Top critical review
How the Groom Met the Bride
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 5, 2012
"I do not think you would find life in the brownstone to be onerous." That is the quote that best summarizes what Robert Goldsborough's prequel is all about. True to Rex Stout's original books, it's not really the mystery itself that is the most interesting feature of the prequel -- it's the relationship between the two main protagonists, in its budding stages here. (Also, similar to Rex Stout's own books, the whodunnit angle of the prequel is rather weak, and the dénouement underwhelming.) I had to chuckle while reading the prequel, because it seemed to resemble reading a romance novel: you just know that "these two were meant for each other"; you know they will "embrace each other" (if only figuratively here) by the time the book comes to a close; but those two don't know it *yet*, and it's fun to observe the process of them getting closer to each other. Speaking of Wolfe and Archie as "groom and bride" seems somehow justified after Rex Stout once caused outrage with a lecture suggesting that "Dr. Watson was a woman".
Indeed, the finest chapter in _Archie Meets Nero Wolfe_ is the very last one; Robert Goldsborough is excellent throughout in capturing the mood of the brownstone, but it all comes to a head in the final chapter. The very last dialogue between Wolfe and Archie is superbly, sparingly written in understated tones; and so is the final scene, with Goldsborough elegantly deciding to end the story before Archie gives his final answer to Wolfe. I think many a Rex Stout fan will be moved emotionally while reading the final chapter of the prequel.
The prequel has one distinguishing feature that no original Wolfe book could offer: it shows us Wolfe, Archie, Cramer and the rest of the staff during the Prohibition era. I thought Goldsborough captured the spirit of the era very nicely, along with the repercussions of the Great Depression (so similar to today's early 2010s mood, as another reviewer noted). Wolfe experts know that, throughout the decades, the original Wolfe stories seemed (if ever so slightly) to "mellow" with age, becoming progressively less and less "hard-boiled". The toughest Archie you may ever meet is possibly in Rex Stout's opening masterful Wolfe novel, _Fer-de-Lance_. In this respect, Goldsborough's volume is a worthy prequel, because it is definitely hard-boiled and features lots of "noir" scenes (such as the nightly shooting waking the animals in the Bronx ZOO). There may be one factual error in the prequel: in talking to Wolfe, Cramer seems to suggest that drinking alcohol is illegal; however, if I'm not mistaken, during the Prohibiton era it was never illegal to *drink* alcohol, but rather to *sell* it or *manufacture* it; and Wolfe does neither.
The overall atmosphere and mood are spot on. When Archie is dispatched to work temporarily as a driver in the Williamson family, it feels just as if you were reading a regular Rex Stout Wolfe novel, because there were so many similar assignments given by Wolfe to Archie over the years. In details, there seem to be deficiencies. Archie seems rather docile and subdued compared to Rex Stout's Archie -- which might be explained by his young age, which is alleged to be only 19 in the prequel. I find it hard to believe, however, that Wolfe would employ any 19-year-old full-time. The Amazon reviewer "Holmes Fan" gives an excellent analysis of the many details that are just factually wrong in the prequel, including (very likely) Archie's age and the year of his hiring. Goldsborough seems careless in ignoring quite a number of specific hints about the Williamson case as included in _Fer-de-Lance_. Orrie's characterization goes way overboard. And as Bob Byrd said, Wolfe speaks like a long-winded thesaurus sometimes, which does not become him. There are certain words that I don't believe Wolfe would ever say: such as (twice) using the verb "transpire" instead of "happen" or "occur" (which is considered bad English), and even incorrectly using "infer" instead of "imply", which I'm afraid was one of Wolfe's pet peeves! Another interesting word occurring in Archie's narrative is the adjective "Wolfean"; I know that Wolfe fans love this word, but has Rex Stout ever directly used it in any of his own stories?
Critics have remarked about _Fer-de-Lance_ how "perfect" it was in that it introduced the entire Wolfean cosmos "in one fell swoop": the universe is simply right there, finished on page 1 of the first novel, and it then served Rex Stout for 4 more decades of writing engaging Wolfe stories. In this sense, we can say that there could even be a "prequel to the prequel". That's because, just like in _Fer-de-Lance_, the Wolfean universe already exists, complete and (almost) perfect, in the prequel _Archie Meets Nero Wolfe_. The only "missing piece in the puzzle" is Archie. Although I would not really be interested in reading about Archie's exploits as a youngster in Ohio, nor about Wolfe's escapades in Europe during World War I or back in Montenegro, I would very much be interested in learning how exactly he went about setting up his universe in the Manhattan brownstone. Was his daily routine preconceived even before he arrived in America, or was it developed over time? There are still countless such unanswered questions and there is, therefore, room for yet another prequel, starting at about the time of Wolfe's arrival in America. What did Wolfe do first when he set foot in America? How and why did he choose that particular brownstone as his residence? How did he hire Fritz? What was his first meeting with Cramer like? Of course, the trouble with *that* prequel would be that it couldn't have been written by Archie. That is not an unsurmountable obstacle, however -- although most Hercule Poirot stories are narrated by Captain Hastings, it's by no means an iron-clad rule.
I read the prequel in the Kindle edition that is nicely formatted and can be recommended. Even so, there are about a dozen or more typographical errors (especially, every single time, missing closing quotation marks following the elliptical three dots) and a few syntactical errors (including one with a superfluous "you" on the novel's very last page). Another version of "how Archie met Wolfe", titled "Firecrackers", was written as a pastiche several years ago by Charles E. Burns; I wish the volume _The Archie Goodwin Files_ that contains the story was also available in the Kindle format, so that we could read it and compare the two accounts! Some Wolfe fans prefer the Burns version over Goldsborough's prequel.
I leave you with what I find to be the prequel's wittiest quote (and there are a couple of other ones similarly witty): "Don't try to rush him," Cramer said. "I've been a party to these melodramas before, and he moves at his own speed, regardless of how hard he gets pushed."