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Guide A Christmas to Die For: A Harrison/Wolffe Mystery

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He is a romantic idealist, apt to go in for dashing effects to express his spirited nature. He is strong in family loyalties, has great pride, is impatient of restraint. Love of freedom is his outstanding trait. He is stubborn, fearless, unsubduable, capable of great self-denial to uphold his ideals. He is fatalistic toward death. In short, Rex had found for Wolfe a nationality that fitted him to perfection.

Wolfe is reticent about his youth, but apparently he was athletic, fit, and adventurous. Before World War I , he spied for the Austrian government 's Evidenzbureau , but had a change of heart when the war began. He then joined the Serbian-Montenegrin army and fought against the Austrians and Germans. That means that he was likely to have been involved in the harrowing withdrawal of the defeated Serbian army, when thousands of soldiers died from disease, starvation, and sheer exhaustion — which might help to explain the comfort-loving habits that are such a conspicuous part of his character.

In , John D. Clark suggested that the two had an affair in Montenegro in , and that Nero Wolfe was the result. The idea was later co-opted by William S.

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Baring-Gould and implied in the novels of Nicholas Meyer , but there is no evidence that Rex Stout had any such connection in mind. Certainly there is no mention of it in any of the stories, although a painting of Sherlock Holmes does hang over Archie Goodwin's desk in Nero Wolfe's office. Some commentators note both physical and psychological resemblances and suggest Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes as a more likely father for Wolfe.

Commentators have noted a coincidence in the names "Sherlock Holmes" and "Nero Wolfe": They note that in one story Lupin has an affair with the queen of a Balkan principality, which may be Montenegro by another name. Further, they note that the name Lupin resembles the French word for wolf, loup. I rarely leave my house. I do like it here. I would be an idiot to leave this chair, made to fit me —. Wolfe has expensive tastes, living in a comfortable and luxurious New York City brownstone on the south side of West 35th Street. The brownstone has three floors plus a large basement with living quarters, a rooftop greenhouse also with living quarters, and a small elevator, used almost exclusively by Wolfe.

Other unique features include a timer-activated window-opening device that regulates the temperature in Wolfe's bedroom, an alarm system that sounds a gong in Archie's room if someone approaches Wolfe's bedroom door or windows, and climate-controlled plant rooms on the top floor. Wolfe is a well-known amateur orchid grower and has 10, plants in the brownstone's greenhouse. He employs three live-in staff to see to his needs: The front door is equipped with a chain bolt, a bell that can be shut off as needed, and a pane of one-way glass , which enables Archie to see who is on the stoop before deciding whether to open the door.

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Wolfe's office becomes nearly soundproof when the doors connecting it to the front room and the hallway are closed. There is a small hole in the office wall covered by what Archie calls a "trick picture of a waterfall". The chair behind Wolfe's desk is custom-built, with special springs to hold his weight; according to Archie, it is the only chair that Wolfe really enjoys sitting in. In the short story " The Squirt and the Monkey ", Wolfe and Archie have a hidden tape recorder and microphone installed in the office, with controls in the kitchen.

In the story " Eeny Meeny Murder Mo ", the system is modified to transmit sound to a speaker in the front room. The brownstone has a back entrance leading to a private garden, as noted in Champagne for One chapter 10 and elsewhere, from which a passage leads to 34th Street — used to enter or leave Wolfe's home when it is necessary to evade surveillance. Archie says that Fritz tries to grow herbs such as chives in the garden.

It is the center from which moral order emanates, and the details of its layout and its operations are signs of its stability. For forty years, Wolfe prepares menus with Fritz and pots orchids with Theodore. For forty years, Archie takes notes at his desk, the client sits in the red chair and the other principals distribute themselves in the yellow chairs, and Wolfe presides from his custom-made throne. For forty years, Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins ring the doorbell, enter the office, and explode with indignation at Wolfe's intractability.

The front room, the elevator, the three-foot globe — all persist in place through forty years of American history. It is described in the opening chapter of The Second Confession as being on West Thirty-Fifth Street "nearly to 11th Avenue", which would put it in the block.

As far as I can discover, there never were brownstone houses on West 35th Street. This Manhattan brownstone lacked some peculiarities of Wolfe's home, unlike the model specially constructed on the Toronto set where most of the series was filmed [h] — for example, the correct number of steps leading up to the stoop. It was, therefore, shown from angles that would camouflage any slight discrepancies.

This number can be seen on the studio set representing the front door exterior in several episodes and on a closeup of Archie's paycheck in " Prisoner's Base ". Once he burned up a cookbook because it said to remove the hide from a ham end before putting it in the pot with lima beans. Which he loves most, food or words, is a tossup.

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Good food is a keystone along with reading of Wolfe's mostly leisured existence. He is both a gourmand and a gourmet, enjoying generous helpings of Fritz's cuisine three times a day. Shad roe is a particular favorite, prepared in a number of different ways. Archie enjoys his food but lacks Wolfe's discerning palate, lamenting in The Final Deduction chapter 9 that "Every spring I get so fed up with shad roe that I wish to heaven fish would figure out some other way. Archie also complains that there is never corned beef or rye bread on Wolfe's table, and he sometimes ducks out to eat a corned beef sandwich at a nearby diner.

Yet a young woman gives Wolfe a lesson in preparing corned beef hash in " Cordially Invited to Meet Death ". Another contradiction is found in Plot It Yourself when Archie goes to a diner to eat "fried chicken like my Aunt Margie used to make it back in Ohio", since Fritz does not fry chicken. Wolfe displays an oenophile 's knowledge of wine and brandy, but it is only implied that he drinks either.

In And Be a Villain chapter 17 , he issues a dinner invitation and regrets doing so on short notice: On weekdays, Fritz serves Wolfe his breakfast in his bedroom. Archie eats his separately in the kitchen, although Wolfe might ask Fritz to send Archie upstairs if he has morning instructions for him. Regularly scheduled mealtimes for lunch and dinner are part of Wolfe's daily routine. In an early story, Wolfe tells a guest that luncheon is served daily at 1 p. Lunch and dinner are served in the dining room, on the opposite side of the first-floor hallway from the front room and the office. However, Archie will eat separately in the kitchen if he is in a rush due to pressing business or a social engagement, because Wolfe cannot bear to see a meal rushed.

Wolfe also has a rule against discussing business at the table, sometimes bent but very rarely overtly broken. In the earliest books, Archie reports that Wolfe is subject to what he terms a "relapse" — a period of several days during which Wolfe refuses to work or even to listen to Archie badger him about work.

The cause is unknown. Wolfe either takes to bed and eats nothing but bread and onion soup, or else he consults with Fritz on menus and the preparation of nonstop meals. In Fer-de-Lance chapter 6 , Archie reports that, during a relapse, Wolfe once ate half a sheep in two days, different parts cooked in 20 different ways. The relapse also appears briefly in The League of Frightened Men chapter 11 , The Red Box chapter 6 , and Where There's a Will chapter 12 , but subsequently disappears from the corpus as a plot device—possibly because Archie eventually discovered how to shut down a relapse during its earliest stages, as chronicled in The Red Box.

Wolfe views much of life through the prism of food and dining, going so far as to say that Voltaire " Wolfe does not, however, enjoy visiting restaurants with the occasional exception of Rusterman's, owned for a time by Wolfe's best friend Marco Vukcic and later subject to Wolfe's trusteeship. In The Red Box chapter 11 , Wolfe states, "I know nothing of restaurants; short of compulsion, I would not eat in one were Vatel himself the chef. Wolfe appears to know his way around the kitchen; in Too Many Cooks chapter 17 , he tells Jerome Berin, "I spend quite a little time in the kitchen myself.

In The Black Mountain , Wolfe and Goodwin stay briefly in an unoccupied house in Italy on their way to Montenegro; Wolfe prepares a pasta dish using Romano cheese that, from "his memory of local custom", he finds in a hole in the ground. During the short story " Murder Is Corny ", he lectures Inspector Cramer on the right and wrong ways to cook corn on the cob, insisting that it must be roasted rather than boiled in order to achieve the best flavor.

After-dinner coffee, however, is often taken by Wolfe and Archie in the office rather than the dining room. Many of the dishes referred to in the various Nero Wolfe stories and novels were collected and published, complete with recipes, as The Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout and the Editors of the Viking Press, published in All recipes are prefaced with a brief excerpt from the book or story that made reference to that particular dish. The first novel, Fer-de-Lance , introduces Wolfe as he prepares to change his habits. With Prohibition at an end, he can stop buying kegs of bootleg beer and purchase it legally in bottles.

Fritz brings in samples of 49 different brands for him to evaluate, from which he ultimately selects Remmers as his favorite. Several times during the story, Wolfe announces his intention to reduce his beer intake from six quarts a day to five. Like most other things in Wolfe's life, his beer drinking is bound by ritual. Seated at his desk, Wolfe presses the button twice to ring for beer, and Fritz delivers the bottles unopened; Wolfe uncaps the bottles himself, using an karat gold bottle opener given to him by a satisfied client.

In Plot It Yourself chapter 13 , Wolfe makes an unprecedented vow after Archie tells him the killer they seek has killed again.

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Wolfe hits the desk with his fist, bellows in a language Archie does not understand, then coldly orders Fritz away when he enters with the beer: I shall drink no beer until I get my fingers around that creature's throat. And I shall eat no meat. Wolfe was drinking beer and looking at pictures of snowflakes in a book someone had sent him from Czechoslovakia. Looking at him, I said to myself, "He's in a battle with the elements.

He's fighting his way through a raging blizzard, just sitting there comfortably looking at pictures of snowflakes.

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That's the advantage of being an artist, of having imagination. You freeze to death. Reading is central to Nero Wolfe's life, and books are central to the plots of many of the stories. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lining Wolfe's office contain some 1, books Gambit , chapter 6 — the size of Stout's own library. If Wolfe picks up a book before he rings for beer, and if he has marked his place with a thin strip of gold given to him by a grateful client, the book is an A.

Archie indicates in various stories that Wolfe prefers to finish a paragraph before acknowledging an interruption in his reading. He often dog-ears a page to mark his place. Baring-Gould 's summary of Wolfe's library [16] was incorporated with contributions from others into an annotated reading list created by Winnifred Louis. Wolfe had once remarked to me that the orchids were his concubines: He brought them, in their diverse forms and colors, to the limits of their perfection, and then gave them away; he had never sold one.

Known for rigidly maintaining his personal schedule, Nero Wolfe is most inflexible when it comes to his routine in the rooftop plant rooms. Clients must accommodate themselves to this schedule", wrote Rex Stout's biographer John J. Like the disciplines the sonneteer is bound by, the schedule is part of the framework he is committed to work within. The orchids and the orchid rooms sometimes are focal points in the stories.

They are never irrelevant. In forty years Wolfe has scarcely ever shortened an orchid schedule. Vandermeulen in the American Orchid Society Bulletin. Entering from the stairs via a vestibule, there were three main rooms — one for cattleyas , laelias , and hybrids; one for odontoglossums , oncidiums , miltonias , and their hybrids; and a tropical room according to Fer-de-Lance. It must have been quite a sight with the angle-iron staging gleaming in its silver paint and on the concrete benches and shelves 10, pots of orchids in glorious, exultant bloom.

Journal of the Wolfe Pack Volume 1, Spring Phalaenopsis is mentioned in 11 Wolfe stories, and Phalaenopsis Aphrodite is named in seven — more than any other species. They have never been finer. Wolfe rarely sells his orchids [k] — but he does give them away.

Four or five dozen are used to advance the investigation in Murder by the Book , and Wolfe refuses to let Archie bill the client for them. Vollmer and his assistant, who shelter Wolfe and Archie when they have to flee the brownstone to avoid the police. In The Second Confession , the orchid rooms are torn apart by gunfire from across the street. The shooters are in the employ of crime boss Arnold Zeck , who wants Wolfe to drop a case that could lead back to him. Wolfe and Archie call men to take care of the plants and repair the windows before notifying the police.

I understand the technique of eccentricity; it would be futile for a man to labor at establishing a reputation for oddity if he were ready at the slightest provocation to revert to normal action. Wolfe has pronounced eccentricities, as well as strict rules concerning his way of life, and their occasional violation adds spice to many of the stories:. If he had done nothing more than to create Archie Goodwin, Rex Stout would deserve the gratitude of whatever assessors watch over the prosperity of American literature. For surely Archie is one of the folk heroes in which the modern American temper can see itself transfigured.

Archie is the lineal descendant of Huck Finn Archie is spiritually larger than life. That is why his employer and companion had to be made corpulent to match. Archie Goodwin is the narrator of all the Nero Wolfe stories and a central character in them. Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, critics and scholars of detective fiction, summarized the unique relationship between Wolfe and Archie:. First, Archie is not a friend but a paid employee, who acts as secretary, chauffeur, and legman to the mountainous and sedentary Wolfe.

Then they differ in all important respects—age, background, physique, and education. Finally, it is impossible to say which is the more interesting and admirable of the two. They are complementary in the unheard-of ratio of Like Wolfe, Archie is a licensed private detective and handles all investigation that takes place outside the brownstone. He also takes care of routine tasks such as sorting the mail, taking dictation and answering the phone.

At the time of the first novel, Fer-de-Lance , Archie had been working for Wolfe for seven years [34] and had by then been trained by Wolfe in his preferred methods of investigation. Like Wolfe, he has developed an extraordinary memory and can recite verbatim conversations that go on for hours. But perhaps his most useful attribute is his ability to bring reluctant people to Wolfe for interrogation. Archie's bedroom is one floor above Wolfe's, [o] and his room and board at the brownstone are part of his compensation.

On several occasions, he makes it a point to note that he owns his bedroom furniture. Except for breakfast which chef Fritz Brenner generally serves him in the kitchen , Archie takes his meals at Wolfe's table, and has learned much about haute cuisine by listening to Wolfe and Fritz discuss food. While Archie has a cocktail on occasion, his beverage of choice is milk. Archie has frequent reason to note that he needs at least eight hours' sleep each night, and prefers more. He reacts bitterly when his sleep is interrupted or otherwise shortened by events, such as late-night interrogations at Homicide headquarters or a precinct, or a 1: Archie's initial rough edges become smoother across the decades, much as American norms evolved over the years.

Noting Archie's colloquialisms in the first two Nero Wolfe novels, Rev. Gotwald wrote, "The crudeness of these references makes me suspect that Stout uses them in Archie to show their ugliness because he uses them unapologetically. Many reviewers and critics regard Archie Goodwin as the true protagonist of the Nero Wolfe corpus.

Compared to Wolfe, Archie is the man of action, tough and street smart.


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His narrative style is breezy and vivid. Previously, foils such as Dr. Watson or Arthur Hastings were employed as confidants and narrators, but none had such a fully developed personality or was such an integral part of the plot as Archie. He passes the supreme test of being rereadable. I don't know how many times I have reread the Wolfe stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn't matter.


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  5. For specific publication history, including original magazine appearances, see entries for individual titles. Years link to year-in-literature articles. How would you feel if someone wanted to continue the Wolfe series after you laid aside your pen? I don't know whether vampirism or cannibalism is the better term for it.

    They should roll their own. After the death of Rex Stout's widow in October , [47] the Stout estate approved the continuation of the Nero Wolfe series. Goldsborough's approach was faithful to the Rex Stout works, but he added his own touches, including an updated frame of reference Archie now uses a personal computer to file Wolfe's germination records; Wolfe's ancient elevator is finally replaced by a more efficient model; etc. Goldsborough's first effort, Murder in E Minor , was published in After the publication of Fer-de-Lance in , several Hollywood studios were interested in the movie rights.

    Connolly did portray Wolfe in the latter film, after Arnold decided he did not want to become identified in the public mind with one part. Lionel Stander portrayed Archie Goodwin. Stander was a capable actor but, as Archie, Rex thought he had been miscast. A young Rita Hayworth then Rita Cansino portrays Maria Maringola, who sets the story in motion when she asks for Wolfe's help in finding her missing brother, Carlo. That's the best explanation of what's wrong with the film", wrote Variety June 16, Stout replied, "I don't know.

    Nero Wolfe has been portrayed in four radio drama series on five different networks. Williams starred in its first incarnation April 10—June 26, on the regional New England Network. Luis Van Rooten succeeded Ortega sometime in Louis Vittes wrote most of the scripts for the minute episodes, basing none of them on Stout's original stories. Only one episode of the series is in circulation. Broadcast July 17—November 30, , the series was a product of the Don Lee Network , a California affiliate, and may have been broadcast only in that region.

    Although 21 episodes were produced, the series finale, "The Case of the Shakespeare Folio", is the only episode that has survived in radio collections. Produced by Edwin Fadiman and directed by J. Donald Wilson, [77] the show was written by Alfred Bester. The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe was the first radio series that, like the Stout stories themselves, stressed characterization over plot.

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    Checkout Your Cart Price. His ex-wife, April Adams, is determined to rescue her little girl, but unknown to her, Adams is hiding out somewhere in San Francisco and determined to kill her to keep their daughter. Tina Wolffe and Brandon Harrison take on the case to reunite this mother and her kidnapped daughter for Christmas. Tina and Brandon follow their sharply honed instincts with a determined tenacity to track down this dangerous felon and rescue their client's captive daughter. Trying to avoid any danger to little Melanie and to her mother, the PIs wait for the peaceful Christmas morning in hopes of catching Steve Adams off guard.

    Sensing the trap, Adams plans his own murderous Christmas surprise party for April, Tina, and Brandon-with murder as their final Christmas reward. Paperback - Trade Pages: