Authors: A Family Affair
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #New York (N.Y.), #Wolfe; Nero (Fictitious Character), #General
, the creator of Nero Wolfe, was born in Noblesville, Indiana, in 1886, the sixth of nine children of John and Lucetta Todhunter Stout, both Quakers. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Wakarusa, Kansas. He was educated in a country school, but, by the age of nine, was recognized throughout the state as a prodigy in arithmetic. Mr. Stout briefly attended the University of Kansas, but left to enlist in the Navy, and spent the next two years as a warrant officer on board President Theodore Roosevelt’s yacht. When he left the Navy in 1908, Rex Stout began to write free-lance articles, worked as a sightseeing guide and an itinerant bookkeeper. Later he devised and implemented a school banking system which was installed in four hundred cities and towns throughout the country. In 1927 Mr. Stout retired from the world of finance and, with the proceeds of his banking scheme, left for Paris to write serious fiction. He wrote three novels that received favorable reviews before turning to detective fiction. His first Nero Wolfe novel,
, appeared in 1934. It was followed by many others, among them,
Too Many Cooks, The Silent Speaker, If Death Ever Slept, The Doorbell Rang
Please Pass the Guilt
, which established Nero Wolfe as a leading character on a par with Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous protagonist, Perry Mason. During World War II Rex Stout waged a personal campaign against Nazism as chairman of the War Writers’ Board, master of ceremonies of the radio program “Speaking of Liberty,” and member of several national committees. After the war he turned his attention to mobilizing public opinion against the wartime use of thermonuclear devices, was an active leader in the Authors’ Guild, and resumed writing his Nero Wolfe novels. Rex Stout died in 1975 at the age of eighty-nine. A month before his death he published his seventy-second Nero Wolfe mystery,
A Family Affair
. Ten years later, a seventy-third Nero Wolfe mystery was discovered and published in
Death Times Three
Nero Wolfe Mysteries
The League of Frightened Men
The Rubber Band
The Red Box
Too Many Cooks
Some Buried Caesar
Over My Dead Body
Where There’s a Will
Not Quite Dead Enough
The Silent Speaker
Too Many Women
And Be a Villain
The Second Confession
Trouble in Triplicate
In the Best Families
Three Doors to Death
Murder by the Book
Curtains for Three
The Golden Spiders
The Black Mountain
Three Men Out
Might As Well Be Dead
If Death Ever Slept
Three for the Chair
Champagne for One
And Four to Go
Plot It Yourself
Too Many Clients
Three at Wolfe’s Door
The Final Deduction
The Mother Hunt
A Right to Die
Trio for Blunt Instruments
The Doorbell Rang
Death of a Doxy
The Father Hunt
Death of a Dude
Please Pass the Guilt
A Family Affair
Death Times Three
The Hand in the Glove
Double for Death
Bad for Business
The Broken Vase
The Sound of Murder
The Mountain Cat Murders
This edition contains the complete text
of the original hardcover edition.
NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED
A FAMILY AFFAIR
A Bantam Crime Line Book / published by arrangement with
The Viking Press, Inc.
Viking edition published 1975
Bantam edition / 1976
Bantam reissue / February 1993
and the portrayal of a boxed “cl” are trademarks of Bantam Books,
a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1975 by Rex Stout.
Introduction copyright © 1993 by Thomas Gifford.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 75-15526.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
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For information address: Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin USA,
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Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10103.
hen I was a kid back in Dubuque, I developed several enthusiasms. Stan Kenton, P. G. Wodehouse, the Yankees, Adlai Stevenson, Tchaikovsky, Sinatra, Rex Stout. I should have stayed so bright! In the ensuing years I have been accused of being a typically phlegmatic, stubborn, comfort-loving Taurean, and, folks, that’s okay with me. I’m occasionally loyal to a fault—for instance, to a financial manager who lost all of my money on shady stock options—or so people have told me, and I guess that’s true, too. While I occasionally add new enthusiasms, it’s hell getting me to part with the old ones. In fact, it’s never been done. Take the foregoing list. What kind of jerk could ever grow weary of any of them?
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.
This all comes to mind because I’ve been reading rather a lot of Rex Stout lately, and Rex Stout lived a very long and productive life devoted to just such principles and concepts. And yet Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels are in print! People are in fact buying them and reading them! Miracles do happen! How can this be? Because, I suppose, Stout wrote wonderful stories, and stories that hang together and involve you are pretty much available only on the printed page. They used to be there in the movies, but movie writing ain’t what it used to be. Anyway, Rex Stout, and by extension his timeless and therefore immortal creations Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, lived and wrote and built a fictional universe that was informed by a strict set of standards. Call it the morality of the civilized man. Not stuffy, boring,
morality, but the real thing. Sure enough, somebody out there is reading this stuff.
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, American literature’s answer to Holmes and Watson, operate within a framework of right and wrong that is large enough and elastic enough and humane enough to encompass the issues Stout raised and faced during nearly half a century of worried, flustered, and frightened clients making their pilgrimages to the brownstone on West Thirty-fifth. And there the great detective gathers information and sends Archie forth to do his bidding and penetrates the mysteries and secrets of the rest of the world. Nero Wolfe gets it done.
Is it any wonder, then, that Stout and Wodehouse
were friends who mutually admired each other’s work? The worlds they constructed are perfect and true, and the point is not that they may never have existed but that they
. Stout and Wodehouse created minutely detailed worlds, clockwork universes, to which the intelligence of a kind of superbeing might be applied to good effect, whether you’re thinking of Wolfe or Jeeves. And that’s where the comfort I so enjoy comes into it. And the comfort is precisely why one may read the novels of Stout and Wodehouse again and again and enjoy them each time as if they were new. It’s the character, the milieu, the manner—it all grabs you; you are back in the familiar world, you are safe, you are free to enjoy. Comfort.
There is a wonderful formula at work in Stout and Wodehouse—formula in the very best, most instructive sense. The Colonel’s unique blend of herbs and spices, Pimm’s exact ingredients, Coke’s fabled recipe—all shrink in comparison. Workable formula is the key to all great fiction. Read Joseph Campbell on the hero in myth: he’ll convince you if you won’t just relax and take my word for it.
Wolfe and Archie will somehow work it out. Nobody will rearrange the furniture in the office, or break the globe, or keep Wolfe from his appointed hours with the orchids. Or if they do interrupt the schedule and regularity of the establishment, they’ll damn well wish they hadn’t. And in the course of watching them work it out, you’ll learn a thing or two about words and moral philosophy and human nature and good food and God only knows what else. Through Wolfe and Archie, Stout shows you how people are supposed to behave. How grownups act when the pressure is on. So in the very best and wisest sense, and quite painlessly too, Stout shares his code with you and you are improved a bit.
You would be hard-pressed indeed to find another popular writer of his era who more subtly and ably defined what it was to be civilized, to have standards.
Which makes this, his final novel, completed shortly before his death, all the more remarkable. In the course of jotting down these remarks I have worked on the assumption that you are not unfamiliar with Wolfe and Archie. If indeed the novel you’re holding at this moment is your first journey into Wolfeland, I urge you to hold off reading it. There is a natural order to things, and the natural order of this particular thing is to read
A Family Affair
after you have read many others in the saga. In reading more or less chronologically, starting in the early 1930s, you will have the enormous pleasure of watching the whole thing develop, layer upon layer. It is worth watching, I assure you. And you will discover that Wolfe and Archie never age, though the world around them is changing and issues are dealt with that would have been incomprehensible a few years earlier. But Wolfe and Archie are immutable. Stout allowed as how it just would have been too much trouble, and besides, in the normal run Wolfe would have had to die—and Stout couldn’t bear that idea. More than once he said, “I want him to live forever!” And now he will.
But you should build up to
A Family Affair
. In the first place, the adder has entered Eden. The comfort and certainty have been shaken and destroyed in a way previously unthinkable. Wolfe—and thereby the code, the standard, the very civilization—has been betrayed by someone close to him, someone he has always trusted. The viper at the bosom, damn right. It is a family affair, and the inevitable conclusion is that it must be dealt with inside the family—which drives
Wolfe and Archie to actions unlike any others in their lives.