Saturday, April 05, 2008

The League of Frightened Men, by Rex Stout

The League of Frightened Men, by Rex Stout

My first Nero Wolfe novel! With one-dimensional characters (making a notable exception for Wolfe and his right-hand man Archie Goodwin), a dated story, and plot devices that only work on the page this novel is a failure in every possible way except that I loved it. (I stole that line from Roger Ebert so I’ll try and stick to movie references from here on out.) Wolfe is described as corpulent and homebound, with a deep voice and controlled emotions: I couldn’t help but picture Orson Wells at the close of his career. Goodwin is both a man of action and fairly emotional; for him William Hopper is the man, but as he is best known for playing Paul Drake, Perry Mason’s confidant and investigator, it could be the similarity in roles rather than the imagery that brings that to mind. The rest of the cast were extras at best: a crippled writer, an ugly maid, a drunk newspaperman, a haughty lawyer or two, a plucky private eye, a bitter taxi driver—you get the idea.

The League of Frightened Men wasn’t in the Plan 9 from Outer Space “so bad it is good” category, but instead more like Smokey and the Bandit or Flash Gordon. Neither of those are Casablanca, but seem fairly universally loved—Stout grabs that same magic here. If you want clever writing and thoughtful characterization then look elsewhere, but if you enjoy spending an afternoon watching The Thin Man or Charlie Chan then I suspect you’d like curling up with a Rex Stout novel.

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