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In Conversation With … Rex Stout

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To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Rex Stout, until a few weeks ago, although looking back, I do seem to remember my father talking about him and reading his books.

He came to my attention when I was reading and reviewing the excellent new contemporary detective fiction novel ‘Fleeting Memory’, by a great and relative newcomer to the scene, Sherban Young.

Sherban happened to mention that Rex Stout, together with P.G.Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, were pivotal in providing the inspiration for his ambition to write.

With Rex Stout being the only unknown author in the pack to me, I set off to find out more ….. Having researched extensively, I still came back to this Wikipedia link, as offering the most comprehensive biography, bibliography, and information, about this hugely prolific ‘detective fiction’ author.

Rex Stout came out with some pretty memorable statements and quotes during his many interviews, but those that me me smile, came from a conversation with Sandra Schmidt, a reporter from ‘Life’ magazine, in the issue of December 10th 1965.

If you get the chance, check out the link, to see a copy of the entire magazine, it makes for some fascinating and nostalgic reading.

“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 Singhaleses? Wow!”

“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 think that the last quote is definitely the most astute.

My next mission sees me off to seek out some of the many Rex Stout murder stories, some 45+ in total, many of which feature his lead character ‘Nero Wolfe’.

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I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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  • “Never collect or accept a fee that you feel you haven’t earned; if you do, your integrity crumbles and your ego will have worms.” Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout)

    “It don’t hurt you to be marked, because you’re a private eye with a license and you’ve got something on a lot of inspectors.” “I have? What?” “Don’t ask me. But everybody knows you’re loaded with dirt on some big boys or you’d have been rubbed out long ago. But a kid like me can’t risk it to be marked even if I’m straight. I hate cops, but you don’t have to be a crook to hate cops. I keep telling my mother I’m straight, and I am straight, but I’m telling you it takes a lot of guts.”
    small street boy describing the facts of life to Nero Wolfe – Rex Stout

    • Hi Karel Rei

      Thank you so much for visiting Fiction Books and for leaving comment, I always enjoy receiving them and they are definitely much appreciated.

      It seems, from studying the various reference sites devoted to Rex Stout, that he was quite an outspoken character for his time, with many of his quotations ‘pulling no punches’ and presented in a very forthright manner.

      “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

      Have you personally read any of his books?

      As I mentioned in the post, I am sure that I can remember my father mentioning his name when I was a young child, so I shall have to ask him about that the next time I visit with him.

      I shall definitely be getting hold of a selection of his books anyway, as he sounds like my kind of author.

      Also, any author that is held in the same esteem as Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse, needs some serious consideration.

      I love the quotes that you have added to the post and thank you once again for taking the time to publish them.

      Kind Regards,

      • I just received this email reply from Karel Rei:

        Hi Yvonne

        Yes – along the way – because I enjoy them, and Archie, I have read the Nero Wolfe books for 60 years over and over at different times.
        I read mostly Finnegans Wake, and the books that Joyce leads me to from there – a rich collection.
        Almost all the Nero Wolfe books are available
        in a Kindle collection – as a “torrent” which you
        can download and then download the actual books
        using a torrent program such as Vuze.

        If you like to read on screen – then you might find torrents very useful and fun.

        • Hi Karel Rei,

          Thanks for that information, I shall take a look at the ‘Torrent’ option on the kindle.

          I always vowed never to own a kindle, but having had one bought for me as a gift, I now find myself using it, although not on a regular basis.

          I have far too many books on my shelves to read, and to my mind you still can’t beat the look, feel and smell of a hard copy printed book.

  • Hi Yvonne,

    I think Rex Stout would have been a strange and fascinating person to know. I’ve always wondered if some of the persona we saw in interviews wasn’t a little of a put-on, however.

    I can’t remember where I first heard this, but one of his most famous claims is he never reread a book he had written, not even to edit it. Personally I’ve never been impressed by this statement. (And I’m not sure I buy it. Although there is a pretty glaring example of his refusal to edit in his A Right to Die. In order to spot it you have to read Too Many Cooks first – one of his best, by the way.)

    Whether true or not, I think this claim gives insight into the man. He was every bit a character.

    For me, the best part of the Nero Wolfe stories was the lifestyle – Wolfe’s ridiculously rigid schedule and the way he had his household set up. It’s strangely comforting.

    Sherban Young

    • Hi Sherban,

      Great to hear from you again, I appreciate you stopping by ‘Fiction Books’ and leaving comment.

      I visit your site often and am amazed at just how quickly you are writing new material. The books are getting some great reviews on your side of the pond, which is fantastic, although I notice that they are still not receiving the attention they deserve here in the UK, so I shall have to set about rectifing that, sooner rather than later!

      Rex Stout certainly does sound like a much larger than life person, who obviously knew his own mind, even if there was quite a bit of bluff and bluster along the way. The fact that he was a personal friend of P.G. Wodehouse may account for some of his eccentric and larger than life personality

      To think that ‘Bouchercon’ http://www.bouchercon.info/ voted him the The Best Mystery Writer Of The Century, is surely a huge accolade and reflection of the esteem in which he is held by his fellow mystery writers.

      I am definitely going to be on the look out for his books, particularly the ‘Nero Wolfe’ series, so thanks for bringing such an icon of the mystery world, to my attention.

      Best Wishes for your continued success, both with the books and the apps, which I am trying to get my husband to take a look at.

      Kind Regards.


  • I can honestly say I’ve never heard of Rex Stout. And now I have so thank you for that. That last quote about sums up my feelings. You hear people say proudly, ‘I’ve never read a book in my life’ and I think, ‘You poor soul, how tragic.’ I especially agree with the first sentence, ‘A person who does not read cannot think.’ Proof of that is everywhere these days.

    • Hi Cath,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      It is only thanks to Sherban Young that my curiosity was aroused about Rex Stout in the first place, otherwise I think I would have remained in ignorance about him.

      I shall definitely be searching out some of his books, if only to compare him to the other great authors, who have inspired Sherban to write such great, fun books.

      I have to agree with you about people who have never read a book in their entire adult lives, they really don’t know what they are missing, and in most cases, it shows!!!

      I was a little perturbed by the other quote that I highlighted from Rex Stout, where he states that:

      “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”

      It would be nice to think that an author actually enjoys writing in their chosen genre and are not just doing it for the money … Don’t you think it kind of takes the fun out of reading a little, if you know this is how the author views his writing? ….

      • Gosh that’s a good question. I don’t think it’s that uncommon, I fancy Georgette Heyer had a similar dilemma… wanted to write serious historicals or something but it was her Regency romances that sold. I don’t think she was that thrilled but it paid the bills. I can’t say it worries me that much but I do feel it’s a shame that authors are not always proud of writing that appeals to the masses rather than a small elite bunch of readers.

        • Hi Cath,

          I guess that it probably isn’t all that an uncommon phenomenon, writers, like everyone else, need to make a living and to do that they need to write material that will sell, which is not always the same thing as what they enjoy writing.

          I just assume as a reader that the author has enjoyed writing the story, but I don’t know why I should think that … there are probably some writers out there that don’t need to worry about the financial consequences and can therefore write what they enjoy, but on the whole writers have the same commitments as the rest of us and churning out books is just another job…

          Sad, but very true

  • I have been aware of Rex Stout for many decades..and most familiar with his most famous character, Nero Wolfe…..Very enjoyable reading…..And there have been a few films or TV shows that were based on this most famous of his characters….! I think you will enjoy his Nero Wolfe books!

    • Hi Naomi,

      I knew I could rely on you to have heard of Rex Stout, you are a veritable mine of information and I always love to hear from you.

      When I was checking out Rex Stout’s biography, I noticed that there were some TV shows and films based on the books, but I got the impression that these were mainly shown on stateside screens and never really made it across to this side of the pond.

      My father can certainly remember reading his books and I am hoping to get hold of one or two, to give them a try. I shall let you know how I get on with them.

Written by Yvonne