The Golden Spiders (1953) by Rex Stout

I am not one of Rex Stout’s biggest fans. I don’t actively dislike his work but at the same time I’m not invariably jumping up and down with excitement over his work. However, I decided to give him another go, as the premise for this book was quite intriguing. Definitely picked my moment right as well because after giving up on a book yesterday, Stout’s book seemed infinitely better in comparison.

My edition (as pictured) also comes with dustjacket pictures from foreign editions and an introduction by Linda Barnes, who although weirdly categorises her books by groupings such as ‘comfort reads,’ does make a very good point about this story being ‘atypical Stout, atypical Wolfe.’ Wolfe’s world is definitely turned upside down when Archie lets a boy named Pete Drossos consult Wolfe, on what he believes is a case. Whilst washing a woman’s windscreen at some traffic lights, she mouths to him for help and for assistance from the police and she seems highly uneasy around her passenger. However Pete is not able to fulfil this task and goes to Wolfe with his story, helpfully having got the number plate of the car. It doesn’t look like much will happen after this discussion, until the following day when Pete is the victim of a hit and run accident and it seems like he is not the only one who has died at the hands of the mysterious car he washed that fateful day… Aside from the child victim, this story is also unusual in how Wolfe gets involves, as he doesn’t have a conventional client to serve and there are many, including the police, who are far from pleased with his interest in the case. A key clue to the mystery is that Pete noticed the female driver wearing a pair of golden spider earrings and true to the genre this is a slippery clue to follow up.

Overall Thoughts

I think this book is one of the strongest openings I have read in a Stout novel. There is a brilliant sense of comedy in the opening chapters, with Wolfe and Goodwin trying to best each other and having a child client brings these two more to life. The unusual nature of the case and how it is investigated held my attention better, as did the more personal nature of it, as there is a sense of vengeance behind Wolfe’s pursuit of the killer. Unlike other Wolfe mysteries I don’t feel like this case had a specific or set milieu, which I liked in the main, though it did mean in the final third there was an abrupt style change when Goodwin and his cohorts use physical pressure, say we shall, to get some suspects to talk. The revelation of the killer was well done, though I am not sure how easy it is for the reader to deduce the guilty party for themselves. But at the end of the day Stout’s book was a much needed antidote for me after my truncated previous read.

Rating: 4/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Gold Card): Spider

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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17 Responses to The Golden Spiders (1953) by Rex Stout

  1. Brian says:

    I like The Golden Spiders with its unusual premise, the facts of the case and of course seeing Wolfe with a child at his dinner table. The abrupt change in the middle of the book gives off a hardboiled style that didnt appeal to me or cared much for it. But then again the Nero Wolfe series played on both sides of the fence with elements that catered to those on the cozy side and those on the hardboiled. But “Spiders” is one of those Wolfe books that lean more towards hardboiled, especially when you approach the violent/graphic, gangster sequence you’d associate with the subgenre. Maybe my opinion might change if I gave the book another go around but for now this is a read that has a hook that grabs me by the throat and goes at a even pace, an end that is satisfying but a middle that I read rather quickly because such a scene that I referred to earlier isn’t my cup of tea

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  2. JJ says:

    To my tastes this is among the weakest Stouts I’ve read — I disliked it so much, in fact, that had any other characters been at the core of it I would have given up entirely (well, no, I wouldn’t, because I read this at a time when I considered giving up on a book to be sacrilege…but hopefully you get the idea). When I saw you’d reviewed this and read your opening sentence I was all ready to jump in with “But don’t judge Stout on these grounds! He’s much, much, much better than this…!”.

    Maybe we’ll convince you of his worth a little more when Noah and I pick apart And Be a Villain next month. Though, of course, the difficulty there is that you’ll have to read the book in advance to get the most out of it. Hmmm. I’ll leave that quandary to you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • JFW says:

      I’m in a quandary, as to whether I should read ‘And Be a Villain’ in time for your spoiler-ridden post, or leave ‘And Be a Villain’ to the last… I rarely start with the purported best as my first read for any author. Then again I might be able to leave ‘Plot It Yourself’ as my final Stout outing?

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    • Well more conventional Stout novels have not impressed me all that much. I can see this one has its weaknesses but it was the right book for that moment if that makes sense. I’ll have to see if I can get around to buying and reading And Be a Villain before you look at it.

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    • Brian says:

      I hope at some part JJ, you’ll read and make a review for “Prisoner’s Base”, another Nero Wolfe book in the series, at some point in the future. I would rank it above “Spiders”. But The Golden Spiders wasn’t all that bad. As I said in a previous post up here, the beginning and the end were satisfying. It was the middle with it’s gangster, hardboiled style episode that took me out of the story for a bit, but if it wasn’t for the eye-catching hook that drew me in, I wouldn’t have been able to make it past the dragging middle. But there are better NW books out there with a better middle.

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      • JJ says:

        I have a feeling Prisoner’s Base might have been a title Noah and I were circling before settling on AbaV. I could be wrong, though. Either way, I’ve not read it.

        Not picked up Stout for aaaages, so I’m hoping this dissection of ABaV helps me rediscover something of the joy I got from the best of his stuff. Time will tell…

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  3. JFW says:

    Thanks for the review, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂 I’m excited about your next review, as I’m curious to see if the K2 series continues to live up to the standard of the previous novels. Though I’ve only read the first two, and need to get started on the third novel soon.

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  4. I’m a big Rex Stout fan, but his books do have their own cadence and I need to be in a certain mood to really get into them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lesblatt says:

    I must admit that I’m a devoted Rex Stout fan too, although – as with others here – I’m not big on hardboiled, including that episode in Golden Spiders. I don’t know if I’d recommend And Be a Villain unless you plan to go on to the other two books with the same supervillain character. There are others, like Murder By the Book and/or Plot It Yourself that you might like better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brian says:

      Lesblatt, did you find the hardboiled-like scene in Golden Spiders pretty draggy? When I read it I really wanted to get that episode out of the way. Like I said in a previous post if it wasn’t for the interesting hook I would have trouble reading the whole book. The middle episode would have been the final straw . . . .maybe.

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      • lesblatt says:

        I must admit I didn’t feel it draggy. As I say, though, I’m not a fan of hardboiled overall, and there may well have been more effective ways to handle that scene and the information concealed in it. I just reread about the last third of the book, and I would have to say that I did enjoy what I read – more, I suspect, than you and others here did.

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  6. rkottery says:

    Rex Stout is one of those authors that I generally enjoy when I read, without actually seeking him out. I do like the relationship between Archie and Nero Wolfe, though, that mixture of warmth and acerbity and a believable mutual respect.

    Liked by 1 person

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