January 05, 2006
The Doorbell Rang

Nearly all of Rex Stout’s crime fiction had portly Montenegrin Nero Wolfe sending secretary-legman Archie Goodwin to gather some facts, after which the armchair detective pondered at length and then summoned the concerned parties to his office, where he disclosed the murderer.

In The Doorbell Rang (1965), however, Stout had had enough of the FBI surveillance that had produced a thick file on him and his commie behavior (like supporting the UN), and in this book, instead of being retained to out a murderer, Wolfe is hired by a wealthy matron to get the FBI off her back for her anti-J. Edgar actions.

In its time, this book shocked its many cozy readers with its departure from the popular series format and with its portrayal of a powerful and vengeful domestic spying organization, a history we have mostly forgotten since the Church Committee and the departure of Hoover.

Now that lawless law-and-order is back with us big time, more intrusive and expansive than ever before, it’s reassuring to know this book is still in print.


Posted by Joyful Alternative at January 05, 2006 03:10 PM
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"Nero Wolfe" is on cable TV now. Wolfe is well cast and acted, although thinner than the Wolfe in my head. Archie is just about perfect. The background music and costumes and decor are pure 30s and early 40s. Biography Channel. Check it out.

Posted by: Duff Orben on January 5, 2006 5:39 PM

Not to toot my own horn too much, but in the next Jack Liffey novel in the fall, The Dark Streets, Jack is picked up by Homeland Security, sent by "extraordinary rendition" to a private security company in the desert, and "water-boarded" for information. Of course, the US would never REALLY do that to a citizen, right?

Posted by: John Shannon on January 5, 2006 5:59 PM

Thanks for the history behind the book. I remember it well. It did seem like Stout was trying to send more of a message than in most of his books, but I didn't know the background.

Posted by: Carl Manaster on January 5, 2006 11:50 PM

Does Jack Liffey ever complain about how his author gets him beaten up practically lifeless in every book? Good grief! Anyway, I've just received the Streets on Fire I bought, so I have what--three more to read if I'm to be caught up by fall?

Please feel free to provide some blatant self-promotion when Dark Streets is out. Heaven only knows, we could use some around here.

Which reminds me, I was published in the Washington Post last Saturday.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on January 6, 2006 12:52 PM

Duff, is that the series that was on network TV circa 1980? If so, I was in night school the night it was on; so the following semester, I arranged my courses so I could watch it, and, of course, the network changed the night the show was on, and I still wasn't home. If that's it, I saw one episode. Wolfe wasn't nearly fat enough but otherwise OK; Archie wasn't himself at all, at least in the little bit I saw. I'll have to find out where the Biography channel is. I'm not much of a TV watcher.

Carl, that book really blew my mind at the time, and I remember its impact vividly. I didn't remember any of his other books as having any topical or political content, though, and was surprised to see A Right to Die's blurb describing a black man's (of course, wrongful) arrest for his white girlfriend's murder.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on January 6, 2006 1:13 PM
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