Cover image for Fer-de-lance
Stout, Rex, 1886-1975.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Newport Beach, CA : Books on Tape, [1994, c1934]

℗1994, ©1934
Physical Description:
7 audio discs (8 hrs. 40 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
Nero Wolfe plays snake charmer in a case with more coils than a cobra!
General Note:
"A Nero Wolfe mystery."--Container.


Compact discs.
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Format :
Sound Cassette


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FICTION CD Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks

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This is Rex Stout's first mystery novel, featuring the first appearance of Nero Wolfe, one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time. As any herpetologist knows, the fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes on Earth. When someone makes a present of one to Wolfe, his assistant Archie Goodwin knows the large detective must be getting dangerously close to solving the murders of an immigrant and a college president. As for Wolfe, he's busy playing snake charmer in a case with more twists than an anaconda.


Detective genius Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin, are private investigators based in New York. With Wolfe's unmatchable wits and Archie's tireless legwork, no mystery is unsolvable. In this installment, Archie is sent to investigate the seemingly unconnected murders of an immigrant and college president, leaving Wolfe free to go about his business.

Author Notes

Author Rex Stout was born on December 1, 1886. A child prodigy with a gift for mathematics, Stout drifted as he became an adult, holding odd jobs in many places---cook, cabinetmaker, bellhop, hotel manager, salesman, bookkeeper, and even a guide in a pueblo. But his true talent lay in storytelling; he sold his first story, about William Howard Taft, in 1912. His most famous creation is Nero Wolfe, a 286-pound detective genius who, with sidekick Archie Goodwin, can often solve a case without leaving his room. It is the way in which the puzzle is solved that intrigues Nero Wolfe, who is much like Sherlock Holmes in his ability to use deductive reasoning. More than 60 million copies (in 24 languages) of Stout's books have been sold. Stout writes quickly, drawing upon a lifetime of impressions. He neither uses an outline nor revises; he lets his characters take over as the story develops. The classy, erudite Nero Wolfe presents for readers an alternative to the hard-boiled branch of the genre. He died on October 27, 1975

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Thoughtful and entertaining, Fer-de-Lance is the first Stout mystery, and it introduces the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin duo. Archie is asked to investigate the murder of a young Italian immigrant, and the inquiry leads to Westchester County, NY. There Archie finds a dead philanthropist, his crazy wife, jealous son, and beautiful daughter. An attempt on Nero's life through the gift of a deadly fer-de-lance snake leads Archie to believe he's close to a solution. The death of advertising executive Louis Dahlmann during his perfume contest final starts the sleuthing in Before Midnight. It seems the advertising firm is concerned more with the contestant's missing answers than with the murderer, and Nero is needed once again. The juxtaposition of woman-hating Nero involved with perfume and the hysterical advertising firm is an interesting combination. The characterizations of the contestants also add to the aroma of this satisfying story, all leading up to a climactic confrontation in Nero's office and an unexpected ending. Both titles, well read by Michael Prichard, are recommended.-Denise A. Garofalo, Astor Home for Children, Rhinebeck, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1   There was no reason why I shouldn't have been sent for the beer that day, for the last ends of the Fairmont National Bank case had been gathered in the week before and there was nothing for me to do but errands, and Wolfe never hesitated about running me down to Murray Street for a can of shoe-polish if he happened to need one. But it was Fritz who was sent for the beer. Right after lunch his bell called him up from the kitchen before he could have got the dishes washed, and after getting his orders he went out and took the roadster which we always left parked in front. An hour later he was back, with the rumble seat piled high with baskets filled with bottles. Wolfe was in the office--as he and I called it, Fritz called it the library--and I was in the front room reading a book on gunshot wounds which I couldn't make head or tail of, when I glanced through the window and saw Fritz pull up at the curb. It was a good excuse to stretch my legs, so I went out and helped him unload and carry the baskets into the kitchen, where we were starting to stow the bottles away in a cupboard when the bell rang. I followed Fritz into the office.   Wolfe lifted his head. I mention that, because his head was so big that lifting it struck you as being quite a job. It was probably really bigger than it looked, for the rest of him was so huge that any head on top of it but his own would have escaped your notice entirely.   "Where's the beer?"   "In the kitchen, sir. The lower cupboard on the right, I thought."   "I want it in here. Is it cold? And an opener and two glasses."   "Mostly cold, yes, sir. Very well."   I grinned and sat down on a chair to wonder what Wolfe was doing with some pieces of paper he had cut into little discs and was pushing around into different positions on the desk blotter. Fritz began bringing in the beer, six at a time on a tray. After the third trip I had another grin when I saw Wolfe glance up at the array on the table and then around at Fritz's back going through the door. Two more trays full; whereupon Wolfe halted the parade.   "Fritz. Would you inform me when this is likely to end?"   "Very soon, sir. There are nineteen more. Forty-nine in all."   "Nonsense. Excuse me, Fritz, but obviously it's nonsense."   "Yes, sir. You said one of every kind procurable. I went to a dozen shops, at least that."   "All right. Bring them in. And some plain salt crackers. None shall lack opportunity, Fritz, it wouldn't be fair."   It turned out that the idea was, as Wolfe explained to me after he had invited me to draw my chair up to the desk and begin opening the bottles, that he had decided to give up the bootleg beer, which for years he had bought in barrels and kept in a cooler in the basement, if he could find a brand of the legal 3.2 that was potable. He had also decided, he said, that six quarts a day was unnecessary and took too much time and thereafter he would limit himself to five. I grinned at that, for I didn't believe it, and I grinned again when I thought how the place would be cluttered up with empty bottles unless Fritz ran his legs off all day long. I said to him something I had said before more than once, that beer slowed up a man's head and with him running like a brook, six quarts a day, I never would understand how he could make his brain work so fast and deep that no other man in the country could touch him. He replied, also as he had before, that it wasn't his brain that worked, it was his lower nerve centers; and as I opened the fifth bottle for him to sample he went on to say--not the first time for that either--that he would not insult me by acknowledging my flattery, since if it was sincere I was a fool and if it was calculated I was a knave.   He smacked his lips, tasting the fifth brand, and holding up the glass looked through the amber at the light. "This is a pleasant surprise, Archie. I would not have believed it. That of course is the advantage of being a pessimist; a pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises, an optimist nothing but unpleasant. So far, none of this is sewage. As you see, Fritz has marked the prices on the labels, and I've started with the cheap ones. No, here, take this next."   It was at that moment that I heard the faint buzz from the kitchen that meant the front door, and it was that buzz that started the ball rolling. Though at the time it appeared to be nothing interesting, just Durkin asking a favor.   Durkin was all right up to the neck. When I consider how thick he was in most respects I am surprised how he could tail. I know bull terriers are dumb, but good tailing means a lot more than just hanging on, and Fred Durkin was good. I asked him once how he did it, and he said, "I just go up to the subject and ask him where he's headed for, and then if I lose him I know where to look." I suppose he knew how funny that was; I don't know, I suspect him. When things got so Wolfe had to cut down expenses like everybody else from bankers to bums, Saul Panzer and I got our weekly envelopes sliced, but Durkin's was stopped altogether. Wolfe called him in when he was needed and paid him by the day, so I still saw him off and on and knew he was having hard sledding. Things had been slow and I hadn't run across him for a month or more when the buzzer sounded that day and Fritz brought him to the door of the office.   Wolfe looked up and nodded. "Hello, Fred. Do I owe you something?"   Durkin, approaching the desk with his hat in his hand, shook his head. "How are you, Mr. Wolfe. I wish to God you did. If there was anybody owed me anything I'd be with him like a saddle on a horse."   "Sit down. Will you sample some beer?"   "No, thanks." Fred stayed on his feet. "I've come to ask a favor."   Wolfe looked up again, and his big thick lips pushed out a little, tight together, just a small movement, and back again, and then out and back again. How I loved to watch him doing that! That was about the only time I ever got excited, when Wolfe's lips were moving like that. It didn't matter whether it was some little thing like this with Durkin or when he was on the track of something big and dangerous. I knew what was going on, something was happening so fast inside of him and so much ground was being covered, the whole world in a flash, that no one else could ever really understand it even if he had tried his best to explain, which he never did. Sometimes, when he felt patient, he explained to me and it seemed to make sense, but I realized afterward that that was only because the proof had come and so I could accept it. I said to Saul Panzer once that it was like being with him in a dark room which neither of you has ever seen before, and he describes all of its contents to you, and then when the light is turned on his explanation of how he did it seems sensible because you see everything there before you just as he described it.   Wolfe said to Durkin, "You know my failing on the financial side. But since you haven't come to borrow money, your favor is likely granted. What is it?"   Durkin scowled. Wolfe always upset him. "Nobody needs to borrow money worse than I do. How do you know it's not that?"   "No matter. Archie will explain. You're not embarrassed enough, and you wouldn't have brought a woman with you. What is it?"   I leaned forward and broke in, "Damn it, he's alone! My ears are good anyhow!"   A little ripple, imperceptible except to eyes like mine that had caught it before, ran over Wolfe's enormous bulk. "Of course, Archie, splendid ears. But there was nothing to hear; the lady made no sound audible at this distance. And Fritz did not speak to her; but in greeting Fred there was a courtesy in his tone which he saves for softer flesh. If I should hear Fritz using that tone to a lone man I'd send him to a psychoanalyst at once."   Excerpted from Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.