as satisfactory for you, as it has been for me.
Oh, and that wonderful intro by Thomas Gifford? If this is your first reading of this book, save the intro for last. Although I will share this small portion, as I found it so appropriate:
The years pass but some things endure, I guess, along the lines of Faulkner’s eternal verities. Personally, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with my belief that a whole lot of things really were a lot better back when I was a kid discovering my first enthusiasms. Certainly better than the fruits of progress that now surround, impinge on, and debase what we once quaintly referred to as “standards.” There are now millions and millions of creatures out there locked into their headphones, or bellowing their heads off in movie theaters, or chanting that the Red Sox or someone else “sucks.” These dullards are as unaware of what once served as concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false, as a dog I know by the name of Bolivia is of space travel and the Hubble Telescope.
I tried several books after A Family Affair, but none of them grabbed me right off—it’s truly difficult to find a good read after enjoying a “best of the best”. The one with the most promise was a spy novel, but it portrayed the spy as horribly lonely and depressed, and I quickly felt lonely and depressed, and dumped the book after 4 chapters. Then … then … good news arrived in my email when I learned that The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, had dropped $9!!!! An amazing drop and I grabbed it immediately, and, fickle reader than I am, I dove in and thoroughly enjoyed—almost forgetting the joy that Rex Stout had just brought into my life.
James Rollins books are all $3.99 for the Kindle, and I bought Ice Hunt to reread. I like his original stand-alone stories the best, and Ice Hunt was my first Rollins, and remains my all time favorite. Now my autographed copy is tucked it away for safekeeping.