He’s pigheaded and high-nosed and toplofty, and he thinks he’s the best detective in the world, and so do I, or I would have moved out long ago. – Archie Goodwin, The Father Hunt
As much as I love exploring new mystery authors, I like to periodically return to old favorites, revisiting those iconic characters created by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and others.
Rex Stout introduced the world to Nero Wolfe in 1934 with a style that was definitely American, and unabashedly New York. Although his characters followed a familiar trope, the eccentric but successful detective with a less-brainy but resourceful sidekick, the interaction between his characters is what drives the stories. Detective Nero Wolfe is an orchid grower with a greenhouse filled with 10,000 orchids and a gourmand who requires a full-time cook. He has an abhorrence of physical activity and an even greater dislike of having his strict schedule interrupted, especially for work. His legman and the narrator of the stories, Archie Goodwin, is a tough, street smart, witty, ladies man whose narrative voice is unlike other sidekicks such as Watson or Hastings. He is a fully-fleshed out character, existing not only as an observer and foil for Wolfe but as an integral part of the story. He interviews suspects, soothes concerned clients, and knows his greatest value is in his ability to badger Wolfe into working so that the firm earns enough to keep all three full-time staff employed, fed, and with a roof over their heads.
In The Father Hunt, a young woman (always a weakness of Archie’s) named Amy Denovo hires the pair to find her father. She had gone most of her life with no knowledge of her family outside of her cold and distant mother. Her mother’s recent death from a hit and run driver has revealed a secret: every month since Amy was born, a check for $1,000 was sent from her father. Being a proud woman who knew she could support her daughter herself, her mother cashed the checks and placed the money in a metal box. Over the 22 years of Amy’s life, this has amounted to $264,000. No small sum, especially in 1968. She decides to use some of that money to track down her father, a task made more difficult because Amy is convinced that her mother was living under an assumed name. Who she was and where she was prior to Amy’s birth is as much of a mystery as the identity of the father.
Tracking down the birth name of Amy’s mother as well as discovering the man who wrote the checks is a relatively easy task for a detective of Wolfe’s abilities. However when the man can prove the impossibility of his being Amy’s father, the case hits a major snag. If he is not responsible for Amy’s parentage, why did he send over a quarter of a million dollars over the years to Amy’s mother? Who actually is her father? And is it a coincidence that Amy’s mother was killed by a yet unknown hit-and-run driver? Only by focusing on the last questions is Wolfe able to bring about a resolution to his case.
Readers of mystery and crime fiction who are not already familiar with Nero Wolfe will find this a great introduction to the series. Wolfe fans like me will always enjoy an afternoon spent in his company.
Check the WRL catalog for The Father Hunt