18 May 2011

The Character Arc of a Fat Detective

Having hit a few too many modern mysteries which didn't work for me, I'm plunging into a re-read of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries.  (Somewhat overpriced) Kindle editions have made it easy for me to complete my collection, and I really enjoy doing end-to-end read-throughs of my favourite classic mysteries, to see the world change around the detectives.

Nero Wolfe, and his not-to-be-forgotten offsider Archie Goodwin, leap off the page of the very first novel.  Wolfe is a brilliant man devoted to (and burdened by) his immense and costly collection of orchids.  He is also a gourmand of expensive tastes.  He undertakes his detecting primarily for money to feed his habit for food and flowers, (although there's no doubt some enjoyment of the intellectual challenge), and he cultivates his reputation of eccentricity to better prevent too many from attempting to stir him into working.  Archie is the live-wire, the energetic go-getter, whose livelihood depends on ensuring the Wolfe earns both their livings.

Today, reading a review of some random steampunk novel, I saw a criticism about how the characters do not change significantly during the novel.  This was termed a weakness, something to be forgiven, a detraction.  And yet here am I, eagerly anticipating reading through 34 novels where the characters do not change.  Oh, they get older, they bicker, circumstances on occasion oblige Wolfe to alter his routine or even, *gasp*, leave the building.  One or two books force him to do rather more, but they don't essentially change the person that he is, and as soon as possible he returns to status quo.

I guess everyone has their own checklist of what is a 'right' novel.  I do tend to avoid books with truly obnoxious treatments of women.  Otherwise, make me care, don't cause my suspension of disbelief to go SPUNG, do not confuse me overmuch, and tie off the ends of the tale in a way that satisfies.  Most of all, do not bore me.  That's all I ask.


  1. Are all the kindle books overpriced? My ereader of choice seems to be unavailable (sony PRS650) and I'm thinking of frivolously buying a Kindle till I can get what I want

  2. From the pricing, it looks like different people hold copyright on different books in the Nero Wolfe series. Some are around $7, and the rest are $9.99 (which is pricey for a book published in the 1930s!). [The one I'm reading now has had a couple of typos probably caused by scanning, as well.]

    A lot of the Kindle books I buy are around $6 (I've been primarily buying cosy mysteries). I'll go up to $9.99 on any book. I have to _really_ want to buy the book to pay more. [If it's a 'keeper' book, I tend to compare the Kindle price with the Book Depository price and buy whichever is cheaper.] Many established authors self-publishing their backlist seem to be putting them out at $4.99 or $3.99, and the majority of self-pub is going for $2.99 (or $0.99).

    And, of course, if I want a classic, I'll always check Project Gutenberg first.

    The beauty of the Kindle for me is the ease of sampling. I am increasingly inclined to get the sample first, before making the purchase decision.

    If you do buy one, I recommend just buying it directly from Amazon rather than trying to get it from a local store. The price tends to even out.

  3. Excellent,
    I can now bookmark this comment as my "now, what should I do again" page


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