Being a “man of the heft,” I’ve always been a big fan of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, the brilliant detective who weighs “a seventh of a ton,” cultivates orchids, and solves crimes by passively taking in data acquired by his leg man Archie Goodwin. You might notice that “Nero Wolfe” contains the same vowels in the same order as “Sherlock Holmes.” Rex Stout created Wolfe after making a fortune with a school bookkeeping system he invented. About 50 million books sold later, one might imagine the Nero Wolfe fortune was a bit larger.
I’m moved to bring him up because I just read my first disappointing Wolfe mystery. The standard formula is that Wolfe stays at home, Archie digs, and then Wolfe gathers everyone to his office for an entertaining explanation of whodunit. Impossible mysteries are thus solved. In The Black Mountain, Wolfe is forced to go out adventuring and it doesn’t work. He solves the crime by overhearing someone confess to it. There’s an exception to every rule and there is apparently such a thing as a bad Nero Wolfe.