The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read my first Nero Wolfe mystery, "Murder by the Book", in translation into my native language, about 1970 or so. I liked it a lot, so when I came to the U.S. I was eager to read other books by Rex Stout. I believe I managed to read all 46 of them between the early Eighties and the mid-Nineties. At that time I was still able to read mystery series. Now I dislike series, but I decided to reread two or three novels in the Nero Wolfe series, just to see whether and how my reception of Mr. Stout's work has changed over time. The first book to reread, randomly selected, is "The Mother Hunt" (1963).
The wife of a successful novelist, recently deceased, finds in her vestibule a healthy baby with a note implying that her husband was the father. She hires Nero Wolfe to find out who the mother is. Archie Goodwin investigates, while Mr. Wolfe lazes around in his old brownhouse on West 35th Street, New York, attends his orchids, drinks beer, reads books, and thinks about the case during breaks between these activities.
A murder occurs, clearly connected to Archie's (sorry, Wolfe's) investigation. The plot is captivating, but rapidly deteriorates when Mr. Stout begins to use, several times, his trademark literary device - gathering in Wolfe's office several characters connected to the investigation and discussing the facts of the case with them. Too theatrical and implausible.
My feeling of being too familiar with the characters is strong; they are cut and pasted from book to book, never ever changing, perhaps except for Archie, who has always been the most (perhaps the only) interesting character. Yet the first half of the novel is enthralling and Mr. Stout's writing is good. I will try one or two more rereads and then come back to my favorite "one-off" books.
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