Stout, Rex: (46) A Family Affair

We found A Family Affair, the final Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin book by Rex Stout, in a used bookstore a few weeks ago; in honor of the purchase, I re-read it. (Only two Wolfe books left to find and buy now—we’re getting there.)

The first time I read this, the most notable thing was the ending—those who’ve read it will doubtless know what I mean. This time, I really noticed how much the narration reflects the nature of the story. Normally, even when bad things are happening, Archie’s First Person Smartass Narration is ornamented with clever descriptions or turns of phrase that keep it fairly light. This time, the prose is really stripped-down and bleak: it seems to me that there’s more dialogue-only sections and much less description by Archie. The prose creates an additional level of tension that really propels the story—enough so that I read it all at once before bed, which had not been my intention.

The other thing I found interesting about this one is Archie & Lily. We get much more insight into their relationship here than in almost any of the others; for whatever reason, Archie spends a lot more time reflecting on it than in other books. Also, it’s much more palatable than what we saw in, for instance, Not Quite Dead Enough.

While most of the series stands alone, this would be a terrible place to start reading. (So would In the Best Families.) Go read some of the others first, such as Prisoner’s Base, one of my favorites and recently back in print. Save this one for the end, but do read it.

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  1. What happens in ‘A Family Affair?’

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