Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Year, new post

Latest Entry Meant Much Sooner

A long time has passed since my last entry and I have all kinds of excuses… like, the holidays, finishing up another book and a cover drawing and a drawing for work… and worse of all: organizing my life.
Yes, I admit it… I am not the most organized person.
So, to prove it, I wanted to point out another of the authors that helped to inspire me and the set of books that he wrote.  These are not science fiction or fantasy but mystery.  Rex Stout wrote a series starring the remarkable Nero Wolfe.  The stories were wonderful mysteries but it was the characters that were fascinating, even though it has been years since I touched those books (It was also made into a short lived television series) I still remember many of the details of the characters. 
The relationships between the characters made these stories all the more engrossing as Nero Wolfe was the key figure and everyone else moved in orbit around him.  Primarily for his large size the detective refused to leave his home/office which from description was an immense brownstone (a brownstone is something accepted as a large dwelling - part of a rowhouse set usually), although of course there were some circumstances that compelled him to leave in order to solve a case… or to check out a rare orchid… or avoid arrest.
Puckering his lips, rolling them in a manner peculiar to him, Wolfe would think, contemplate the diverse clues that his right hand man brought to him and solve the riddle presented by nefarious criminals who thought they could get away with murder.  Archie Goodwin is that right hand man and (if I remember correctly) the narrator of the story.  Wolfe thought Archie was a lady’s man (one who knew the ways and wiles of the opposite sex) and Archie did nothing to dissuade him of that belief.  Wolfe had some distrust of females, although it seemed to be based on the fact that he couldn’t understand their logic.
In some ways Wolfe was like Sherlock Holmes, while in fact both are the archetype of the modern detective, where thinking is the major component in solving the mystery.  The clues were gathered by Archie and several part-time helpers, brought to Wolfe and then the mystery would be solved and sometimes all the suspects were brought in for the standard showdown.  The various tools Wolfe employed to gain the upper hand over the suspect were simple devices, like a peephole to look into the waiting room to catch the odd clue.
Okay, so I had to go pull a few of the books off my shelf to verify what I’ve been saying.
Archie does narrate the stories.
The titles of some are designed to grab your attention like The Silent Speaker, The League of Frightened Men, A Right to Die, The Doorbell Rang, In the Best Families, Prisoner’s Base and many others.  The earliest copyright I noted in these few was August 1935, the most recent October 1965, with a wide spread through the other years.  At least thirty one books were written by the author, not all of which were Nero Wolfe novels.
Reading The League of Frightened Men today would make it seem to be of the mystery noir genre, however since the book was actually written in that era it would have been a contemporary mystery.
The Nero Wolfe stories are one of the reasons I started this blog… to bring to mind stories, books, that have been pushed to the back of the stacks because of other more recently published books.  The books by Rex Stout have been printed and reprinted at least six times which is a type of proof, if any is needed.  Of course the prices on the covers reflect the age of my copies… $.50, $.75 and $.95. 
I do advocate buying used books.  I’d rather they sat on a shelf, waiting to be read, than thrown into a landfill somewhere or ‘recycled’ as pulp.  Hardcopies of books may be on the way out in a generation or two with the advent of ebooks, but think of all the books that will be forgotten or lost, books that you might have discovered and enjoyed that you’d never find in a keyword search.  I’ve got a few dozen books sitting, waiting for me to read, and I see them, have to move them out of my way or find a shelf for them, but I can’t accidentally delete them and I won’t…
Okay, off of that rant.
I do not oppose ebooks, I have four published at the moment.  But I can’t forget the books of the past.
So, while I have not (yet) finished a mystery novel of my own I was definitely inspired by the writing of Rex Stout.  The humorous, caring, iconic, human and intricate aspects of these stories made them worth reading, re-reading and keeping in my head (heart) and on my shelves.
There is no way to measure how these stories affected the way I write, but I know that they do… constantly.  The key element of the Nero Wolfe stories was the attention to detail, detail and the characters dealing with them.  That’s something I can’t forget and something I’m glad I encountered when I was younger to help form the writer I am today.