Rex Stout (1886-1975) wrote dozens of short stories, novellas, and full-length mystery novels, most featuring his two indelible characters, the peerless detective Nero Wolfe and his handy sidekick, Archie Goodwin.
Thoughtful and entertaining, Fer-de-Lance is the first Stout mystery, and it introduces the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin duo. Archie is asked to investigate the murder of a young Italian immigrant, and the inquiry leads to Westchester County, NY. There Archie finds a dead philanthropist, his crazy wife, jealous son, and beautiful daughter. An attempt on Nero's life through the gift of a deadly fer-de-lance snake leads Archie to believe he's close to a solution. The death of advertising executive Louis Dahlmann during his perfume contest final starts the sleuthing in Before Midnight. It seems the advertising firm is concerned more with the contestant's missing answers than with the murderer, and Nero is needed once again. The juxtaposition of woman-hating Nero involved with perfume and the hysterical advertising firm is an interesting combination. The characterizations of the contestants also add to the aroma of this satisfying story, all leading up to a climactic confrontation in Nero's office and an unexpected ending. Both titles, well read by Michael Prichard, are recommended.-Denise A. Garofalo, Astor Home for Children, Rhinebeck, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.