Rex Stout

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Labels are for the things men make, not for men. The most primitive man is too complex to be labeled. ~ The Father Hunt

Rex Stout (1 December 188627 October 1975) was an American author of detective fiction most famous as the creator of the fictional detective Nero Wolfe. He was also prominent in the allied efforts of World War II as the announcer of the wartime radio broadcasts of Our Secret Weapon.

See also: Nero Wolfe


There are various ways to call a man a liar. One way is just to scream it at him, which doesn't prove anything. Another is to establish facts by long and patient investigation. Still another way is not to call him a liar at all – let him do it himself.
Bad for Business is a mystery novel by Rex Stout starring his detective Tecumseh Fox, first published in the Farrar & Rinehart anthology, The Second Mystery Book (1940). The book was later adapted by Stout into the Nero Wolfe short story "Bitter End," published in the November 1940 issue of The American Magazine, and in the posthumous anthology Death Times Three (1985).
  • Bosh. I find a rival – but no, I won't flatter myself that Tecumseh Fox would consider himself a rival of Dol Bonner – I find an eminent detective in your apartment, and that alone is enough, without adding that he is concealed in your bedroom while I am discussing my business with you...
    • Dol Bonner, to her employee Amy Duncan, chapter 2

Invitation to Learning

In late January 1942 Rex Stout joined Jacques Barzun and Elmer Davis in a discussion of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on Mark Van Doren's popular CBS radio show, Invitation to Learning. Van Doren included a transcript in his 1942 book, The New Invitation to Learning: The Essence of the Great Books of All Times, published by Random House.
  • I really mean what I say. A Dickens character to me is a theatrical projection of a character. Not that it isn't real. It's real, but in that removed sense. But Sherlock Holmes is simply there. I would be astonished if I went to 221½ B Baker Street and didn't find him.
    • Rex Stout, page 244
  • The incredible thing happens at the beginning of the story always, you notice, not the end. A Sherlock Holmes story is never a trick story.
    • Rex Stout, page 246
  • It is impossible for any Sherlock Holmes story not to have at least one marvelous scene.
    • Rex Stout, page 247
  • I think the detective story is by far the best upholder of the democratic doctrine in literature. I mean, there couldn't have been detective stories until there were democracies, because the very foundation of the detective story is the thesis that if you're guilty you'll get it in the neck and if you're innocent you can't possibly be harmed. No matter who you are. There was no such conception of justice until after 1830. There was no such thing as a policeman or a detective in the world before 1830, because the modern conception of the policeman and detective, namely, a man whose only function is to find out who did it and then get the evidence that will punish him, did not exist. ... In Paris before the year 1800 – read the Dumas stories – there were gangs of people whose business was to go out and punish wrongdoers. But why? Because they had hurt De Marillac or Richelieu or the Duke or some Huguenot noble, not just because they had harmed society. It is only the modern policeman that is out to protect society.
    • Rex Stout, pp. 248–249
  • Of course the modern detective story puts off its best tricks till the last, but Doyle always put his best tricks first and that's why they're still the best ones.
    • Rex Stout, page 251



"Author Rex Stout vs. the F.B.I."

A Close-Up feature in the December 10, 1965, issue of Life magazine concludes with observations Rex Stout made in conversation with reporter Sandra Schmidt (p. 132).
  • What do I believe in? Belief means faith, and there's only one damn thing in the world I have any faith in. That's the idea of American democracy, because it seems to me so obvious that that's the only sensible way to run human affairs.
  • Every book takes me from 35 to 41 days to write. I don't know why that is. I've tried to get it down to 30 or 31, depending on the length of the month, but it won't work. I don't drink while I'm writing because it fuddles my logical processes, but when I finish a book I go down to the kitchen and pour myself a big belt.
  • The only difference between me and most people is that I'm perfectly aware that all my important decisions are made for me by my subconscious. My frontal lobes are just kidding themselves that they decide anything at all. All they do is think up reasons for the decisions that are already made.
  • A person who does not read cannot think. He may have good mental processes, but he has nothing to think about. You can feel for people or natural phenomena and react to them, but they are not ideas. You cannot think about them.
  • I don't approve of open fires. You can't think, or talk or even make love in front of a fireplace. All you can do is stare at it.
  • I saw every performance Nijinsky danced in New York, and I see every baseball game I can get to. You watch a good second baseman digging for a badly thrown ball without letting his foot leave base and it's the same beautiful impossibility as a good pas de deux in Swan Lake.
  • Any man who undertakes to write a play is either a damn fool or a hero, I don't know which. When you write a book, you pull it out of the typewriter and that's that. When you write a play you've got to go on with the producer and the director and the actors and the rehearsals and the ...
  • I'm not a collector. I don't keep letters, or books, or souvenirs. But I do keep one copy of each translation of my books into a foreign language. Have you ever seen a murder story printed in Singhalese? Wow!

The New York Times


"An Interview with Mister Rex Stout"

Robert van Gelder's article appeared September 21, 1941, and is reprinted in his Writers and Writing (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946).
  • There are damn few great writers and I'm not one of them. While I could afford to I played with words. When I could no longer afford that I wrote for money.
    • Rex Stout, on why he turned from writing serious fiction to detective stories

"Talk with Rex Stout"

Lewis Nichols' interview appeared November 15, 1953.
  • There are two kinds of characters in all fiction, the born and the synthetic. If the writer has to ask himself questions – is he tall, is he short? – he had better quit.
    • Rex Stout

"Rex Stout, 85, Gives Clues on Good Writing"

Israel Shenker interview (1 December 1971)
  • One trouble with living beyond your deserved number of years is that there's always some reason to live another year. And I'd like to live another year so that Nixon won't be President. If he's re-elected I'll have to live another four years.
    • Nixon was re-elected in 1972, but Stout survived his August 1974 resignation from the Presidency by more than a year.
  • My God you love to get them, and good Lord you hate to answer them.
    • On letters from his readers

Publishers Weekly

John F. Baker's brief article – "Rex Stout: 'No Man My Age Writes Books'" – appeared October 29, 1973 (pp. 28–29), with seven photographs by Jill Krementz.
  • The only thing I want is something I can't have; and that is to know if, 100 years from now, people will still buy my books.
  • There isn't a generation gap between you and me – there's two.
    • Rex Stout to photographer Jill Krementz

Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout

John McAleer, author of the Edgar-Award winning Rex Stout: A Biography, collected some of his interviews with the author in Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout (1983, Pontes Press, Ashton, Maryland).
  • There are only two kinds of books which you can write and be pretty sure you're going to make a living – cook books and detective stories.
    • Rex Stout, page 3

Quotes about Stout

  • If he had done nothing more than to create Archie Goodwin, Rex Stout would deserve the gratitude of whatever assessors watch over the prosperity of American literature.
    • Jacques Barzun, A Birthday Tribute to Rex Stout. New York: The Viking Press, 1965. Reprinted by permission in The Rex Stout Journal, number 2, Spring 1985, pp. 4–9
  • Stout says to us, "Here are two friends. Here are two people sharing their lives. As you wish for friendship, share in theirs. As you seek companionship, share in theirs. As you search for love, share in theirs." Rex Stout invites us into the family and offers warmth and security and certainty. He affirms what we all seek on some primal level. If such disparate individuals as Wolfe and Goodwin can share friendship and love and caring and life, can not we? That’s the strength here. That’s the message and the feel-good inherent in the voice and character that Rex Stout has given to Archie Goodwin. In this cold world, it is a fire on which we may warm our hands.
  • This fellow is the best of them all.
    • Oliver Wendell Holmes, in a marginal note found in his copy of Fer-de-Lance. Quoted in McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977, p. 256
  • Wolfe talks in a way that no human being on the face of the earth has ever spoken, with the possible exception of Rex Stout after he had a gin and tonic.
  • Rex Stout is one of the half-dozen major figures in the development of the American detective novel. With great wit and cunning, he devised a form which combined the traditional virtues of Sherlock Holmes and the English school with the fast-moving vernacular narrative of Dashiell Hammett.
    • Ross Macdonald, quoted in McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977, p. 242
  • When Stout is on top of his game, which is most of the time, his diabolically clever plotting and his storytelling ability exceed that of any other mystery writer you can name, including Agatha Christie, who invented her own eccentric genius detective, Hercule Poirot.
    • Nancy Pearl, "Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe: Too Good to Miss," Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2003, p. 226
  • Stout was almost as witty as Raymond Chandler. His detective had splendid putdown lines almost as good as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And his mysteries were constructed a lot more smoothly than Agatha Christie's. But you do not expect Chandlerian wit from Conan Doyle, or Conan Doyle's superbly breathless sense of atmosphere and melodrama from Christie, or Christie's scathingly clear, unblinking vision of the monstrous crimes that average human nature is capable of all from the same pen. Stout gives you all of it. He is the Willie Mays or Derek Jeter of the mystery genre: a brilliant all-rounder more talented in each area than any single writer should ever dream of being.
  • Rex Stout's witty, fast-moving prose hasn't dated a day, while Wolfe himself is one of the enduringly great eccentrics of popular fiction. I've spent the past four decades reading and re-reading Stout's novels for pleasure, and they have yet to lose their savor.
  • Rex is a perfect writer – economical, rapid, free of cliché. Epigrammatic, intelligent, charming. What else? That's enough.
    • Mark Van Doren, quoted in McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977, p. 507
  • Rex Stout's greater innovation lay in his attention to the realities of the larger world. Nero Wolfe might not know the streets of his city very well, but he knew his nation. There are, for examples, reference in Fer-de-Lance to national issues such as Prohibition, and the Depression, and the Lindbergh baby. A few others writers of Golden Age detective stories were inserting a few topical references of this sort, but none to the degree Stout did. The Wolfe series is probably the only major detective story series before the 1970s to make national affairs an essential part of the detective's world, and few of the post-1970 series are as explicit about historical events and figures. ... Stout does not feel obligated to invent a surrogate senator from a vaguely Midwestern state; Nero Wolfe despises Joseph R. McCarthy, and he says so. Archie may drive a Heron, but when it comes to J. Edgar Hoover or Richard M. Nixon, he names names.
    • J. Kenneth Van Dover, At Wolfe's Door: The Nero Wolfe Novels of Rex Stout. Rockville, Maryland: James A. Rock & Co., 2003 (second edition), ISBN 0918736528 p. 94
  • His narrative and dialogue could not be improved, and he passes the supreme test of being rereadable. I don't know how many times I have reread the Wolfe stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn't matter. That's writing.
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