by Ken Darby, Little, Brown and Company, 1983 hardcover
Recently I saw a mention of Nero Wolfe’s house, and it made me reach for this book. I pulled it off the shelf intending to find and examine the floor plan for the basement, but before I knew it I had turned to the beginning and read it through. There are two reasons I did this: the book is fascinating and it’s not always easy to find things in it.
Before I continue I must warn you this isn’t an easy book to find, and if you’re like me you hate it when someone teases you with a wonderful book you may never be able to get your hands on. So I apologize right here. Sorry.
That said, this book is worth the effort if you have ever paused, as I have, while reading a Nero Wolfe story or novel and thought “I thought that chair was on the other side” or wondered “where is that doorway in relation to the room?”. I had my own picture of the brownstone house and this book turned a few of those ideas around, but that’s okay – Darby has paid more careful attention to the layout of the place than I had, and I’m glad he did.
The book is subtitled “As told by Archie Goodwin”, and it’s written in the first person, as we would expect. It’s as if we had (what temerity!) rung the bell, and Archie has invited us in and is showing us around. The guided tour is filled with anecdotes and asides as we are shown the house, floor by floor, room by room from his unique point of view. References to various cases and events are numerous, and the book contains diagrams and illustrations of rooms and floors detailed enough to show where the wastebaskets are placed.
“I suppose the logical place to start describing the inside of a building would be the basement,” Archie informs us at the beginning of Chapter 3, “but since I’m not going to construct an edifice, and don’t feel particularly logical anyway, I’ll start with the top and hop around from there.” And so he does.
We visit the orchid rooms, in their final configuration of cool, moderate, then tropical. Archie relates the conversation which resulted in this final configuration and while we are there we are reminded of many cases involving these rooms or orchids.
Chapter by chapter we continue through the house on West Thirty-Fifth St. listening to the loquacious Archie recall events as we go. Archie tells us previous plans of the house are either incomplete or dead wrong (his words), and he explains why. Whether you will be amused by this depends on the extent of your dedication to the subject at hand – I found it fascinating.
If you are a fan of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books, this is a book you should read, and put on your “buy if find” list. This may have been published in paperback, I’ve never seen a copy in that format. Perhaps someone reading this will know. Hardbound copies do turn up occasionally in used book stores. Beware – reading this will whet your appetite for the stories themselves, but there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?