Cover of Prisoner's Base

Prisoner's Base
Rex Stout
154 pages
published in 1952

I bought this together with Over My Dead Body and once I had finished with that, I immediately read this. One helping of Nero Wolfe wasn't enough to sate my appetite, it seemed. Between the two books there's a gap of 13 years, Over My Dead Body having been published in 1939 and this one in 1952, but you wouldn't notice it from reading them back to back. There's a timeless quality to the Nero Wolfe mysteries, even if each separate story is quite clearly a product of the time it was written in. To me, that's part of the charm.

The greater part of that charm lies with the characters: sarcastic legman Archie Goodwin, the great man himself, Nero Wolfe, a lazy, erudite but pedantic glutton, the various bit players like occassional helper Saul Panzer, Wolfe's chef Fritz Brenner or inspector Cramer, as well as the interplay between them, especially between Archie and Wolfe. They may be employee and employer, but there is a bigger bond between them.

Prisoner's Base is somewhat of an examination of this bond. It starts with Wolfe refusing a client Archie has championed, said client promptly ends up murdered... Archie attempts to persuade Wolfe to solve her death, but when he refuses, Archie quits his job and attempts to solve the mystery himself. He has little luck, gets arrested, gets Wolfe arrested and because Wolfe dislikes being pushed around by the police even more than admitting anything to Archie, he agrees to let Archie be his client...

This latter is done in one of the patented Nero Wolfe setpieces, the payoff for the Wolfe fan, often less interested in the plot than in these scenes It's the sort of scene that makes you jump out of your seat with glee when you see it coming up. Creaking plots, anything can be forgiven for these setpieces.

Not that the plot here is that bad; it moves along quite nicely, even if the resolution is fairly pedestrian. The heart of the book however still lies with the characters and their interplay. In this, Prisoner's Base is a typical Nero Wolfe story. If you like this, you'll more than likely like the other Wolfe mysteries as well.

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Webpage created 25-06-2004, last updated 08-03-2005
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