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Characters / Nero Wolfe

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List of major and recurring characters from Nero Wolfe.

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     The Brownstone 

Nero Wolfe

A brilliant but eccentric orchid lover and gourmet who supports his exotic lifestyle by (reluctantly) working as a private detective, charging incredibly high fees for his work. Sedentary and reclusive, he refuses to leave his home on business or break his rigid schedules unless events have made it completely unavoidable.

  • Acrofatic: Despite his size, Wolfe is capable of graceful movement and the occasional physical feat.
  • Addiction Displacement: In the 1930's film adaptations, Wolfe's love of beer was changed to a love of hot chocolate. Although Wolfe is demonstrated to enjoy hot chocolate as part of his breakfasts in bed in many of the stories, so the change doesn't come entirely out of nowhere.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: His name literally means "Black Wolf".
  • Benevolent Boss: A downplayed example, since he is far from warm and cuddly, and Archie is the first to gripe at the many frustrations that come from working for him. But there is a reason that, despite his eccentricities, grouchiness and (to hear Archie tell it) cheapness, he inspires great loyalty in his employees. As a case in point, after abandoning the brownstone in In The Best Families he has made a point of finding alternate work for Fritz and Theodore, and the only reason he didn't do so for Archie is because he knew Archie could handle himself.
  • Berserk Button: Well, he's too sedentary to go properly "berserk". Just tetchy, really. But there are a number of things you can do to piss him off:
    • He does not care for women getting (what he sees as) overly emotional. When a teenage girl pounds his desk in a fit of pique, Wolfe actually shouts.
    • Wolfe may eat a lot, but he absolutely detests Jabba Table Manners. Even rushing a meal pains him enough that Archie has to eat elsewhere if he's in a hurry.
    • Misusing words. He buys a dictionary for the express purpose of burning it because allows the use of "imply" in place of "infer". Anyone under his house is expressly forbidden the use of "contact" in verb form.
    • As noted below, exploiting, misusing and/or abusing Sacred Hospitality may be his biggest one; some of the times we've seen Wolfe at his most genuinely livid have come when someone has taken advantage of his hospitality to further their goals, most usually by murdering someone when they're in his home.
    • He doesn't like the idea of the police "barging" into his house and taking people / objects away with them, especially without a warrant or due cause. Several stories feature a moment where Wolfe's involvement in the case could otherwise be entirely avoided had he not stubbornly refused a(n admittedly often rather high-handed and confrontational) demand from Cramer or another officer that he surrender something or someone relevant to the case that just happened to be in his house, even if Wolfe had previously shown no intent or desire in getting involved. Of course, as the police tend to automatically assume that Wolfe is hiding something, this just cements their suspicions and creates hostility that means that Wolfe ends up having to solve the case just to get the cops off his back.
  • Big Eater: He is more of a gourmet than a food vacuum, but it is often mentioned that Wolfe's portions are larger than Archie's. Which makes sense, since that seventh-of-a-ton that he uses to insulate his feelings didn't come from nowhere.
  • Bookworm: Wolfe's greatest pleasure in life, after dining and culivating his orchids, is sitting his favorite chair, reading books. Word of God is that his favorite author is Jane Austen, who was Rex Stout's favorite author.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Perhaps the archetypal example in popular culture.
  • Brutal Honesty: He doesn't really believe in sugarcoating his words, regardless of who he's speaking to. Many an otherwise powerful and wealthy person has sat in Wolfe's office and had to tolerate his blunt manner because, after all, he's the best and they're hiring him to solve a problem, not be nice to them.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Wolfe's clients either know or quickly find out that he keeps a highly regimented schedule, that he's unlikely to ever leave the brownstone in pursuit of their interests, and that he'll probably reveal his conclusions at some ungodly hour of the early morning. Nonetheless he's one of the most in-demand private investigators in New York.
  • Cargo Ship: He outright calls his orchids his concubines.
  • Celibate Eccentric Genius: It is hinted that Wolfe had a traumatic experience with a woman in Montenegro. Whatever the reason, he is now allergic to women. It is played with at times, however, as Archie does suggest that for all his dislike of women in general Wolfe is not entirely immune to their aesthetic qualities.
  • Chubby Chef: Nero's skill as a gourmet is as great as his waistline, though the latter owes as much to his refusal to leave his house as to his diet.
  • The Comically Serious: It's almost unheard of for Wolfe to tell an actual joke, but his reactions comprise some of the funniest scenes in the series.
  • Complexity Addiction: Certainly in Archie's eyes, Wolfe's various schemes and projects for solving his cases and collecting his fees can take on a rather byzantine level of intricacy. Archie often snarks at this by attributing it to Wolfe's genius, usually in comparison to his own "working stiff" detective approach of wearing out his shoe leather trying to find a clue.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Wolfe suffered terrible hardships as a young soldier, an experience that probably contributed to his love of creature comforts and his disdain for lofty nationalistic ideals.
  • The Dandy: Wolfe is very particular about his clothes, and can't stand to wear a tie with a spot of sauce on it.
  • Defective Detective: Played with, however; while many tend to look askance at his insularity and other various foibles and eccentricities, he's perfectly happy being a slightly weird shut-in and tends to view people making him solve crimes as getting in the way of his eccentricities rather than the other way around. Despite the common impression, however, agoraphobia is actually not one of his defects — at least, not in the "fear of being outside" fashion it is typically used to describe, since several of his issues (such as his actual phobia of cars and transportation) would technically fall under that banner. Much as he hates leaving his house, when he absolutely needs to once outside he's quite capable (if grudging) of being so and displays no unusual amounts of discomfort or panic when outdoors. He's just a homebody who simply prefers to remain at home and sees no reason to leave when he doesn't absolutely have to.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Hates when Archie calls him "boss".
  • Every Man Has His Price: In many stories, someone will offer Wolfe a bribe to buy his silence or to gain his complicity in some kind of unethical or villainous deed; alternatively the authorities, as part of their cynical Crying Wolf attitude towards him, will assume that someone has done this. However, Wolfe himself plays with this trope; although he considers himself a realist and is willing to concede that there may indeed be a price at which his morals could be bought, what everyone fails to consider is that he's both very proud and his code of honor is a lot stronger than he's given credit for — which means that if someone is going to buy him off, the price will be very, very, very high. As in, "so high that only the wealthiest crowned heads of the world could afford it".
  • Everyone Has Standards: Wolfe will do a lot for money, but he draws the line at divorce cases and industrial espionage.
  • Exact Words: Wolfe is a master of this, having disdain for telling an outright lie but nevertheless being quite capable of using seemingly straightforward language to obfuscate and misdirect.
  • Famed in Story: His involvement in a case often makes the news and his name is widely recognised whenever Archie mentions it to people.
  • Fleeting Passionate Hobbies: Darts and billiards. He used the former as part of his training to join the army in World War II before Archie talked him into using his brain instead.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: Wolfe's attitude to rare orchids.
  • Great Detective: The kind of cerebral intellectual who uses pure reason and logic to solve crimes and spurns almost all human emotion and connection in order to do so.
  • The Grinch
    Wolfe: Christmas as celebrated is merely an excuse for wretched excess, aptly symbolized by an elephantine elf who delivers gifts to the whole world in one night.
  • Hates Being Touched: Wolfe is not fond of shaking hands, and will only usually do so reluctantly if strict courtesy demands it.
  • The Hedonist: Wolfe plays with this trope (if we're going strictly by the wording on the trope page, at least), in that he is closer to the classical or Epicurean style of hedonism rather than the instant-gratification-for-every-urge-and-impulse form that modern depictions tend to emphasise. However, his life has been meticulously arranged in order to maximise his own pleasure and cater to his preferences and desires as much as possible; he lives in luxury, is surrounded by things that he finds beautiful and enjoys looking at, has a personal chef to cater to his gourmet tastes, and so forth. In Too Many Clients, he has a speech deriding the version of hedonism closer to the trope (while also suggesting that he was once more like it as well):
    A modern satyr is part man, part pig, and part jackass. He hasn’t even the charm of a roguish; he doesn’t lean gracefully against a tree with a flute in his hand. The only quality he has preserved from his Attic ancestors is his lust, and he gratifies it in dark corners or other men’s beds or hotel rooms, not in the shade of an olive tree on a sunny hillside. The preposterous blower of carnality you have described is a sorry makeshift, but at least Mr. Yeager tried. A pig and a jackass, yes, but the flute strain was in him too-as it once was in me, in my youth.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Wolfe has an extreme aversion to women and is inclined to regard every woman as stupid, conniving, dishonest, or hysterical. As noted on the main page, Wolfe still respects women despite not liking them. It's implied it's not so much women themselves that he hates but that he thinks they're constantly playing a role for an audience. When a woman is clearly speaking plainly and with complete candor, he approves.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Much to Archie's surprise, in "Die Like a Dog" it turns out that Wolfe is a dog-lover and instantly bonds with the stray that Archie brings home to prank him.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier:
    • Wolfe speaks a half dozen languages. On one occasion he conducts a phone call in French in order to keep eavesdroppers in the dark.
    • Also inverted and subverted at one point; in Over My Dead Body, two Montenegrin girls who are entangled in the case begin arguing in front of him and Archie in their native Serbo-Croatian language, only for Wolfe to cut them off by revealing that he is fluent in it.
  • Honor Before Reason: Despite his mercenary reputation and cold nature, he actually has an incredibly rigid and old-fashioned code of honor that he strictly abides to (even if it's not always in line with dominant moral values). This can lead him into taking actions against his own best interests if he feels that his honor would be impeached otherwise (most typically by accepting a potentially unprofitable case without expectation of being paid).
  • Hypocritical Humor: He criticizes Fritz for not being an "inspired" chef, but does his best to stonewall him whenever he tries to experiment with his cooking.
  • I Gave My Word: If Wolfe gives his word, you can be sure he's telling the (literal) truth.
  • Insists on Paying: As much as he insists on getting paid. If one of his operatives offers to work pro bono, he always refuses.
  • Insufferable Genius:
    Archie (speaking to Fritz):"There are two geniuses in this house. One of them is easy to live with. You may tell the other one I said so."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: It's buried deep within his pounds of fat, but for all his arrogance, ego, coldness, aloofness and indifference, there are some hints that Nero Wolfe cares just a little bit more about his fellow man and woman than he's willing to admit. This tends to express itself in concern for Archie's welfare in particularly dangerous situations (or at least what Wolfe considers particularly dangerous situations).
  • Large and in Charge: His personality takes up even more space than he does.
  • Last-Name Basis: Unless you're Marko Vukcic, it's a good idea not to call him "Nero". Even Archie, who is one of his best friends other than Marko, calls him by his last name.
  • Last-Second Showoff: Wolfe often passes up opportunities to expose a killer in order to create a more dramatic reveal, or to spare himself some minor inconvenience.
  • Manchild: Downplayed, since he's usually quite mature and dignified and isn't really the modern "overgrown child with immature interests incapable of taking care of himself" archetype that this term is usually used to describe. Nevertheless, Archie does frequently note that he has a childish streak, which is most frequently expressed in his tendency to react pettily to changes in his routine or whenever something that he wants isn't delivered exactly when he wants it. For example, The Golden Spiders kicks off because Archie, disgusted at Wolfe's display of petulance after one of his meals is changed slightly, lets in a child who calls at the house because he thinks Wolfe could do with a playmate.
  • Manipulative Bastard: He often solves crimes by manipulating the killer into a confession (or into committing suicide) rather than actually finding enough evidence to convict them in a court of law. This usually happens when a court of law would involve Wolfe having to leave his house to give evidence.
  • Meaningful Name: He lives a life that a Roman emperor like Nero would covet, but when he is reluctantly pressed into work he displays the hunting instincts of a wolf. Furthermore there's a little allusion to his creator in there as well; his historic namesake was a ruler, and a latin term for a kind of ruler is rexnote . (He's also heavily overweight... or 'stout', in other words.)
  • Never Gets Drunk: He drinks a lot of beer a day, but never seems to suffer any adverse effects of doing so. It's never stated, but likely that his size has something to do with it.
  • Never My Fault: He has a tendency to try and blame Archie for getting him involved in a case which has gone unexpectedly disastrous. While this is sometimes (partially) fair, as Archie sardonically notes he tends to overlook the fact that (a) he’s the boss and so has final decision over whether he gets involved or not, (b) it’s usually his own pride that’s more at fault, and (c) that's exactly what he hired Archie to do.
  • Not So Above It All: It is sometimes hinted that Wolfe is not the dyed-in-the-wool misogynist he presents himself as, and has more regard for women (or, at least, certain types of women) than he lets on. There are several women throughout the stories that he seems to get on quite well with, and Archie at one point dryly notes that he's not as opposed as you'd think to having a woman with a nice pair of legs seated at a position where he can appreciate them.
  • Omniglot: Wolfe speaks English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Albanian, and his native Serbo-Croatian.
  • Patriotic Fervor: While the first World War was rather unkind to him, he nearly jumps at the chance to fight in the second, and is only stopped by how physically unfit he's become for a soldier's both in the interim between said wars.
  • Photographic Memory: Though Archie is usually the one reporting to him, he can repeat entire conversations verbatim, and often brings up minor details from conversations that happened days, weeks, or even months before as the first hint towards solving the case.
  • Picky Eater: Wolfe has very strict and exacting standards for what he will and will not eat. He gets into arguments with Fritz about how to cook meals, refuses food that he thinks is improperly prepared, and even burns a cookbook because it recommends stripping the hide off a ham before adding it to a pot of lima beans.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Wolfe tends to fall here. Despite the cynicism of his critics, he does have an actual moral code and isn't purely driven by avarice and amorality, but when push comes to shove he's perfectly willing to settle for a blunt-if-dubiously-ethical solution to a problem. Evidence to convict a murderer doesn't exist? Manufacture evidence and use that to force them to confess; after all, it's still providing proof of something they actually did. Force someone to take the Leave Behind a Pistol option if there's no way they can be convicted? It's just evening the karmic scales; this person deprived someone else of their life, so it's only reasonable to demand that they pay like for like.
  • Putting On My Thinking Cap: When he settles back in his chair, closes his eyes and pushes his lips in and out, he's thinking, hard. Archie claims that Wolfe can't hear anything going on around him in this state, and that it's the only time he can be sure Wolfe is actually working.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Although generally a reclusive misanthrope, Wolfe takes the responsibilities of being a host incredibly seriously (in Too Many Cooks, he said "The guest is a jewel resting on the cushion of hospitality", and Robert Goldsborough's novels have Archie repeat the phrase over and over), often allowing even someone accused of murder to stay under his roof and enjoy his food if they call upon his hospitality (although in some cases it is also to ensure that someone with every reason to flee stays right where Wolfe wants them). It even goes down to making sure that everyone at The Summation is furnished with their drink of choice if they so wish. It is not a good idea to murder someone who is enjoying his hospitality or who has come to him for help, as he will take this as a personal insult and will stop at nothing to expose, humiliate and destroy you in return.
  • Schedule Fanatic: Four hours total with the orchids from 9-11am and 4-6pm. Breakfast in his bedroom, lunch at 1.15pm (or in some books 1pm) and dinner at 7.30pm, with no business talk and (preferably) plenty of time of digestion afterwards. Interrupt this schedule at your peril.
  • The Scrooge: Played with. Wolfe lives a lavish lifestyle and is quite willing to spend money on indulging his pleasures — a Manhattan brownstone, live-in staff, rare orchids, first-edition books, fine cuisine and a personal chef don't come cheap, after all. However, when it comes to an investigation, Wolfe being willing to fork over a significant sum of cash is seen as either a sign of extreme confidence or desperation, and Archie often sardonically claims that his salary is not as lavish as it should be considering all the things Wolfe makes him to do earn it. In short, Wolfe is generous with his cash when spending it on himself, and stingy when it comes to spending it on others.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Wolfe's vocabulary is quite grandiose and often goes over the heads of other characters.
  • Sherlock Scan: Played with in that he does it, but he rarely makes a big show of revealing to other people exactly what he's deduced until it suits his purposes.
  • Skewed Priorities: A Running Gag throughout the books is that whenever Archie finds himself away from the brownstone in a jam (such as being arrested or having to report a crime to the authorities), one of the very first things Wolfe will ask him when he manages to report back is whether he has eaten a decent meal.
  • The Shut-In: Downplayed. He's not housebound, but Wolfe really dislikes leaving his home, and distrusts motor vehicles with a passion.
  • The Only One: Wolfe often declares that he is the only person who could possibly solve a given case.
  • Thinking Tic: When Wolfe applies his brain to a problem, he will shut his eyes, lean back in his chair, and his lips will go in and out. Archie never interrupts this behavior, since it's the only time he's sure that Wolfe is actually working on a case.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Shad roe, which Wolfe has for nearly every meal when it's in season. Archie gets thoroughly sick of it.
  • Yes-Man: If someone possesses something that Wolfe desperately wants, much to Archie's disgust one of his techniques to try and acquire it is fawning obsequiousness. He tries this with Jerome Berin in Too Many Cooks to try and get the secret recipe for saucisse minuit, and with Lewis Hewitt to try and acquire the titular flowers of "Black Orchids".
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry: Wolfe tends to react to most things with impartiality or disinterest, and makes a point of avoiding making a personal attachment in the matters he deals with as much as possible. However, getting him angry at you will ensure that he stops at nothing to ensure that he avenges himself upon you in return. This particularly tends to happen if you get the idea of murdering someone who is enjoying his Sacred Hospitality or who is coming to him for help.

Archie Goodwin

Wolfe's personal assistant, and the narrator of the stories. A licensed private detective in his own right, his main tasks including investigating the crimes and bringing the details back to Wolfe, along with prodding his lazy boss into working when he'd really rather not with jibes and sarcasm.

  • The All-American Boy: Despite his street-smarts, Archie retains a wholesome midwestern quality.
  • Audience Surrogate: He's the narrator of the stories and, in contrast to the eccentric, aloof Wolfe, is an everyday guy.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: While Wolfe isn't the typical idiot boss that the trope describes, in his narration Archie certainly seems to view himself as this — not, it must be said, entirely without cause. While he's no fool or incompetent, Wolfe is incredibly eccentric, demanding and lazy and makes Archie do pretty much all of the grunt work, at times without a full understanding of what said grunt work actually entails for Archie or without fully explaining to Archie exactly what's going on or what he's planning. His plans also tend to embroil Archie in a lot of trouble or sticky situations which he must then get himself out of.
  • Challenge Seeker: Unlike his employer, Archie can't stand to sit around doing nothing. Even in tense situations, such as police interrogations, he sometimes gets bored and invents little challenges for himself.
  • Characterization Marches On: In the first few books he is rather rough around the edges, his manner of speech is coarse, and he is not above dropping ethnic slurs. By the 1940s he had evolved to be more suave and enlightened.
  • City Mouse: He can stand the occasional foray into the country, but is most at home in Manhattan.
  • Consummate Liar: He can spin a yarn if necessary, though he mentions that he tends to "ration" the lies he tells and usually finds it easier to just stick with the truth or a reasonably close approximation thereof, presumably on the basis that getting caught out in a lie or having to keep the lie going can just make things harder in the long run.
  • The Charmer: Wolfe assumes that Archie can talk any woman into anything, and while this isn't exactly true, Archie tends to get along well with the fairer sex.
  • Deadpan Snarker: To paraphrase Inspector Cramer, he'd joke at his own execution.
  • The Driver: Wolfe hates to be chauffeured by anyone else, though he'll take Saul in a pinch.
  • The Face: He tends to be Wolfe's point of contact with the general public.
  • First-Person Smartass: As a narrator, Archie is always breezy and humorous.
  • Foil: A lot of Archie's personality traits are diametrically opposed to Wolfe's; he's witty and charming where Wolfe is verbose and socially awkward, he's down-to-earth and caring where Wolfe is cold and remote, he's a man of action where Wolfe is cerebral and lazy, he gets on with the ladies where Wolfe is an unrepentant misogynist, and so on. This even stems to their recreational habits; where Wolfe likes to unwind with a good book, a crossword or with his orchids, Archie goes to the movies or to a sporting event, or goes dancing.
  • Forgets to Eat: Occasionally, to Wolfe's horror.
  • Guilt Complex: When somebody dies "on his watch", Archie tends to blame himself and feel obligated to catch the culprit, with or without a client. This often leads to friction with Wolfe, who has a more logical (and lazy) attitude.
  • Honest Advisor: It's heavily implied that Archie's willingness to puncture Wolfe's pomposity with snark and to call him out whenever he feels a line is being crossed are what keeps him his job.
  • Humble Hero: Archie can be quite self-deprecating and modest about his own abilities which, while hardly on Wolfe's level, are nothing to sniff at either.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: As with Beleaguered Assistant, while Wolfe is no fool he is incredibly lazy and has a rather circuitous and complex way of acting, and thus Archie is the one who has to get all the evidence, do all the hard work and keep everything working smoothly — a task he performs incredibly well. When left to his own devices, he's perfectly capable of solving cases on his own and sometimes even beats his boss to the punch.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Archie talks like a seen-it-all cynic but has a genuinely kind heart and will unhesitatingly throw himself into fighting for a good cause... particularly if the good cause happens to involve a pretty lady who needs his help.
  • Lead You Can Relate To: Compared to Wolfe, Archie is basically an average (though certainly not incompetent) working stiff with a slightly snarky attitude to Wolfe's eccentricities, excesses and pomposities.
  • Meaningful Name: As pointed out in a least one introduction to the stories, Archie is an archetypal example of the kind of gumshoe detective popular in American mystery novels in the 1930s, he's a pretty decent and good-hearted guy when all is said and done, and he tends to use his wits in order to confound his various opponents and succeed in the tasks he's been given. Or, to put it another way, he's the Arch(i)etypal Good man who wins.
  • Not a Morning Person: Archie claims to need exactly eight hours of sleep a night, and frequently mentions that he finds it very very difficult to be alert and active after waking up until he's had his morning breakfast. This contrasts interestingly with Wolfe who — despite being lazy and indolent — is never shown to have much difficulty or sluggishness on waking up.
  • The Movie Buff: In earlier installments particularly, Archie would frequently unwind during a difficult case by going to the movies.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: After Wolfe disappears during In The Best Families, Archie spends several chapters uncharacteristically curt, hostile, snappish, suspicious and aimless. It's not until he decides to open up his own agency that he gets back to something resembling even keel.
  • Photographic Memory: Archie has a knack for repeating long conversations verbatim. It's stated that he carefully trained this ability, rather than it being natural.
  • Plot-Powered Stamina: Frequently goes multiple days without sleep, with no adverse effects.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: In the early installments written during the 1930's, Archie casually dispenses ethnic slurs like spiggoty, smoke, and dago, and describes a disabled man as a lop. He stops talking this way after Too Many Cooks (1938), which featured racial prejudice as a central theme, and generally displays more tolerant and respectful attitudes thereafter. While he's certainly no misogynist like Wolfe, however, his attitudes to women tend to display a lingering chauvinism if not sexism throughout the stories.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: He is always ready to promote his employer's remarkable qualities, though his plugs are not infrequently backhanded.
  • Sassy Secretary: A rare male example.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: He has a pretty good sense of style and makes a point of being well-dressed. In one story, during an argument over his salary Wolfe accuses Archie of spending too much on clothes, and in another he ends up giving one of the suspects, a nouveau riche miner from Canada who recently hit the jackpot, advice on the best places in New York to get suits and hats.
  • The Social Expert: He can handle himself in a gathering of any size, remember the names and faces of twenty people he's just met, and not miss a single comment or telling reaction.
  • Street Smart: He's the one who does the leg work and he's good at going after leads, defending himself and knowing the lay of the land.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Corned beef sandwiches; the only time he's willing to skip a meal by Fritz is to have one at the diner.
  • Urban Legend Love Life: Wolfe is convinced that Archie has some kind of borderline-supernatural ability to charm women, but this is mainly because Wolfe has almost zero ability to charm women. Archie himself quite likes the idea, isn't lacking in charm and will at times joke about this, but generally has a more realistic awareness of his abilities to woo the opposite gender.
  • The Watson: All the Wolfe stories are narrated by Archie.
  • Work Hard, Play Hard: When he isn't busting his hump in Wolfe's service, Archie unwinds by dancing.
  • The Workaholic: In contrast to the work-adverse Wolfe, Archie gets jumpy if too long passes without a case.

Fritz Brenner

Wolfe's personal chef. He is rarely directly involved in the investigations, but his culinary skill is legendary and his creations are often lovingly described.

  • Butt-Monkey: Often subjected to sudden and oftentimes unreasonable demands regarding the meals he prepares.
  • French Chef: Actually Swiss, but of the French-speaking variety. His basement quarters are stuffed with French cookbooks.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Downplayed; Fritz doesn't hate women in a misogynistic sense or like Wolfe does, but he does have a (rather irrational, considering) fear that any woman who enters the house will somehow seduce Wolfe, become his wife and kick him out.
  • Old Retainer: Fritz has known Wolfe for many years, longer than Archie has worked for him.
  • Team Mom: On the few occasions that Wolfe is separated from him, Fritz fears that his boss will starve to death. He also tends to fuss over Archie a little.
  • The Heart: Fritz is rather soft-hearted, even forgiving a murderer who spoiled his dinner.
  • Supreme Chef: His cooking skills widely praised and deservedly so.

Theodore Horstman

Wolfe's gardener, who assists him in caring for the ten thousand orchids Wolfe keeps in a rooftop garden of his home. Rarely appears directly in the stories.

  • Grumpy Old Man: We don't seem much of him, but he's hinted to be quite grouchy and touchy, particularly when it comes to the orchids.
  • The Caretaker: To Wolfe's orchids.
  • The Ghost: Though often mentioned, he almost never appears in a scene.
  • Living Prop: IN most of his stories he doesn't receive any characterization or much screen time.


     The 'Teers 

Saul Panzer

A skilled freelance private investigator whom Wolfe often employs to assist in his investigations. Panzer's observational and tracking abilities are frequently remarked on, and he is considered one of the best detectives in New York City.

  • The Ace: As an all-around detective, Saul's abilities are unmatched.
  • Always Someone Better: To Archie. It can be debated whether Saul's deductive abilities are up to par (we very rarely get to see him flex them), but Archie readily admits that Saul is a better legman in almost every respect.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: If Saul is mentioned or makes an appearance early in a story, it's a safe bet that he will reappear at the denouement to provide some detail that clinches the case.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: An early book mentions that he has a wife and family, but a visit to his apartment in a later story reveals that he lives alone, and it's more common for the books to treat him as single. Whether Saul got divorced or this was just a retcon is never confirmed.
  • Forgettable Character: In-universe, Saul is very easy to overlook.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Mostly averted; despite being Always Someone Better to Archie as noted above, there's no real resentment on Archie's part and he and Saul mostly get along quite well. Archie does often get a bit annoyed that Wolfe takes Saul into his confidence while excluding Archie (usually as part of a ploy to set up the final reveal) and in particularly stressful times occasionally frets that Wolfe might be thinking of replacing him, but he directs that annoyance towards Wolfe, not Saul. On the whole, the two have a pretty solid friendship. It probably helps that Saul has made clear that he has no interest in taking Archie's job, however.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: A non-sexual example. Nobody is allowed to smoke in Wolfe's office except for Saul.
  • Living Lie Detector: He's as good as Wolfe at spotting a fibber.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: At least ironically. He once claims to feel guilty after swearing an oath on the New Testament. Usually, his religious background is just implied.
  • The Nondescript: Saul is undersized and visually unimpressive, with a rumpled suit and stubble. This helps him to escape notice and leads many to underestimate his abilities.
  • Photographic Memory: Especially for faces. Archie frequently claims that as soon as Saul has walked into a given room and taken a quick glance around at the people in it, he's committed their faces to memory for life.
  • Stealth Expert: When it comes to tailing people, he might outdo even Archie. In one book, someone manages to evade him and he's so disgusted with himself that he refuses to accept his fee.

Fred Durkin

Another freelance private detective frequently employed by Wolfe. A family man, Durkin is less capable than the others but is willing to work hard to impress Wolfe.

  • Bad Liar: He has less guile than the other 'Teers and once when kidnapped and trying to lei his way out, attracts instant suspicion.
  • Butt-Monkey: At least compared to the other 'Teers.
  • Determinator: His persistence (especially when tailing someone) makes up for his lack of finesse.
  • The Ditz: Compared to the others at least; he's no imbecile, but he's not very quick-witted, lacks the sharp insights possessed by the others and isn't very good at thinking on his feet. But he can do his job well enough for Wolfe's satisfaction. (And unlike Orrie, his ego doesn't get in his way)
  • Dumb Muscle: He's not exactly stupid, but he is pretty tough and it's often mentioned that he does better with simple, straightforward tasks that require little complex thought or planning.
  • Family Man: The only one of Wolfe's associates with a wife and kids.
  • Fighting Irish: An Irishman and the member of Wolfe's crew most likely to use physical force.
  • Noodle Incident: Archie mentions that one case he never wrote a book about involved him and Fred getting into a shootout with some fur thieves.
  • The Big Guy: Bigger and burlier than the other 'Teers, and often compared to a pitbull.
  • Yes-Man: Sort of. Fred isn't a suck-up or a sycophant, but he genuinely respects Wolfe, is aware that intellectually he's not on par, and thus gets quite intimidated whenever he's in Wolfe's presence. As such, he tends to fall back on a kind of eager acquiescence in order to compensate for this. Ironically, in the very first book, the client (a friend of Fred's wife) mentions that Fred referred to Wolfe as cheap behind his back due to having his pay cut as a result of the Great Depression.

Orrie Cather

Another freelance private detective employed by Wolfe. Charming and handsome, Orrie is convinced that he'd make a much better assistant to Wolfe than Archie, but hasn't managed to prove this theory to anyone else yet.

  • Always Someone Better: As Saul is this to Archie, Archie is this to Orrie. In contrast, while Archie cheerfully accepts the fact that Saul is a better detective and there's no real resentment on Archie's part, Orrie (particularly in the later books) is constantly striving to one-up Archie and ultimately replace him as Wolfe's assistant.
  • Driven to Suicide: He kills himself on Wolfe's front stoop at the end of A Family Affair, the last Wolfe novel written by Stout.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In his initial appearance, he's a grizzled old war veteran. Later appearances make him a young man-about-town. Orrie's eagerness to replace Archie also initially belongs to Johnny Keems, another recurring private detective in the early novels, but was eventually transplanted to him after Johnny disappeared from the stories, killed off in Might As Well Be Dead (presumably because Stout decided that he only needed the main three 'outside' detectives).
  • Embarrassing First Name: His real first name is either Orvald, Orville, or Orrin. In any case, he prefers the short form.
  • The Casanova: His fondness for women lands him in hot water more than once.
  • Face–Heel Turn: He commits three murders in A Family Affair, then commits suicide once he knows that Wolfe and company are ready to destroy his marriage and get him blacklisted from private detective work once they find out.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Especially as the series progresses. Ironically one of his strengths as an investigator is that he's the kind of man that people open up to. He just seems to be disliked by those who know him well.
  • The Face: On account of his good looks and elegant bearing.
  • Leader Wannabe: He thinks he's got the skills to replace Archie, and even talks to Wolfe as if they were equals.
  • Pretty Boy: He's notably good looking and has little problem attracting female attention.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: He's convinced that he's a better overall detective than Archie and is fit to be Wolfe's right-hand man. As Archie tells it, he's actually the least capable of Wolfe's regular operatives (although not incapable) and isn't quite as good as he thinks he is.

     The Police 

Inspector Cramer

The head officer of the Manhattan South homicide unit of the NYPD. Cramer is suspicious and resentful towards Wolfe and the two clash often but both are reluctantly willing to work together when necessary.

  • Cigar Chomper: He is rarely without a cigar, though he never lights them. If he gets really frustrated while talking to Wolfe and Archie, he throws the stub at the office trash can (and usually misses).
  • The Cynic: He doesn't exactly have a rosy-eyed view of the world at the best of times, but he's particularly cynical when it comes to Nero Wolfe. While Wolfe, admittedly, has given him some cause for cynicism through his secretiveness and obfuscation, Cramer does tend to take a far bleaker view of Wolfe's motives, his (lack of) morals and his willingness to be bought off than Wolfe deserves.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Though see Series Continuity Error below.
  • Grumpy Bear: The times that we see Inspector Cramer in a good mood throughout the series can be counted on one hand. Of course, as Archie notes, the times we tend to see him usually involve Wolfe and Archie muscling in on one of his cases, which might explain his sourness somewhat.
  • Inspector Lestrade: He fits this role for the stories. He's no fool, but tends to accept the obvious explanation presented to him without looking further or seeing the holes.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: He hates it when the federals muscle in, even more than when Wolfe does it.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: He dances around this trope from time to time, particularly in those moments where he gives in to his spite and envy towards Wolfe and attempts to obstruct his investigation with some kind of official procedure (such as in "Home to Roost", when he orders Wolfe's office to be sealed after a murder is committed there purely to get back at Wolfe). He usually ends up regretting it, however, because doing so gets Wolfe sufficiently vexed to cut him out of the investigation, and so is usually genre savvy enough to Know When to Fold 'Em and give in to Teeth-Clenched Teamwork.
  • Police Are Useless: Downplayed. As the Inspector Lestrade in a series about a Great Detective who works as a private investigator, Cramer has to be at least relatively ineffective in order to justify Wolfe's involvement in the story to begin with. However, despite their animosity Wolfe himself frequently compliments Cramer's tenacity, intelligence and ability, albeit lacking Wolfe's genius, and once he's gotten past his distrust of Wolfe and has the pieces laid out in front of him Cramer is often fairly quick to recognise exactly where Wolfe's going when he's giving The Summation. It's also worth noting that compared to many of the other official investigators (police or district attorney) who show up throughout the series, many of whom are pretty useless (and falling along a spectrum of "bullying authoritarians" and "spineless careerists"), Cramer's a certified genius.
  • Series Continuity Error: His name is given as "Fergus" in Where There's A Will, but his initials are given as "L.T.C." in The Silent Speaker. Robert Goldsborough goes with the latter and gives his first name as Lionel. A Nero Wolfe Mystery goes with Fergus, much to Archie's amusement when he learns it.
  • Spin-Off: Rex Stout's Red Threads features Cramer as an important supporting character even though it's not a Nero Wolfe story.
  • Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: On a few occasions he leaks information to Wolfe under the table, most notably in The Doorbell Rang.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: He recognises Wolfe's skills and is willing to tolerate him up to a point, but he makes no bones about resenting it, especially when Wolfe conceals evidence or hides witnesses.
  • Triple Shifter: Whenever a Manhattanite is murdered, Cramer is on the case.
    Archie: Don't you ever sleep, inspector?
    Cramer: Not much!

Sergeant Purley Stebbins

Cramer's deputy. Like his boss towards Wolfe, he distrusts Archie but the two will work together when necessary.

  • Clueless Deputy: Vaguely. He's not so much clueless; it's just that he's there to arrest the criminals, not to actually solve the crimes.
  • Friend on the Force: Very vaguely. He doesn't particularly care for Archie, but he's sometimes given him a hot tip in exchange for a meal, and they seem to respect each other. It's sometimes implied they'd be better friends if they weren't on "opposite sides".
  • Hidden Depths: Usually he comes off as dim, but he is capable of keen perception. On a couple of very rare occasions, Wolfe even compliments him for it.

Lieutenant George Rowcliff

Stebbins' superior officer. Pompous and condescending, he and Archie dislike each other immensely.

  • Jerkass: Of the regular NYPD characters, he's the most obnoxious and abrasive. Even Cramer and Stebbins tend to think he's a bit of an overzealous jerk.
  • No Sense of Humor: Part of what makes him insufferable. Naturally, Archie — who is blessed with what some might call too much of a sense of humor — loves to pop holes in his pomposity at every given opportunity.
  • Series Continuity Error: Like Cramer, he's given two different names at various points (he's referred to as "J. M. Rowcliff" by Saul Panzer in Please Pass The Guilt), and his last name is sometimes spelled "Rowcliffe".
  • Speech Impediment: He stutters when annoyed. Archie sometimes imitates the stutter to get Rowcliff to start, and has made a game of how fast he can goad Rowcliff into it during an interrogation.
  • Tuckerization: His last name is taken from Rex Stout's former commanding officer Rear Admiral Gilbert Jonathan Rowcliff, whom he despised.

     Recurring Characters 

Lon Cohen

An influential reporter and editor working for the New York Gazette, with particular responsibilities for the city desk. He's often willing to trade information to Wolfe and Archie in exchange for an exclusive.

  • Crying Wolf: He never for a second believes Archie whenever Archie claims to just be innocently asking him for information about a matter that just happens to be connected to a murder... even when Archie is. Downplayed, since Lon, who isn't affiliated with the police, isn't particularly bothered about whether Archie's digging around where he shouldn't be or not as long as he can parlay it into a good headline and some column inches for the Gazette.
  • Da Editor: His actual position at the Gazette is unspecified, but he's some sort of high-ranking newshound.
  • Deadpan Snarker: His dialogue with Archie often involves the two swapping quips and banter.
  • Intrepid Reporter: In the most sarcastic sense. Lon is a firm believer in the public's right to know, as long as they find out from the Gazette.
  • Knowledge Broker: The basis of his relationship with Wolfe and Archie.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: A typical way for Archie and/or Wolfe to butter him up for their purposes is to feed him a steak.

Lily Rowan

A wealthy socialite and good friend of Archie's. The two have an on-off romantic relationship

  • Affectionate Nickname: After watching Archie tumble over a fence fleeing from a bull, she dubs him "Escamillo" after the dashing toreador from Carmen.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Particularly in the later stories, there are several hints that she's one of these, such as hosting parties where beat poetry is read.
  • Characterization Marches On: In her first appearance she is practically a femme fatale. In later stories she is simply Archie's well-heeled dancing buddy.
  • The Chick: She is pretty much the only recurring female character in the series.
  • Cool Big Sis: Plays this role to a lot of down-on-their-luck women, many of whom end up as Wolfe's clients.
  • Granola Girl: In the later stories, her cook often prepares oddball dishes involving soybeans and the like.
  • Ethical Slut: To the extent that this is possible in a PG-rated universe. When she first appears, she is described by another character as a "sex maniac", and takes a dim view of marriage while remaining open to romantic relations.
  • Femme Fatale: Played with in her first appearance; she's a big city rich girl in a small town and several of the characters act like she's one of these, but ultimately she's harmless and isn't up to any trouble.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Despite their more-or-less open and uncommitted relationship, she tends to quickly get jealous whenever another woman displays interest in Archie (or vice versa).
  • Lady of Adventure: She enjoys the few times she is roped into Wolfe's capers.
  • Nouveau Riche: A sympathetic depiction — Lily is tough, intelligent and fairly refined, if given to some Bourgeois Bohemian eccentricities, but it is established that her family's wealth is fairly recent and her father came into money through "building the sewers". Lily is also depicted as being open and proud about her family's roots.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Lily occupies an interesting place in the narrative, somewhere between this trope and a PG-rated implication of Friends with Benefits. She and Archie clearly have some kind of romantic bond, she appears much more frequently than any other Love Interest character, and they're frequently mentioned to go 'dancing', but since neither is exactly the settling-down type it never really manages to get to the stage of Love Interest.
  • Socialite: Her luxurious penthouse hosts everything from poetry readings to rodeos.
  • The Tease: In her first appearance.

Dr. Edwin Vollmer

A doctor who lives a few doors down from Wolfe's brownstone, and so tends to be consulted on medical issues.

  • Courier: Sometimes Wolfe uses him as a messenger.
  • Drop-In Character: Since he lives just down the street, he often pays visits to the brownstone.
  • Insanity Defense: In one story, Vollmer certifies Wolfe as temporarily insane so that he can postpone a showdown with the authorities.
  • The Medic: He's Wolfe's go-to source for medical advice, primarily because he lives just down the street and so is conveniently positioned.

Marko Vukcic

A prominent chef, the owner of the very fancy restaurant Rustermans, and Wolfe's oldest friend from their shared boyhood in Montenegro.

  • The Casanova: He often wines and dines ladies at his own restaurant. This is possibly a response to being cruelly used and left by the one woman he actually did marry.
  • Childhood Friends: He has known Wolfe since they were boys in Montenegro, and is the only person who calls Wolfe by his first name.
  • La Résistance: He funnels money to anti-communist guerrillas in Montenegro. This activity leads to his murder in The Black Mountain.
  • Meaningful Name: Possibly. "Vuk" is the Serbo-Croatian word for wolf, suggesting that his friend Nero might actually be a blood relation who anglicized his name.
  • Supreme Chef: Apart from being Wolfe's oldest friend, he is one of Les Quinze Maîtres, an exclusive group of world-class chefs, and runs one of the finest restaurants in Manhattan.

Nathaniel Parker, attorney at law

Wolfe's attorney, frequently called upon when Wolfe's investigations entangle him and Archie in potential legal consequences.

Lewis Hewitt

A wealthy orchid grower whom Wolfe occasionally socialises with.

  • Always Someone Better: Played with. It's frequently mentioned that Hewitt has even more orchids than Wolfe does, but it's also mentioned that Wolfe's orchids tend to be more impressive than Hewitt's.
  • Ascended Extra: IN his first appearances he's just one of a half dozen suspects, but he goes on to become a recurring social acquaintance to the heroes, while helping out in a case or two.
  • Hidden Depths: He initially seems to be just another old-money blueblood, but in his first appearance he leaps at the opportunity to get involved in the case because what Wolfe's asking him to do allows him to put his secret acting ambitions into practice.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: A socialite, orchid grower and occasional gourmet.
  • Odd Friendship: In as much as Wolfe has 'friends', of course, but about the only thing the crotchety reclusive detective and the urbane old-money scion have in common is their shared interest in orchids and dining. Nevertheless, Hewitt is one of the few people Wolfe seems willing to socialise with outside of his house or his usual habits.
  • The Team Benefactor: With his wealth and social standing, he sometimes provides special assistance to Wolfe.

Arnold Zeck

A shadowy, mysterious crime boss responsible for planning and orchestrating crimes throughout New York City.

  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: When Wolfe refuses his request to decline a specific case, Zeck responds by having hired goons utterly destroy Wolfe's greenhouse.
  • Arch-Enemy: To Wolfe.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: He's a shadowy influence behind a lot of the crime in New York City.
  • The Dreaded: He's one of the few people that can unsettle Wolfe, although Wolfe claims it's less because of who he is and more of what he'll force Wolfe to do should the two ever come to conflict.
  • Evil Counterpart: In true arch-nemesis fashion, he is essentially Nero Wolfe if you stripped him of any redeeming merit or virtue.
  • The Faceless: His appearances in the first two books of the "Zeck Trilogy" feature him as nothing more than a sinister voice on the phone.
  • The Scottish Trope: Of a sort; out of concern for Archie's well-being, Wolfe orders him to forget he ever heard the name "Arnold Zeck". Subsequently, when compelled to discuss Zeck Archie tends to refer to him as "A Man Whose Name I've Forgotten" or just "X".
  • Worthy Opponent: He freely admits to Wolfe that "it's a more interesting world with you in it".

Theodolinda "Dol" Bonner and Sally Corbett

A female private investigator and her assistant, occasionally hired by Wolfe in matters requiring a woman's touch.

  • Canon Welding: Dol was originally the star of her own mystery novel, The Hand in the Glove, published in 1937. Rex Stout eventually brought her into the Nero Wolfe series in the 1950s.
  • Defeat Means Respect: Of a sort, at least; in their first appearance Archie makes some rather dismissive and condescending remarks about female detectives, only for both Dol and Sally to end up being more useful to solving the crime than he ends up being. After this embarrassment, he later concedes that his attitudes in this respect have undergone a reevaluation.
  • Fair Cop: Well, Fair Private Detective, at least.
  • Odd Friendship: While they're not exactly friends, it is frequently mentioned that, despite Wolfe's general dislike of women, other private investigators and female private investigators, he has a genuine respect for and gets on quite well with Dol Bonner.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Dol and Sally are the only lady investigators who show up in a very male-heavy series.

Alternative Title(s): A Nero Wolfe Mystery


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