Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Nero Wolfe

Go To
Nero Wolfe, hard at work.

Nothing is simpler than to kill a man. The difficulties arise in attempting to avoid the consequences.
Nero Wolfe, Too Many Cooks

A series of 33 novels and 39 short stories by Rex Stout, beloved for their unique blending of the classic and hardboiled mystery genres.

Brilliant, eccentric cynic Nero Wolfe makes his living as New York City's finest private detective. He charges outrageous fees, usually in the tens of thousands, to solve the highest-profile murders — because, quite frankly, he needs the money. After an adventurous youth in his native Montenegro, he's now fully engaged in the pursuit of self-indulgence, weighing in at "a seventh of a ton"note  ('to insulate my feelings,' he explains). He literally refuses to leave his home on business — or most anything else, for that matter — and has seen to it that there's little reason why he should.

Renowned Swiss chef Fritz Brenner caters to his gastronomic obsessions; botanist Theodore Horstmann helps nurse the 10,000+ orchids in the rooftop greenhouse; and Archie Goodwin, our narrator, acts as his legman, secretary, bodyguard, occasional chauffeur and general sounding-board. A gifted investigator in his own right, Archie is the one who goes out and finds the suspects, collects the clues and romances the ladies, while Wolfe uses his keen intellect to piece it all together and collect the fee. (Although under some circumstances, usually touching pride - as when a woman was strangled in the office with Wolfe's own necktie - honour demands they solve a case regardless of client or funding.)


The enduring charm of the series lies in the meeting of their two worlds: 'a recurring miracle', as Wolfe once put it. Archie looks, fights and speaks fluent Dashiell Hammett with a deft, self-aware touch all his own, and is actually much more likely to out-talk opponents than physically intimidate them ("by God, you'd clown at your own funeral!"). True to his Midwestern roots, he unwinds with a tall glass of milk and often shocks Wolfe by skipping a gourmet dinner for a deli sandwich while on a case. He refuses to be intimidated by anyone, let alone his formidable employer... which is understandable, given that his main duty is to irritate Wolfe out of his cushy routine and into taking cases in the first place.

Wolfe, on the other hand, represents the 'drawing-room' mystery taken to its logical ultimate, right up to the climactic gathering of suspects to name the culprit. Within his plush, book-lined Manhattan brownstone he has evolved a lifestyle that has refined hedonism to the most exquisite routine — breakfast in bed, visits to the orchids from nine to eleven and four to six without fail, no talking business at meals, etc. etc. — and tolerates no interruptions, not even from the police. He is all intellect, quite openly misogynistic, seemingly immune to any human passion whatsoever... save perhaps in regards to his trust in Archie, which is absolute.


Supporting cast includes freelance investigators Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather, often called in to work surveillance, IDs and other routine angles on a case; Archie's casual girlfriend, smarter-than-she-looks society dilettante Lily Rowan; and Lon Cohen, city editor of the Gazette, who trades inside info (and the occasional well-placed article) for scoops on the flashy murders that Wolfe solves. Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins provide the main police presence, many steps up the competence ladder from Holmesian bobbies—and much more realistically resentful of a civilian wielding such power, but both aware that they can't do anything about it and cognizant of the times that Wolfe can get results by doing something they can't. A set of lesser law enforcement characters are less competent, more resentful, and pettier, trying to stop Wolfe or somehow catch him out.

A popular Epileptic Tree (created by science fiction author John D. Clark in the '50s, but never mentioned in canon) is that Wolfe's father was Sherlock Holmes, by Irene Adler of course; the combination of deductive genius, heavyset build and laziness does sound uncannily like the Great Detective's brother Mycroft. The Wold Newton Universe incorporated this theory. This is all sometimes extended to name Archie in turn as Wolfe's son or nephew, based off Wolfe's cryptic comment in one of the books: "If I were [a Negro], Mr. Goodwin would have to be one too." It's more likely that Wolfe was alluding to the fact that a white man would never accept a job as the assistant to a black man at the time the story was set, but that doesn't stop the speculation.

The Nero Wolfe stories has been adapted for radio, TV, and film. The 2001-2002 A&E series (technically titled A Nero Wolfe Mystery) is one of the more faithful adaptations, remaining firmly set in the amorphous mid-40's-to-60's of the books while lifting large portions of Archie's narration directly from the text. The show was notable for its approach to guest casting — one-shot characters would be played by the same core group of actors, much like a repertory theater, so that the murder victim one episode might be the murderer the next.

     Novels in the Nero Wolfe series 

     Novella collections 
  • Black Orchids (1942; contains "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death")
  • Not Quite Dead Enough (1944; contains "Not Quite Dead Enough" and "Booby Trap")
  • Trouble In Triplicate (1949; contains "Before I Die", "Help Wanted, Male" and "Instead of Evidence")
  • Three Doors To Death (1950; contains "Man Alive", "Omit Flowers" and "Door to Death")
  • Curtains For Three (1951; contains "The Gun with Wings", "Bullet for One" and "Disguise for Murder")
  • Triple Jeopardy (1952; contains "Home to Roost", "The Cop-Killer" and "The Squirt and the Monkey")
  • Three Men Out (1954; contains "Invitation to Murder", "The Zero Clue" and "This Won't Kill You")
  • Three Witnesses (1956; contains "The Next Witness", "When a Man Murders" and "Die Like a Dog")
  • Three For The Chair (1957; contains "A Window for Death", "Immune to Murder" and "Too Many Detectives")
  • And Four To Go (1958; contains "Christmas Party", "Easter Parade", "Fourth of July Picnic" and "Murder Is No Joke")
  • Three At Wolfes Door (1960; contains "Poison à la Carte", "Method Three for Murder" and "The Rodeo Murder")
  • Homicide Trinity (1962; contains "Eeny Meeny Murder Mo", "Death of a Demon" and "Counterfeit for Murder")
  • Trio For Blunt Instruments (1964; contains "Kill Now—Pay Later", "Murder Is Corny" and "Blood Will Tell")
  • Death Times Three (1985; posthumous, contains "Bitter End", "Frame-Up for Murder" and "Assault on a Brownstone")

These mystery novels provide examples of:

  • Acrofatic: Wolfe pulls off a few remarkable feats of exertion despite his sheer bulk, such as:
    • Killing a huge poisonous snake with a beer bottle (Fer-de-lance)
    • Cracking a woman's skull and wrist at once while dual-wielding beer bottles (Over My Dead Body)
    • Hiking for miles through the foothills of Yugoslavia with Archie, even if he does complain all the time about sore feet (The Black Mountain)
    • Kicking a woman under the chin, hard enough to send her reeling across his office, just by tilting backwards in his chair (Champagne for One)
    • In a less drastic sense, Archie frequently notes that Wolfe moves with grace, agility and coordination that most people wouldn't expect from a man of his size. Also see Offscreen Teleportation, below.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: Flora Gallant in "Murder is No Joke" and "Frame-Up for Murder", the first and second versions of the same basic story respectively. In the first version, Flora is a rather frumpy, unattractive and acid-tongued woman who isn't really that likeable and who, while she kick-starts the plot and ends up becoming a key suspect, doesn't really show up much or do much when she does show up. In the second version Flora still does much of the same things as the first version, but she's now younger, more attractive and friendly, is a bit more of a sweet-natured ingenue, has a flirty and charming dynamic with Archie, shows up more frequently and ultimately plays a more active and memorable role in the story (for example, rather than just showing up at Wolfe's door, as in the first draft, she actively tails Archie while he's tailing a client on an unrelated job in the second version, thus gaining his interest). On reading the two versions back to back, one can clearly tell that Stout enjoyed writing the second version of Flora more than the first.
  • Almighty Mom: Carol Wheelock, one of the suspects in Before Midnight, is just a Virginia house wife but is one of the five finalists in a major trivia competition despite having the least advantages and experience of the five.
  • Always Murder: It always involves at least one murder, but many of the stories begin with a lesser crime; blackmail is common.
    • Archie mentions at the beginning of one book that though Wolfe takes many kinds of cases, Archie only talks about the murders they come across because they are often the most fascinating and exciting.
    • It's also suggested that Archie may or may not be selling the cases as stories, and murders pay better.
  • Alternate Continuity: "Counterfeit for Murder" and "Assault on a Brownstone" are essentially the same case with different murder victims: Tammy Baxter in the former and Hattie Annis in the latter. Both were ultimately published, but the latter was published posthumously, and is generally agreed to be be an inferior earlier draft, not least because the victim in the latter is widely agreed to be one of the most interesting characters in the former, if not the entire series.
  • Anyone Can Die: Well, anyone in the supporting cast at least. One recurring investigator is abruptly offed in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable case, and another dies in the final book. Clients die with frightening frequency, as do witnesses and suspects.
  • Arch-Enemy: Shadowy crime kingpin Arnold Zeck, similar to Professor Moriarty. He plays a role in only three novels and physically appears in the last of these.
  • Asshole Victim: Rex Stout worked with this a lot; though Wolfe investigates his share of innocent corpses, a good number of victims at least fairly-unpleasant people:
    • Of particular note is Philip Laszio in Too Many Cooks, who apparently makes it his hobby to be an absolute back-stabbing prick to everyone he comes across and to spitefully annoy as many extremely hot-tempered highly-strung egotists with a penchant for threatening death on their enemies as possible. The novel even opens with a man ranting not just about how he has a motive to kill Laszio, but how pretty much everyone else you're about to meet has plenty of reasons to as well.
  • Baby Trap: Orrie was being caught up in one in Death of a Doxy, although he expresses doubt the woman (who is also the victim) was really pregnant.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: In " Black Orchids". the victim is tricked into uintentionally killing himself with poison gas through a Batman Gambit Wolfe set up. In "Before I Die," it initially looks like this was played straight but Archie says that Saul fired the killing shot. Played straight in In the Best Families.
  • Bastard Bastard: The killer in The Father Hunt and the blackmailer in "Bitter End."
  • Batman Cold Open: "Frame-Up for Murder" begins with Archie tailing some guy we never meet called Jonah Putz as part of an unrelated minor job that Wolfe has agreed to do. Archie freely admits to us that Putz has no importance to the story we're about to read and isn't particularly interesting himself, but only brings him up because while he was doing this he noticed he was in turn being tailed by Flora Gallant, who will be important to the actual story.
  • Batman Gambit: Wolfe excels at these, although his ploys in "The Next Witness," "Black Orchids," and The Doorbell Rang stand out.
  • Batter Up!: Star Giants rookie Nick Ferrone is offed with a baseball bat in "This Won't Kill You."
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Archie's rather good at it, though he tends to drop the act before he gets everything he wants.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Over My Dead Body features a minor version in the form of an FBI agent who, in a Running Gag, keeps popping in at various intervals in the story to badger Wolfe over his status as an agent for foreign nationals, only to be faced with some bureaucratic detail which he didn't anticipate and which forces him to scurry away again to try and find some clarification for it.
  • Big Eater: Sort of.
    • Wolfe eats good food in sizable portions. Mediocre or bad food he will refuse completely or pick at. While he is a gourmet he will never disparage good food simply because it comes from a "low" source. In one book he is shown to be very fond of a particular diner's chili, and when forced to hide out in Saul Panzer's apartment he compliments him on his choice of cheese at the rather humble table Saul provides. He also very definitely avoids the "speed eater" aspect that often accompanies Big Eaters; he is adamant that no meal should be rushed, no matter how simple it is, to the point that Archie eats separately in the kitchen if he has a task or appointment that would cause him to rush a meal.
    • Archie often asks Fritz for a huge breakfast if he's had a long night, either doing errands for Wolfe or being questioned by the police.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Several of the killers suffer this and one ends up becoming a killer himself to cover up his blackmail.
    • Zigzagged in Champagne For One, and Plot It Yourself, both books where the blackmail does cause at least one murder, but not that of the blackmailer, with said blackmailers instead coming to the attention of the police at the end.
  • Black Market: Wolfe's desperation for a source of meat during WWII food rationing leads to him accepting a job from a crime boss in "Before I Die". He demands (and gets) access to the black market as part of his fee.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Many of Wolfe's gambits blur the lines between this and Framing the Guilty Party, but on the whole tend to fall here. Often, Wolfe is faced with a killer who has managed to conceal evidence very effectively, and so usually arranges some "program" into panicking them into exposing themselves; while he may manufacture 'evidence' to enable this, he rarely-to-never outright manufactures false evidence to have them arrested. As such, since this evidence probably wouldn't hold up in a court of law, he also often combines this trope with Leave Behind a Pistol.
  • Body Double: Wolfe uses ones in The Doorbell Rang and "Help Wanted, Male," with Archie also having one in the former story.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Archie will occasionally break away from the action to address the reader directly.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Wolfe. He hates any kind of physical exertion, but still solves the mysteries, just sitting and thinking.
  • Broken Ace: Alcoholic, brilliant attorney Eugene Davis in Where There's a Will. More notably, Orrie Cather in A Family Affair.
  • Buxom Is Better: Occasionally evoked by Archie, such as describing a suspect named Martha Kent as “ornamental both above the neck and below.”
  • Call-Back: The novels will often feature brief references to previous cases that Wolfe and Archie have been involved in. For example, in "Black Orchids" the meal Wolfe indulges in is saucisse minuit, the recipe for which was his price for solving the murder in Too Many Cooks.
  • Casual Danger Dialog: Archie, usually when dealing with the police. In custody he amuses himself by, among other things, seeing how long it takes him to make Lt. Rowcliff so angry he stutters. The oft-mentioned "record" is two and a half minutes.
  • Catchphrase:
    • In addition to his Verbal Tic of "Pfui", Wolfe will often dismiss something he's skeptical of as "flummery" and, when he's impressed with or pleased by something (as for instance finally getting hold of the vital clue), will respond with "Satisfactory." When he's really impressed, it's "Very satisfactory," or "Most satisfactory."
    • One of Saul Panzer's preferred exclamations in Fer-de-lance is "Lovin' babe!" (an example of Early Installment Weirdness). When Archie uses it a couple of times, Wolfe tells him to stop; he will tolerate it from Saul, but not from Archie.
  • Celibate Eccentric Genius: Wolfe.
  • Character Tic: Wolfe has a tendency to wiggle/waggle his finger at people while lecturing them. He's also frequently described as crossing his hands over his belly whenever he's sitting and paying attention, and moments of intense thought will be described with him closing his eyes and pushing his lips in and out.
  • The Charmer: At some point in the stories, Archie will inevitably be called upon to apply his charms to an attractive woman to try and get information. This is often justified, however; he has quite the knack for understanding women, something Wolfe lacks, and Wolfe will often request that he do this in order that he may ascertain whether the woman in question is lying or hiding something relevant to the case. While not always a master seducer, he does seem to have quite the habit of making at least one good friend among the various women who show up over the course of each case.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Subverted with the alarm system in/around Wolfe's room. Archie repeatedly describes the way in which it's set up to ring a gong under his own bed if someone tries to break in, but in 72 stories, it is never set off.
    • Also subverted in The Doorbell Rang; at one point, Archie gives the client a series of codewords to use if either he and Wolfe or the client need to contact each other secretly due to the FBI forcing them underground. As it turns out, Wolfe's investigation goes in a completely different direction and the codewords never need to be used.
  • The Chessmaster: Wolfe himself, when it comes to trapping killers. In Gambit, he speculates that the killer was a low-functioning version of this, and committed the murder solely to frame the victim for it.
  • Clear Their Name: A common way for Wolfe to get involved in the story is for a relative or would-be lover of someone who has been arrested (or in some cases convicted) of murder to hire him to prove their innocence.
  • Clueless Mystery: In "Fourth of July Picnic," some of the key facts of the case are never revealed until after the murderer is exposed, as Archie narrates what happened afterwards. This is Lampshaded by Archie both before and after The Reveal:
    After they were all there and Wolfe started in, it took him less than fifteen minutes to learn which one was it. I might have managed it in fifteen days, with luck. If you like games you might lean back now, close your eyes and start pushing your lips out and in, and see how long it takes you to decide how you would do it. Fair enough, since you know everything that Wolfe and I knew. But get it straight; don't try to name him or come up with evidence that would nail him; the idea is, how do you use what you know now to put the finger on him? That was what Wolfe did, and I wouldn't expect more of you than of him.
  • Coins for the Dead: In The Black Mountain, the plot starts off with the death of one of Wolfe's old friends. Wolfe goes to the morgue to identify the body, then asks the coroner for permission to place two old coins on his friend's eyes (something he'd promised to do years ago).
  • Comic-Book Time: None of the main characters age, but Stout set each story in the current present-day. Word of God is that Wolfe is in his mid fifties, Archie in his early to mid-thirties. Stout said he didn't want to write stories that were dated by their setting but also didn't want to have to deal with aging his characters. This leads to at least one interesting chronological Gordian knot: In Too Many Cooks (1938), a young black waiter whom Wolfe impresses is a small but important part of the plot. He returns as a successful middle-aged man, with a case involving his grown son, in A Right to Die (1964). Wolfe and Archie both clearly recall the earlier case, even though in reality Archie would have been a child and Wolfe in his twenties. In most other cases, any Call Backs are fairly ambiguously done and not tied to a specific year unless the timespan is reasonably realisticnote , thus allowing the reader to mentally adjust the timeframe accordingly.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: In The Second Confession, one of the characters confesses to having borrowed Wolfe's car and accidentally hit a passerby in the dark. Wolfe eventually discovers that he confessed to this because he didn't want anyone to realize that he actually intended to murder the passerby, and by confessing to an accidental hit-and-run he thought the police wouldn't look any further.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • In "Help Wanted, Male," Wolfe knows that his life is being targeted, so hires a Body Double named Hackett to sit in the office in his place. Hackett is the would-be murderer, who just happens to match Wolfe's physical description and just happens to answer Wolfe's newspaper advertisement when Archie and Wolfe are skeptical that he could have realized its purpose.
    • In "Bitter Ends", Wolfe determines to discover who has been tampering with the products of a condiment company after having the misfortune of tasting a contaminated bottle. Literally minutes later, someone knocks at the door to hire him to investigate that exact same problem.
    • In "Too Many Detectives", each of the subpoenaed detectives — including Wolfe and Archie — had dealings with the victim, a conman who tricked them into surveilling various individuals under false pretences. Subverted; Wolfe realises that the chances of such a coincidence are astronomically impossible, and that the real murderer is on the panel they are testifying before, behind the conman's actions, and trying to set up the detectives present for the murder.
    • In Might As Well Be Dead Wolfe is hired to find the prodigal son of a businessman (long ago accused of theft) and tell him his innocence has been proven, only to find said son on trial for another crime (murder) for which he is also innocent of.
    • In Prisoner's Base Amoral Attorney Helmar tries to hire Wolfe to find Priscilla Eads right after she's shown up at the Brownstone to hire Wolfe to keep Helmar from finding her.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Played with; as with many a Golden Age Great Detective, many of Wolfe's solutions boil down to these kind of clues and logical fallacies. However, Wolfe at least tends to frame them not as conclusive proof of guilt, but as reasonable grounds for him to build a hypothesis that points to someone's guilt. Accordingly, the stories that don't end with Leave Behind a Pistol tend to end with the police taking the main suspect in as a material witness (i.e. detaining them for further questioning and investigation), with the implication that it's up to them to build on Wolfe's theory and find the concrete evidence supporting it. Archie will also have a quick epilogue in which he reveals that the suspect is on trial or has been convicted, implying the police were able to do so.
  • Cool Chair: Wolfe's office chair was custom-built to his specifications and has special springs that can support up to 500 pounds. It's the only chair he really enjoys sitting in. Archie can barely get it to tilt backwards when he tries it out.
  • Cool House: The double brownstone isn't quite a Big Fancy House, but is so lovingly detailed it's become iconic in crime fiction anyway. Given the vast bookshelves, the elevator, the professional-grade kitchen, the hi-tech-for-the-time phone and alarm systems, the orchid rooms on the roof, the kitchen garden, the painting and its peephole in the office, and the one-way glass in the front door... it's pretty damn cool.
  • Cool Old Guy: Several, including Harlan Scovil and the Marquis of Clivers in The Rubber Band and Philip Younger in Before Midnight.
  • Cool Old Lady: Hattie Annis, the client in "Counterfeit for Murder."
  • Courtroom Antics: Played with in "The Next Witness"; on a rare occasion that Wolfe can't wriggle out of testifying at a murder trial to which he is tangentially connected, when sitting in the courtroom waiting to be called to the stand Wolfe realises from the testimony of another witness that there's a frame-up afoot, and is so disgusted by a nearby woman's perfume that he storms out of court to find the real culprit. This means that the trial is thrown into chaos and that there's a warrant put out for his arrest for contempt of court, essentially meaning that he causes courtroom antics when he's not even there. And then, when he's figured out who actually did it, he plays some fancy footwork with the defendant in order to goad the prosecutor into asking a question which will enable him to reveal the truth on the stand, thus voiding the contempt charge by making it redundant.
  • Covers Always Lie: in the Seventies and Eighties, especially. (See also Executive Meddling on the Trivia page.)
    • The worst offender has to be the 1984 Bantam reprints, as exemplified by Prisoner's Base. The cover features a white, obviously plastic skull on a wooden pedestal with a streak of blood down one side, the whole thing surrounded by a coil of rope. None of this has the slightest connection with the mystery. Better yet, the accompanying blurb claims that there's a "fifty-fifty chance" the client will die. She gets offed in the first thirty pages.
    • Too Many Women: The cover shows a young woman and a pistol. Wolfe and Archie investigate two murders, neither of which involves firearms in any way.
    • The short story "A Window for Death" is described in all seriousness in one compilation as containing "glittering international intrigue". How glittering? One of the characters is a uranium miner from Saskatchewan. Yes, that's the "international" part, too. And the "intrigue" is a garden-variety murder.
  • Crime After Crime: It's common for a murderer to kill a second (or occasionally third) person to cover up their original, killing, often because You Know Too Much. Murder By The Book and Might As Well Be Dead tie for the mark with four homicides apiece, though the former plays with the trope: the murderer kills the three people who might know too much first, then kills his primary target.
  • Crying Wolf: A variation. The authorities know full well that Wolfe plays games with the truth, holds back vital information for his own purposes and makes an art-form out of Exact Words, and so tend to regard everything he says with skepticism. But they also have a tendency to misjudge precisely what information Wolfe is holding back and precisely what he does and doesn't know, and so tend to default to automatically distrusting everything Wolfe says, even if they have sufficient experience with him to know that he usually doesn't outright lie. In particular, there are times when it seems like Wolfe can't send Archie out to get groceries without Inspector Cramer storming into the brownstone mere hours later to demand to know exactly who Wolfe's client is, what he knows about the crime and who the perpetrator is. Interestingly, this tends to backfire more on the mistrustful party than the 'liar', since their refusal to trust anything Wolfe says means that the authorities usually end up several steps behind him out of nothing more than pettiness, stubbornness and resentment.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Archie often casually mentions past cases, but gives little or no detail about them. Some verge on Noodle Incident.
  • Cynic–Idealist Duo: While neither is at the extreme of either side of the scale — there's a hint of old-fashioned romanticism underneath Wolfe's crusty exterior, while Archie tends to adopt a kind of seen-it-all snark as a defence against the world — in general the dynamic between Wolfe and Archie tends to play out like this, with Wolfe being the grumpy old misanthrope to Archie's cheerful and friendly man-about-town.
  • Damsel in Distress: Particularly common in the short stories, several of which involve a rather sweet ingenue type who comes to Wolfe for help with something and ends up accused of murder, leading to Wolfe and Archie having to Clear Their Name.
  • The Dandy: Both Wolfe and Archie
    • Wolfe is very particular about his clothing. He's especially fond of canary yellow - his pajamas and shirts are always that color - and the only time he's shown wearing casual wear is in The Black Mountain, when he's traveling through Montenegro. He's so disturbed by dirt that he won't wear, even in private, a tie after soiling it at lunch ("Eeny Meeny Murder Mo").
    • Archie is also a dapper dresser. In "A Window for Death", the rough-and-ready uranium miner asks him about the suit he was wearing when they first met, and Archie spends a good bit of time bringing the man up to speed on dressing well, including what type of hat is appropriate to wear when.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Hinted at times of Wolfe; the details of what he got up to in Montenegro are usually kept quite vague, but his experiences then and there appear to have soured him on idealistic principles and encouraged his hedonistic pursuit of indulgence (his seventh of a ton is intended to "insulate his feelings" in more than one way, apparently).
  • Deadpan Snarker: Archie is really, really good at this. Wolfe himself has the knack for a cutting remark from time to time.
  • Death of a Child: In The Golden Spiders, the first murder victim (that we learn about) is Pete Drossos, a twelve-year-old boy who goes to Wolfe after he thinks he witnesses a woman being kidnapped. He's later killed in a hit-and-run.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: In "A Window for Death", hot-headed man's-man uranium miner Johnny Arrow is notably friendly and respectful to Archie after Archie bests him while breaking up a physical altercation in Wolfe's office. He frequently comments that Archie "gave [him] quite a squeeze" and before the story's end, the two are swapping good-natured quips about the attractive nurse that both are interested in and Archie is advising Johnny where the good places to get men's clothes in New York are.
  • Defective Detective: Wolfe's agitation approaches this when something interrupts his ironclad personal routines. He also has a freely-acknowledged phobia of traveling in a car or train (being convinced that any mechanical device is liable to malfunction at any time 'on a whim'). Generally, however, Wolfe arguably inverts the typical presentation of the trope, since he's at his happiest being a kooky shut-in and loathes having to work for whatever reason, meaning that rather than his eccentricities getting in the way of his solving crimes, he tends to view people making him solve crimes as getting in the way of his eccentricities.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: In Prisoner's Base Lon Cohen voices this opinion of Priscialla Eads, noting that she takes her life in a different direction (society girl, housewife, charity worker, and now taking a hands on approach to running the family business) every couple of years.
  • Detective Patsy: Wolfe often requires his clients to sign a contract that states that no matter what, if Wolfe solves the case — even if it ends with them being implicated in a crime — he'll still get paid. Considering that a surprising number of people seem to think that committing a crime and then hiring the best private detective in New York City, if not the entire world, to solve it in order to throw the scent off themselves is a good idea, this is a wise precaution.
  • Diplomatic Impunity:
    • The crux of the short story "Immune to Murder". Too bad for the crook — American law can't touch him, but his own home country says You Have Failed Me.
    • Implied in The Rubber Band, where the Marquis of Clivers is so influential as a representative of the British government that the authorities really, really don't want to have to have a reason to arrest him for murder, since that's going to cause everyone a lot of misery. Fortunately for them, in this case the Marquis didn't actually do it.
  • Dirty Commies: Wolfe's client in The Second Confession believes his daughter's new boyfriend is one. Stout was probably on board with the trope — both Wolfe and Archie express contempt for communists — but, notably, the boyfriend is actually a stooge for crime lord Arnold Zeck, and Archie uses some highly dubious investigative methods in the story. note 
  • Dirty Old Man: Both client Herman Lewent and suspect Theodore Huck in "Invitation to Murder."
  • Drink-Based Characterization: Archie's love of milk is a famous subversion of expectation, as hardboiled detectives are generally associated with hard liquor. He also drinks rye and scotch, if he's had a bad day; and brandy or champagne in celebration. Wolfe, on the other hand, drinks beer and brandy, and presumably, wine with his meals.
  • Driven to Suicide: Happens several times to murderers, at Wolfe's veiled instigation, throughout the series, usually for one of two reasons: there's not legal proof of what they did, so if it's left to a trial they'll get away with the crime, or — according to Archie at least — if the killer is tried Wolfe will have to leave his home to testify in court.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • The most glaring is the smoking Inspector Cramer does in the first five or six books, even smoking a pipe in the first one, which clashes with his ever-present cigar which he only chews on in all subsequent books.
    • In the first book, operative Orrie Cather is described as a crusty old tobacco-chewing veteran. By his next appearance — and throughout the rest of the series — he's become a handsome young smooth-talking ladies' man.
    • Archie's a lot quicker with his fists in the earlier books than in later works, where he's more likely to rely on his wits and wisecracks.
    • The earliest books generally make much greater play of the contrast between rarefied intellectual Wolfe and crudely unsophisticated Archie. As a particularly awkward side effect of this, Goodwin makes some nasty racist remarks, notably in Fer-de-lance and Too Many Cooks, that are clearly intended to highlight Wolfe's own more enlightened views. Luckily, the whole rather pretentious conceit is dropped within a few books, and Archie becomes a lot more decent — not to say intelligent — very quickly.
    • In some of the earliest novels, Wolfe occasionally suffers what Archie calls a "relapse" - either eating nothing but bread and soup, or preparing one lavish gourmet meal after another with help from Fritz. The underlying cause is never explained, and Archie develops a knack for heading them off before they disappear from the canon altogether.
    • Wolfe's lawyer's name, which goes from Henry H. Barber (The Rubber Band) to Henry George Parker ("The Squirt and the Monkey") and finally to Nathaniel Parker.
    • Some of the early installments suggest that without Fritz around, Wolfe would starve as he is all but incapable of cooking. In later stories, he becomes a talented (albeit far from world-class) cook himself.
  • Enemy Mine: In Before I Die, rival mobsters Thumbs Meeker and Fabian team up to shoot down the gun-wielding murderer in Wolfe's office. was something never seen before and surely never will be again—Fabian and Thumbs Meeker blazing away at the same target.
  • Escalating War: A downplayed example, but a Running Gag in the series, is that Wolfe and Archie, when they’re particularly irritated with each other, will do whatever they can to try to make the other as uncomfortable as possible, with the other inevitably responding to try and one-up the first. In the most extreme examples, they’ve managed to get themselves embroiled in all kinds of tricky, questionably profitable cases and trouble just because one, to try and trap the other, has agreed to get involved and the other is too proud or stubborn to back down.
  • Evil Old Folks: On occasion, notably the killers in Champagne For One and The Rubber Band.
  • Evil Virtues: In "Death of a Demon," despite being an extremely sadistic blackmailer, Barry Hazen did instruct his wife to burn his clients' papers after he died rather than expose them. Although considering some of those papers had evidence about the murder of his wife's father, maybe that was just another bit off cruelty.
  • Exact Words: A common tactic favoured by Wolfe; he prides himself on never lying, but is a master of equivocation when it comes to dealing with Inspector Cramer, among others.
    • Wolfe isn't against using this on Archie either, whether because he doubts Archie's ability to hide what he's thinking or just to show off. The end of Before Midnight provides a particularly epic example:
      "You can always believe me, Archie. With your memory, which is matchless, you can recall my words.... I said, first, I hadn't hoped for anything as provocative as this. That was true; I hadn't hoped for it; I was sure of it, since I had arranged it. I said, second, I hadn't listed this among the possibilities. That was likewise true; it wasn't a possibility, it was a certainty. I have never told you a direct lie and never will."
  • Exhaustion-Induced Idiocy: In "Murder Is Corny," Archie is exhausted after having been up for 30 hours. He needs to have a conversation with Susan MacLeod, and suggests to Wolfe that he have the conversation elsewhere, but Wolfe offers the use of the office. Archie Lampshades the fact that if he hadn't been so exhausted, he would have realized that Wolfe intended to eavesdrop on the conversation.
  • Expy: Wolfe has inspired several (a 2020 anthology, The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe, collects several of them). These include:
    • Loren D. Estleman's Claudius Lyon, who is Wolfe's Hero-Worshipper in-universe and has tried to mimick Wolfe's lifestyle in as much detail as possible without being sued or tripping over his own limitations.
    • Lawrence Block's Leo Haig, an eccentric tropical fish breeder who believes Wolfe to be an actual person concealing his identity under a pseudonym, and solves mysteries in order to try and arrange a meeting with his hero.
    • Dave Zeltserman Julius Katz, a Brilliant, but Lazy wine connoisseur who solves crimes with the aid of Archie, an artificial intelligence installed in a tie-pin.
    • Lobo Black, a Western lawman who is paralyzed by an assassins bullet but is still capable of solving crimes from information gathered by his new legman Quinn Booker.
  • Faking the Dead: Done in the short story "Man Alive," by a man suspecting that his life was in danger and by the man wanting him dead.
  • FBI Agent:
    • An understandably harsh treatment of the FBI for the time in The Doorbell Rang. See Writer on Board, below.
    • Wolfe has some fun bulldozing the FBI in the short story "Home to Roost," after they refuse to comment on whether the murder victim had been working undercover for them.
  • First-Person Smartass: Archie, who views witty repartee as an art form.
  • Food Porn: Archie and Wolfe often go into great detail to describe the ways that food is, or should be, prepared - at the brownstone, in a restaurant, or wherever they happen to be. On more than one occasion, the food plays a pivotal role in the case they're investigating.
  • Formerly Fit: Wolfe, apparently. In Too Many Cooks he casually mentions having been on a mission for the Spanish government in his youth, which took him across several countries.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Played with; Wolfe never frames someone for a crime they haven't committed, even if they're guilty of another crime, but he is perfectly willing to manufacture evidence against someone for the crime they did commit if the actual evidence has been successfully destroyed. Furthermore, he tends to use this more as a way of pressuring someone into taking the Leave Behind a Pistol option rather than actually using the falsified evidence to convict them. He defends this in Some Buried Caesar by pointing out that ethically he's just ensuring that someone guilty of murder receives the punishment they've rightfully got coming to them.
  • Friend on the Force: Inspector Cramer, in a way, and Archie sometimes plays cards with Sergeant Purley Stebbins. These two grudgingly respect Wolfe, but nearly everyone else associated with law enforcement has a much lower opinion.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Archie's interactions with the other private detectives Wolfe engages the services of can touch on this at times, particularly Saul Panzer and Orrie Cather. Goodwin will often note, and sometimes fret, that Cather and Johnny Keems seem to be gunning for his job, but they nevertheless get on well enough. Meanwhile, Archie is glad Saul doesn't want his job, as he believes he would get it, although Archie is better friends with and holds greater respect for Saul than Orrie.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The first six novels (from, roughly, Fer-de-lance to Some Buried Caesar) are set in this period. The period is generally agreed to have ended with the onset of World War II, and Stout wrote no Wolfe novels (but two short stories) from Pearl Harbor until the end of the war.
  • The Gimmick:
    • Wolfe himself has two: his fanatical adherence to his daily schedule, and his adamant refusal to leave his house on business.
    • Rex Stout had one: in virtually every story, he had Wolfe use at least one unusual or little-used word. Archie sometimes notes that he had to look it up in the dictionary.
  • Great Detective: Wolfe is probably the last iconic example.
    • Harland Ide, from "Too Many Detectives," is considered this in-story.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Once against an animal and twice against humans.
    • Wolfe uses a beer bottle to slay the titular Fer-de-lance in the first novel.
    • In Over My Dead Body, Wolfe uses two beer bottles to defend himself from Neya Tormic rushing at him with a dagger, fracturing her wrist and (fatally) her skull.
    • A vodka bottle is the murder weapon in "Blood Will Tell."
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Wolfe is able to confirm his solution in "The Next Witness" by breaking down one of these. Notably, the accomplice did not assist with the murder, but with the blackmailing operation that was central to the killer's motive.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Archie and any other other Private Investigator featured, except Wolfe, as noted above, and Fred Durkin, who averts the lone wolf part by having both a wife and children.
    • Archie himself is something of a subversion, as he's pretty chipper and optimistic (after all, he started as a good Midwestern boy before coming to the city). Accordingly, he prefers a glass of milk to Scotch.
    • Archie probably also qualifies under Great Detective just barely. A few times he actually ends up unraveling the case before Wolfe and sits back in amusement watching his boss trying to figure things out.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • Numerous references to 'dicks', ie. detectives (and to Dick as a fairly common male nickname of the time). This becomes especially awkward when 'female dicks' Dol Bonner and Sally Corbett are introduced.
    • Another example is in the short story "Method Three For Murder", where one suspect laments the death of the victim by saying "She was so gay. She was a gay person."
    • Wolfe and Archie also use the word "diddle" in its original meaning of "swindle". In one story Wolfe angrily growls, "I will not be diddled!"
    • One novel has repeated usage of 'ejaculating' as a synonym for 'exclaiming'.
    • Archie will occasionally use the phrase "I got erect" to describe getting up from a supine position. It is perhaps fortunate that he never made any exclamations after getting up...
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: A sad example in "Disguise for Murder," where the Lovable Rogue con artist recognizes the murderer of her friend, who she was too scared to turn in the first time, at a party. She approaches Archie and tells him this, wanting to come clean this time, and saying that the shock from this makes her want to quit thievery and start a straight life. Archie leaves the office to consult Wolfe, and when he comes back, she's been murderered.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Nero Wolfe is openly one of these, but strangely enough his misogyny doesn't extend to sexism in that while Wolfe dislikes women, he doesn't actually disrespect them. He's actually quite tolerant of the occasional strong, independent female visitor to the brownstone. Archie, on the other hand, loves women but doesn't always respect them, and frequently pays for it. He opens "Too Many Detectives" by stating his principled opposition to female detectives, and in A Family Affair he calls a well-dressed feminist a "phony" because women dress well only to attract men and feminists hate men, so a real feminist wouldn't dress well. In the former, Archie's fascinating theory gets his ass handed to him on a platter when Dol Bonner provides valuable assistance to Wolfe's solving the mystery, while Archie serves as no more than a distraction. It's worth pointing out that Rex Stout was convinced that there was nothing a woman could do that a man couldn't do better — until he read Jane Austen. The above was probably written to poke fun at himself for his earlier opinions. See Writer on Board below for another example.
  • Heroic BSoD: Archie spends a substantial part of the middle of In The Best Families in one of these after Wolfe disappears; he's notably curt and snappish with people in a way that is distinctly out of character, at one point just spends hours driving aimlessly around Manhattan, and spends a few weeks at least just going through the motions sitting around Wolfe's office wondering if he's ever going to show up. It's not until he finally decides "screw it" and goes into business for himself as an independent private investigator that he begins to perk up a bit.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: More like HLP polyamory; it's hard to imagine the four residents of Wolfe's house functioning well without each other. In fact, whenever they are separated, they kind of fall apart.
    • When Theodore Horstmann has to leave town to look after his mother in "Door to Death," Wolfe's desperation to find a replacement orchid nurse leads him and Archie to a country estate and a murder investigation.
    • On the other hand, when Wolfe flees New York during In the Best Families, Archie opens his own detective agency and eventually earns a higher salary than Wolfe had been paying him (although he does note that he finds the work a lot less interesting). Wolfe arranges jobs for Fritz (who never stops worrying about Wolfe) and Theodore.
  • Hidden Depths: Wolfe, as a general rule, is fat, sedentary, and lazy. However, some poor unfortunate criminals make the tragic mistake of killing those close to him or outright threatening to kill him. At that point, Wolfe decides Let's Get Dangerous! and revives the past badassery that heretofore had only been hinted at. In the former, he leaves the U.S. to infiltrate communist Montenegro, hikes through mountains, wins a freaking knife fight, and tricks the murderer into returning to the USA. In the latter, he drops off the face of the Earth, loses considerable weight, assumes a disguise so good even Archie can't recognize him, infiltrates his Arch-Enemy's gang, and then manipulates said Arch-Enemy into receiving a self-inflicted Karmic Death.
    • Likewise Archie enjoys hiding behind the role of Wolfe's sharp-tongued lackey and errand-boy and often presents himself to clients and witnesses as far less moral than he really is. In truth he's an incredibly gifted investigator in his own right (at one point setting up his own agency, even making more money than Wolfe ever paid him) and on a few occasions is able to solve the case before Wolfe does.
    • Noel Tedder in The Final Deduction is a bit of an Upper-Class Twit and Opportunistic Bastard in his hunt for the missing ransom money, but he does give Archie, Saul, Fred and Orrie generous bonuses once they find it and his idea of hiring Wolfe in the first place is interesting.
    • Westchester chief of Detectives Ben Dykes also gets to shine in that book after having previously been The Quiet One when appearing alongside Rabid Cop Con Noonan and politico DA Cleveland Archer (each of who. Is replaced by a Suspiciously Similar Substitute in that book while Dykes is still around), but showing some detective skills here in figuring out part of what’s going on while Wolfe has been trying to keep it under wraps, and being more willing to negotiate with Wolfe than he did in the presence of Archer and Noonan.
  • Honor Before Reason: For all that Wolfe has a rather mercenary reputation because he charges ridiculously high fees, what many of the people who accuse him of being a crook or who assume they can buy him off fail to realise is that he actually has an incredibly rigid code of honour. While Wolfe hates to work, once he's accepted a job absolutely nothing will break his loyalty to his client. He insists on ensuring that a client is satisfied with the result of his investigations and will not tolerate even a hint of extortion or blackmail being involved, usually giving them a right to refuse to pay him if they're unsatisfied with the outcome (they almost always are satisfied, however). He refuses to accept bribes, no matter how high, because if he's going to make money he's going to earn it. And so on. With regards to this trope, he most particularly finds himself bound by honor to work against his own interests when something compels him (usually the death of a client or potential client) to investigate a case for little-to-no fee at all.
  • Human Mail: In The Doorbell Rang, Wolfe and Archie set a trap for the FBI by smuggling Saul, Fred, Orrie, and two actors into the brownstone, packed up in orchid crates.
  • I Gave My Word: Wolfe's uneasy truce with Cramer depends heavily on this. This also ties back to Exact Words. He's very precise in what he'll promise, because he will keep that promise.
  • Incriminating Indifference: Often subverted, but "This Won't Kill You" features a version of this. Wolfe's "one little fact" isn't a character's indifference about the murder, but about something which indicated that he knew the victim was dead before the body was discovered.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Wolfe first becomes suspicious of the murderer in Too Many Cooks when that suspect mentions the name of the sauce used in the taste-testing contest, despite allegedly being out of the state at the time and having no way of learning it.
  • Inscrutable Oriental: Played with/lampshaded by suspect Cherry Quon, who is actually called an "inscrutable Oriental" by Archie, and manages to live up to it while noting how silly it is that Americans see Asians this way.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Inspector Cramer. Though there are many hints of mutual respect between Cramer and Wolfe throughout the books (as well as between Archie and Sgt. Stebbins), they really don't like each other much. It's often stated that Cramer is not a bad detective, but he has a bad habit of jumping to a preferred conclusion based on obvious evidence and sticking to it without looking harder at anything more subtle. (Although this is subverted, interestingly, when Stout starred Cramer in his own solo mystery novel, Red Threads.) It should also be noted that compared to many of the other cops and law enforcement officials who show up, a large percentage of whom seem to be authoritarian bullies who are quick to leap to erroneous conclusions because it lets them throw their weight around more or spineless political careerists terrified of making a single step lest it ruin their chances for advancement, Cramer is a certified genius.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Archie describes Wolfe as weighing "a seventh of a ton". That's ~285 pounds, but since it sounds like much more when phrased Archie's way, and because he pretty much only refers to Wolfe's weight when he thinks Wolfe is slacking or is otherwise mildly miffed at him...
      • There is one exception to this - in "Door to Death", he describes him as weighing a sixth of a ton.
    • Wolfe's office chair is "the only chair [Wolfe] enjoyed sitting in."
    • Archie also tends to discuss corpses, even of people he knows, in a removed, even dehumanised manner ('it' or 'the object' rather than 'he' or 'she', for example).
  • Insufferable Genius: Wolfe.
    Archie (complimenting Fritz, on tasting his breakfast): "There are two geniuses in this house. One of them is easy to live with. You may tell the other one I said so."
    • Professor Rollins, one of the contestant finalists in Before Midnight.
    • Conroy Blaney, the prime suspect in "Instead of Evidence," who denies committing the murder but confidently states that if he had decided to commit one, it would have been no trouble for him. He's so obnoxious that Wolfe refuses to have him inside the brownstone for the Summation Gathering.
    • Professional statistician Leo Heller is set up as one in "The Zero Clue" but mostly subverts.
  • Insult Backfire: Wolfe is well aware that he is fat, and is usually quite unruffled whenever anyone tries to use his weight as an insult.
  • Introductory Opening Credits: The 1981 series presents each of the four main characters (and two frequent recurrers) with a short video clip ending in a freeze-frame displaying both the actor's and character's name.
  • Irony: In Might as Well Be Dead Wolfe is hired to find a man wrongfully accused of a crime in the past and starts his investigation by placing a newspaper ad proclaiming his innocence, identifying the man by his initials (all he knows). He gets a lot of inquiries about whether the ad refers to the defendant in a murder trial, and immediately after denying it finds out the defendant is indeed the man he's been hired to find under an assumed name.
  • It's Personal: Applied rather more stringently than usual. Wolfe is old-fashioned enough that something as simple as the murder of someone who enjoyed his hospitality can obligate him to take a case, sometimes without even monetary reward. And that's for people he doesn't know; when one of his close friends is murdered, he takes off to Montenegro to catch the killer. In Before Midnight, Archie notes that the murder that occurred in Wolfe's office has riled him up so much that not only did he leave his house to expose the culprit, of the two taxis he and his operatives took to do so he only charged the one he wasn't riding in to the client.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: A very very deeply buried heart of gold, perhaps, and insulated along with his feelings by the large amounts of fat he carries. But there are occasional signs that underneath Wolfe's cynicism, apathy and coldness, there's a slightly more caring individual than he wants to admit. In particular, he tends to come closest he gets to displaying these tendencies when the case he's working on touches on the plight of immigrants; as a man who himself was an impoverished immigrant who prospered and thrived after arriving in America, he presumably feels a kindred spirit. And, of course, he's a lot fonder of Archie than he lets on. Furthermore, for all his supposed amorality and lack of personal feeling towards the cases he works and the people involved in them, he's very quick and forceful in letting a murderer know when they've crossed one of his particular ethical lines.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Some of the killers exposed by Wolfe never intended to go so far. Well before the first murder in Some Buried Caesar, the eventual killer has a speech about how his recent financial ruination has caused him to do things he'd never thought himself capable of doing.
  • Jurisdiction Friction:
    • Between the New York Police and the FBI in "The Doorbell Rang",
    • Between the New York Police and the Treasury Department/Secret Service in "Counterfeit For Murder",
    • Often pops up between the police and the District Attorney's office, as despite both being within the same jurisdiction both sides have their careerists who want to be seen as solving the case and thus getting all the credit.
  • Kill the Cutie: Occasionally. Certain victims in "Not Quite Dead Enough" and Prisoner's Base are notable examples.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: For all his cynicism and snark, deep down Archie is quite the romantic knight-errant, and will unhesitatingly throw himself headlong into trouble in the name of a good cause (in particular if the cause in question is a pretty lady who needs his help).
  • Last-Name Basis: The number of people who regularly call Wolfe by his first name to his face can be counted on one hand. Let's see, there, Marko Vukčić, and... that's it. In In The Best Families, Wolfe states that Marko is the only person in New York City who calls him by his first name. His preferred contact in Europe, Ethelbert (later Gregory) Hitchcock, may, (the readers never hear Hitchcock's side of any conversation) but Wolfe refers to him always as "Mr. Hitchcock" or by his full name.
    • Even Paolo Telesio, a friend of Wolfe as old as Marko, only addresses him as "My friend", or by his full name during the one scene they share.
    • In Door to Death one suspect calls Wolfe by his first name in a manner which is clearly meant to be insulting (and which does indeed piss him off).
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: On more than one occasion, Wolfe arranges for a guilty party to settle accounts by themselves rather than face the indignity and humiliation of a trial and conviction. According to Archie, his motives may be less about honor and more about making sure he manages to solve the case (and claim his fee) while simultaneously ensuring he doesn't have to leave his house to testify at a trial.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: As might be expected for a couple of men who live in the same house and have a working relationship based heavily on one man nagging the other into working when he doesn't want to, Wolfe and Archie's bickering can sometimes take on this edge.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Some Buried Caesar is from Edward FitzGerald's Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám; the couplet is quoted by Dave Smalley in the book.
    I sometimes think that never blows so red
    The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled
    • The title of the first book where Wolfe crosses paths with Arnold Zeck comes from Act I, Scene V of Hamlet:
    Meet it is I set it down
    That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Often, although The League of Frightened Men stands out.
  • Loophole Abuse: Gertrude Frazee employs this to get help with the contest in Before Midnight.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Priscilla Eads in Prisoner's Base. She's a bit frivolous and pushy like other catty mean women, but she's also a fairly charming Benevolent Boss (except to the executives she was planning to fire, although at least one of them was a Grade-A Jerkass) who had been starting to take responsibility in running the family business. Archie lampshades that while it was hardly Love at First Sight, she had a big effect on him.
  • Luxurious Liquor: This is part of the titular investigator's Bunny-Ears Lawyer life: as a hedonistic shut-in, he conducts his business from a well-appointed brownstone while knocking back six quarts of his preferred beer every day. When he vows to go dry until a particular killer is caught, it's seen as very Serious Business.
  • Manchild: Wolfe has some tendencies towards this from time to time; he can get very petulant and petty if his routines are disturbed or if what he wants doesn't happen exactly when he wants it. It's downplayed, however, since he's nevertheless usually very dignified and mature about things.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Nero Wolfe lives a hedonistic lifestyle that any Roman emperor would envy and even though he rarely leaves his home has impeccable hunting instincts when it comes to seeking out his 'prey'. In essence, he lives the life of Nero and has the instincts of a wolf.
    • Archie Goodwin, as one commentator noted, is a classic example of the decent-hearted Everyman who tends to come out on top in the scrapes he finds himself in due to his wits. Or in other words, he's the Arch(i)etypal Good man who wins.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Although Archie himself prefers younger ladies, his charms work very well on several of the older women who appear throughout the stories.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Wolfe, arguably.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: A mild case. In the novel Over My Dead Body, Wolfe tells a G-man that he was born in the U.S. In every other story where he mentions his youth, he says he was born in Montenegro. (However, see Executive Meddling on the Trivia page for the real reason for this.)
  • Murder by Mistake: Stout used, fiddled with, and applied this trope a few times.
    • In Fer-de-lance, Wolfe figures out fairly quickly that Peter Oliver Barstow was killed by a modified golf club that shot a dart from its handle upon contact with a ball. But his investigation reveals that the club had been in E. D. Kimball's golf bag, and Kimball had loaned Barstow the club — Kimball was the intended victim.
    • And Be a Villain sees Cyril Orchard, a horse racing tipster poisoned on a radio program. For about half the book, the investigation delves into which of the other guests and crew of the program had any connection with the victim, but once it's revealed that the poisoned glass contained iced coffee which only the host, Madeline Fraser, drank... you can guess the reaction of the investigators. But it's subverted in the end, as Orchard was the intended victim all along, and Fraser the murderer.
    • In Please Pass the Guilt, TV executive Peter J. Odell is killed by a bomb in a desk drawer, but it isn't clear for whom the bomb was intended, so a good portion of the mystery is devoted to determining if this trope is in effect. It is — Odell was not the target.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Occasionally. "Method Three For Murder" is an unusually contrived one.
  • Muse Abuse: The plot of Murder by the Book revolves around a law clerk who wrote a roman a clef about a lawyer who exposed another lawyer's jury-tampering to the court in order to get him disbarred so that the first lawyer could take his job, which was based on events at the very law firm he worked for.
  • My Beloved Smother: They tend to pop up as overly-domineering mothers of various society playboys and heiresses who rely on them to keep their lavish lifestyles funded. In The Final Deduction, one of the suspects is suffering under one of these, prompting Archie to reveal his bitter history with his own hated, controlling mother who eventually drove him to run away to New York to get away from her. Later, when Archie is reporting the conversation, Wolfe notes that the cruel, stifling monster Archie describes seems remarkably different from the warm, friendly woman who dined at the brownstone several months previously while visiting the city and whom Archie clearly dotes on.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Archie routinely uses the second version (usually beginning with "He pronounced a word that...'). The stated reason is that he, in character as the "author" of the books — and hence probably acting as a mouthpiece for Stout's own reasoning — knows that women and children are among his readership. The Mother Hunt provides one of the best:
    Archie: It called for profanity, and I used some, out loud. I don't apologize for either the profanity or the situation. I would have done it again in the same circumstances.
  • Noodle Incident: What some of the characters were being blackmailed for in "Death of a Demon."
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Quite often, especially as a prelude to He Knows Too Much. A more comedic example is when Wolfe solves the murder in "The Cop-Killer" and the killer is Wolfe's preferred barber.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Inspector Cramer and the other cops can verge on this; although Wolfe does play fast and loose with the law, Cramer can often let his resentment, distrust, jealousy and dislike of Wolfe interfere with his good sense and go out of his way to obstruct Wolfe out of spite, even when it would benefit him more to let Wolfe continue unopposed. However, Cramer himself is at least savvy enough to realize when he's overstepped the mark, but by then it's usually too late.
    • For example, in "Disguise to Murder" Cramer orders Wolfe's office, the scene of the murder, to be sealed off pending further investigation. While he claims it's standard practice and an attempt to prevent Wolfe from profiting from a murder in his own home, it's pretty clearly just a snide act of revenge for past embarrassments. As Archie notes, however, Cramer clearly realizes almost instantly that he's made a mistake, because Wolfe had previously hinted that he'd realized something that could clear the murder up pretty quickly, but is now so provoked and enraged at Cramer's actions that he'd sooner die before revealing it before it suits him. Any petty satisfaction Cramer may have got from temporarily getting one over on Wolfe will almost certainly be quickly outweighed by yet another humiliation when Wolfe solves the crime before and without him. And to make matters worse, solving this case also requires solving a case that the police had been stuck on for six months, thus compounding the humiliation.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: In the opening scene of Some Buried Caesar, Archie and Wolfe are taking a short-cut across a field when they discover there's an angry bull in it. Archie runs for the fence. When he makes it to the other side, he turns to see that Wolfe is now on top of a large boulder in the middle of the field, completely composed, with no clear sign of how he got there so fast, or climbed it, given how overweight and out-of-shape he is. Archie is (briefly) speechless.
  • One-Hour Work Week: Wolfe invokes this trope; being very lazy and possessing numerous expensive hobbies, he strictly schedules his time and charges exorbitant fees in order to ensure that he only has to work the bare minimum required to solve the case and only has to take cases infrequently. It's not literally one hour a week, but it seems to come quite close, and if a case starts cutting into his leisure time he'll make sure you know how much he resents it.
  • Only in It for the Money: Wolfe hates to work but he needs to pay for his expensive tastes and equally expensive orchids, hence his outrageous fees.
  • OOC Is Serious Business:
    • On the very rare occasions that Wolfe is willing to break his usual habits, it means that he's been seriously shaken. In Plot It Yourself, after three murders are committed in quick succession, Wolfe vows not to drink any beer or eat any meat until he finds the killer.
    • In "Not Quite Dead Enough", the outbreak of World War II sees Wolfe, convinced that he "didn't kill enough Germans in 1918", in a fit of patriotism abandon all his old habits and his detective business and begin to 'train' in order to enlist as a GI to fight in Europe. As his intelligence is a lot more useful to the country than his fighting skills (and as his training regime is hilariously ineffective), it's up to Archie to find a way of convincing him get back into his old habits and resume his detective work for the government as a counter-intelligence operative.
    • When he consoles Colonel Ryder about the death of his son in "Booby Trap."
    • The Black Mountain involves Wolfe travelling from New York to Montenegro via three planes, a boat ride and a long hike through the mountains in order to expose the killer personally.
    • Archie gets such a moment in In The Best Families when Wolfe disappears. He's uncharacteristically curt and snappish with Fritz and Theodore, is sullen and hostile to Cramer in a way that lacks any of his usual playful humournote , spends hours in the office just waiting for someone to show up and give him something to do and at one point just drives aimlessly around the streets of New York. He finally snaps out of it when he decides to take things into his own hands and opens his own investigation agency.
  • Orphaned Setup: Archie to Lily in Some Buried Caesar: "What's the difference between a Catholic and a river that runs uphill?"
    She didn't know and I told her, and we babbled on.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Happens several times, particularly when the outliver is hiring Wolfe to solve the murder of the deceased offspring. For example, John Wellman in Murder By the Book and Mr. and Mrs. Perez in Too Many Clients. This is also related to the murderers motive in A Right To Die.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience:
    • While most of the stories are armchair-detective-meets-noirish-gumshoe murder mysteries, The Black Mountain is more of an adventure story with elements of a 1950s Cold War spy thriller bolted onto it.
    • To a lesser degree, a substantial part of In The Best Families plays even more like a noirish crime thriller than usual, with the murder mystery almost acting more like a framing device than the central engine it usually is. This is in part because Wolfe disappears for a substantial part of the novel, and when he returns he is acting distinctly out of the ordinary for numerous reasons.
    • Where There's A Will often reads like Rex Stout felt like seeing if he could write a Nero Wolfe story that doubled as a Gothic Mystery.
  • Photographic Memory: Thanks to Wolfe's training, Archie can repeat hours-long conversations word-for-word. Saul Panzer needs only a brief look at someone, and he can remember their face until the day he dies.
  • Plucky Girl: A fair amount of them appear in the series but Sara Dunn (Where There's a Will), Priscilla Eads (Prisoner's Base), Sally Blount (Gambit), and Celia Grantham (Champagne for One) are notable examples.
  • Police Are Useless: Well, not entirely, but they're clearly shown to be not up to the job when Wolfe and Archie are around.
    • In The Doorbell Rang, the FBI are terrified that Wolfe's going to link a murder to one of their own operatives and so harass him and his client constantly, and the police vengefully want Wolfe to do so after being given the run-around by the FBI. It turns out, however, that the real murderer was lurking under their noses all the time. If the FBI hadn't been so consumed with spitefully harassing Wolfe's client after she embarrassed them or hounding Wolfe out of paranoia, and if the police had been able to get over their Jurisdiction Friction with the FBI, either one of them could have solved the murder without Wolfe getting involved at all.
    • Wolfe does take numerous opportunities to compliment the efficiency and rigor of police procedure, both to clients and in private; he delays getting involved in high-profile cases until it's clear they're making no progress, and Archie considers it a clear sign of desperation when his instructions focus on any detail the police should already be covering. He also often notes that the police have an "army" which enable them to do things such as check alibis and locate evidence or witnesses far more efficiently than he and his four-or-five at most freelancers ever could.
    • This is discussed in The Red Box when Inspector Cramer refers to Wolfe's claim that the police are sufficient to handle nine out of ten homicide cases, and that it's the tenth one that requires his particular genius. Cramer dryly notes that he actually has successfully closed nine homicide cases since the last one Wolfe was involved with.
    • A common way that Stout plays with this trope throughout the stories is when Wolfe is delivering The Summation. At some point before Wolfe actually spells out the name of the killer, Archie will note that Cramer and/or Stebbins have subtly moved themselves into a position where they can either keep a close eye on someone or can quickly leap up to intervene should that person become moved to quick or violent action. This person is always named as the killer. The clear implication is that while they might not be quick enough to fully keep up with Wolfe, they're nevertheless quicker than the reader is in figuring out who Wolfe is going to point the finger at and why.
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • In And Be A Villain, the blackmail syndicate that Wolfe uncovers is unusual in that it only keeps its victims on the hook for a single year before cutting them loose rather than continuously tapping them for money. Wolfe explains that while it may be less immediately profitable, this actually ends up being a more secure and sustainable approach in the long run; a blackmail victim faced with a never-ending drain on their finances and threat to them will eventually reach a point where they get fed up and try to end things; they may go to the police, or commit suicide, or try to murder the blackmailer, or simply decide that the cost is too high and call the blackmailer's bluff. In any case, no matter how much you make initially the money eventually gets cut off and the blackmailer risks exposure. On the other hand, many people will grudgingly put up with an inconvenience, however costly or irritating, if they're given a definite time and a sincere good-faith reassurance that it will eventually end.
    • A further pragmatism of the above scheme is that the blackmailers use made-up, albeit nevertheless potentially damaging, slander to blackmail their victims rather than genuine secrets they may possess. As demonstrated by the events of the novel, someone possessing a genuinely damaging secret that could destroy them if exposed may go to extreme lengths, including murder, to try and silence anyone who knows it, whereas a slanderous lie is less life-or-death (since it can probably be disproven, albeit not without effort or inconvenience) so the person being slandered is likely to be less emotionally invested and more open to an easy and 'reasonable' method of keeping it quiet.
  • Pride: Many characters have it to an extent, but Wolfe's overshadows them all. If someone suggests (through word or deed) that they think Wolfe is cheap, cowardly, or stupid, he will make them regret it. Unlike classic hubris, Wolfe's pride rarely backfires on him, and when it does (such as if he finds he's been barking up the wrong tree), he's the first to admit his mistake.
  • Private Investigator: Wolfe and Archie, of course, but also many of the corps of supporting characters: Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, Orrie Cather, Bill Gore, and Johnny Keems, who are all freelancers who Wolfe employs; Theodolinda (Dol) Bonner, who runs her own detective business and Sally Colt (also called Sally Corbett), one of her employees; and Del Bascom, another competitor, who Wolfe freely admits is the better choice when sheer manpower is all that is needed.
  • Properly Paranoid: Played with in The Doorbell Rang, which sees Wolfe and Archie go up against the authoritative power and surveillance might of the FBI. As the FBI have unparalleled abilities to monitor and surveil their targets, this leads to all kinds of complicated counterespionage strategies being enacted as Archie has to avoid possible tails and recording bugs to keep Wolfe's plans. It gets to the point where they have to enact a routine of pointing up when telling a lie and pointing down when telling the truth to throw off anyone who might be remotely eavesdropping on their conversations. The "playing with" part comes from Archie admitting at one point that he's not entirely sure exactly how necessary all of this is, and whether the FBI can, say, listen to what Wolfe and Archie are saying in his office when they're not on a tapped phone line, but the nature of surveillance means that the uncertainty is the point; they have to act on the assumption that the FBI can do all of these things rather than get caught out. For what it's worth, when he finally confronts Wolfe the head FBI agent claims that the house hasn't been tapped, but neither Wolfe nor Archie believe him.
  • Punch-Clock Hero:
    • Wolfe is this in many of the stories; he's usually involved in the mystery just to earn his fee out of solving it and has no particular personal attachment to those involved. He also rigidly maintains his routines of spending the hours of nine to eleven and four to six with his orchids and no discussions of business during meals. On some occasions, however, honor demands that he solve the case without a fee, and on especially rare occasions he's been called upon to interrupt his habits.
    • Archie plays with this more, since as Wolfe's employee he usually just follows orders and does Wolfe's bidding. However, he's a lot more inclined to become emotionally invested and strike out on his own if he feels it necessary.
  • Reality Ensues: The series can be seen as applying this concept to many of the tropes of classic detective fiction. For example, the "brilliant detective who lives a fairly luxurious lifestyle despite having no apparent income" archetype is here explained by the fact that when he does solve mysteries, he charges ridiculously high fees for doing so — which in turn gives him a mercenary reputation and occasional money troubles. The brilliant Amateur Sleuth who's always showing up the bumbling Inspector Lestrades with his razor-sharp deductive skills is consequently resented by pretty much everyone with a badge for it. For that matter, the police themselves actually aren't that bumbling, and even the Great Detective has to admit that they have certain advantages over him (such as a massive army of investigators and forensic specialists who can chase down leads and clues). The Watson hangs around and helps out partly out of respect and admiration, but mostly because he's actually the Great Detective's employee and go-getter. The Conviction by Contradiction-style clues that other detectives use to prove guilt are instead raised as a hypothesis to give the police a potential evidence trail to follow. And so forth.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Whether or not Wolfe's client will end up being this depends on the book. One notable scene which both subverts this and plays it straight is when Wolfe reveals his deductions to his (many) clients in The League of Frightened Men and when they vote about whether or not to pay him, it comes pretty close.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: These are scattered throughout the stories, and are usually either directed at Wolfe by Cramer (often venting his spleen at Wolfe's high-handed and manipulative methods) or Archie (usually when he feels Wolfe has either crossed a line or is letting his laziness get out of control) or directed at the killer by Wolfe when delivering The Summation. The Red Box features an example where Wolfe lets his clients know exactly how little he thinks of them after their attempts to hamper and sabotage his investigation have led to a man dying right in front of him:
    "If that is what you came here for, to shudder at the spot where your best friend died, that won't help us any. This is a detective bureau, not a nursery for morbidity. [...] I did appeal to you, courteous and respectful, without success. If it is painful to you to be reminded that your best friend died, in agony, on the spot now occupied by your chair, do you think it was agreeable for me to sit here and watch him do it? And you, sir, who engaged me to solve a problem and them proceeded to hamper me as soon as I made the first step — now you are quick on the trigger to resent it if I do not show tenderness and compassion for your cousin's remorse and grief. I know none because I have none. If I offer anything for sale in this office that is worth buying, it is certainly not a warm heart and maudlin sympathy for the distress of spoiled obtuse children."
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Some of Wolfe's clients towards the subjects of their suspicion.
    • In The Second Confession, James Sperling is certain that Louis Rony, his daughter Gwenn's boyfriend, is a Communist. He's not. He is, however, an employee of Arnold Zeck.
    • Later, in If Death Ever Slept, Otis Jarrell hires Wolfe to get his daughter-in-law Susan out of his house, calling her a "snake." At the very end, Wolfe disputes that claim:
    "No, sir." Wolfe was curt. "I do not know you were right. She is a murderess, a hellcat, and a wretch, but you have furnished no evidence that she is a snake. I still do not believe you. I will be glad to get the check."
    • In Please Pass The Guilt, Archie goes around polling office employees about who they think the bomb was meant for and who they think put it there and gets the right answer once, based on his tally book, although the motive was so well hidden that whoever told him that probably didn't guess why.
    • Similarly, Archie mentions in a throwaway line in The Doorbell Rang that one unnamed Gazette employee theorized that Morris Althaus was shot by his fiancée with his own gun because he was going to marry another woman. Right motive, right method, right gun, wrong woman.
    • In "Bullet for One," several of Wolfe's clients are absolutely fixated upon one suspect as the killer, and refuse to consider anyone else, in spite of some evidence which seems to clear him. The guy did in fact do it, and the evidence is faked, but they had no way of knowing that.
    • In Gambit, Wolfe's client, Sally Blount, is firmly convinced that her father has been framed for murder, and that his attorney, Dan Kalmus, is deliberately doing a poor job preparing his defense due to being in love with Sally's mother and hoping to marry her himself after Matthew Blount is executed. It gradually transpires that Kalmus actually is doing a dedicated and through job as Blount's lawyer and isn't trying to deliberately get him convicted and executed but the murderer - who is not Kalmus - did in fact frame Mr. Blount due to hoping to romance Mrs. Blount once her husband was executed for murder. In that same book, Wolfe speculates that one of four men with access to the victim - including Kalmus - might have committed the murder solely to frame Blount for it rather than out of any personal beef with the victim, and while Wolfe's right about that motive the killer isn't one of those four suspects.
  • Sacred Hospitality: An interesting case; Wolfe is a misanthrope and a recluse with little interest in company outside of a very small circle, but except in rare circumstances if someone is prevailing upon his hospitality he will be in every part the impeccable host, allowing them to dine and sleep under his roof even if they have been accused or suspected of murder. In several cases, however, it is largely to make sure that a suspect with every reason to flee remains right where Wolfe wants him or her to be.
    • In some cases Wolfe is in the role of guest; while not quite so gracious he takes the duty of protecting the peace and privacy of his host's home equally severely. In Death of a Dude, having deduced another guest as a murderer and carried out his duty to inform the police, he arranges for an errand to clear out the household, and for said guest to escape and be caught by the highway patrol well off the premises — before the local police arrive with a search warrant at the empty and locked-up house, all because, to him, it would be a serious breach of his duties as their guest to put his hosts through that turmoil if he could prevent it. This also has the added benefit of embarrassing the local sherriff, who had earned Wolfe's animosity, however.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: Archie to Wolfe. It's actually a part of Goodwin's unofficial job description. Without Archie to goad him into taking cases, Wolfe would otherwise just eat and tend his orchids.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Frequently, although not necessarily with the murderer.
  • Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl: Maria Perez in Too Many Clients, with whom Archie is immediately smitten but is a blackmailer, which gets her killed.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The various law-enforcement officials Wolfe and Archie come into contact with tend to feel threatened and resentful by Wolfe being present during on of their investigations, since they suspect he's either keeping vital information secret from them for his own purposes or that he's going to try and humiliate them. As such, they often end up going out of their way to antagonise and threaten him, up to and including trying to have him detained as a material witness or even accusing him of being involved somehow. Needless to say, this gets Wolfe completely outraged and results in him devoting himself to solving the case... by keeping vital information secret from the authorities for his own purposes and completely humiliating them when he ends up solving the case before them. Most of the time, if they just dropped the attitude and treated him with greater civility, he'd be a lot more cooperative.
  • Series Continuity Error: Small ones here and there, such as:
    • In The League of Frightened Men, Inspector Cramer makes his first appearance smoking a pipe instead of chewing on his usual cigars.
    • The address of the brownstone changes from time to time.
    • Whether or not Fritz fries chicken.
    • Saul Panzer's marital status.
    • Orrie Cather's full first name.
    • Cramer's first name/initials (given as Fergus in Where There's a Will, and as L.T. in The Silent Speaker).
    • Wolfe's knowledge of cooking. The early novella "Bitter End" has him resorting to canned food when Fritz is out sick, but other novels and stories depict him as a skilled cook in his own right.
    • Wolfe's birthplace. In Over My Dead Body, he tells an FBI agent that he was born in the United States, but the rest of the canon includes several mentions of his birth and early life in Montenegro. "The Cop-Killer" ends with his statement that he's been a naturalized US citizen for 24 years.
  • Serious Business: Wolfe's rigid routines tend to fall here, but in particular his dislike of the outdoors and distrust of cars/trains/transport in general tends to make him treat even the shortest and most inconsequential of commutes as if he were embarking across the Andes by donkey.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Wolfe is possessive of a rather grandiose and expansive vocabulary; Rex Stout made a point of having Wolfe use at least one rare or obscure word in every story. Often subject to snarky lampshading by the less-loquacious Archie, who frequently comments that he has to consult a dictionary just to understand what his boss has just told him.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: The only one we never see from Wolfe is lust — we get enough of that from Archie — while Wolfe frequently displays the others.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Archie who, while less fastidious than his employer, is still presented as stylish and well-dressed.
  • Sherlock Homage: Or a Holmes Homage, at least, since while he has some similarities to the Great Detective in general his indolence, obesity and refusal to break his routines or leave his house for all but the most diabolical circumstances suggest Mycroft Holmes rather than Sherlock. In a more literal sense, several stories mention that he keeps a framed portrait of Sherlock Holmes on the walls of his office as a tribute. Both of these have been used to develop a popular bit of Fanon that Wolfe is in fact the child of one of the Holmes brothers.
  • The Shut-In: Wolfe refuses to leave his house unless absolutely necessary. Downplayed, though, since while he doesn't particularly enjoy being outdoors, unlike many examples of the trope he doesn't seem especially phobic towards it (though he does have a phobia of travelling in a vehicle or a train) and shows no unusual amounts of discomfort on the occasions when he is outside; he's just generally a home-body and sees no real reason to leave his house if he doesn't have to, since he has everything he could want inside.
  • Society Marches On: Wolfe's weight can fall here. Especially in earlier novels, Archie often notes that visitors unfamiliar with Wolfe often regard his size in disbelieving and awestruck terms. While this would make sense in a society suffering from the deprivations of the Great Depression, from the perspective of a twenty-first century reader living in an age where chronic obesity is so common as to be considered an epidemic it can seem a little quaint. While even today he wouldn't exactly be considered thin, Wolfe's "seventh of a ton" is less impressive compared to some.
  • Southern Belle: Maryella Timms in "Cordially Invited to Meet Death." Archie mocks her accent pretty heavily, but she charms Wolfe by showing him how to make corned beef hash.
  • Speech Impediment: Lieutenant Rowcliff starts stuttering when he gets angry or flustered. Naturally Archie makes a point of bringing Rowcliff to this state whenever he's taken in for questioning, and even deliberately stutters a bit himself to finish the job. He makes a game of seeing how fast he can do it.
  • Spoiler Title: The title "Immune to Murder" will immediately tip off modern readers once they learn that a foreign ambassador is heavily involved with the plot, due to increased popularity of the Diplomatic Impunity trope.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Combined with Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome, Colonel Ryder has both in "Booby Trap," playing a role in a black market ring after his role as Archie’s boss in the previous short story, although its mitigated by implications he was a reluctant participant and that he was about to confess.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Sort of. Both Wolfe and Archie are equally important to the premise but it's Archie the reader follows, professionally and usually personally, throughout the story.
  • Supreme Chef: Fritz, though according to Wolfe he's merely good, not inspired. "Too Many Cooks" features an association of the fifteen greatest chefs in the world, including Wolfe's buddy Marko Vukcic.
  • Taking You with Me: Near the end of In the Best Families, Wolfe and Archie engineer a meeting between crime boss Arnold Zeck and a murder suspect who used to work for him. Realizing he's completely screwed no matter what happens (a choice between jail time or Zeck's wrath), the suspect grabs a gun and kills Zeck, only to be immediately killed by the bodyguards waiting just outside the meeting room.
    • At the end of Fer-de-lance, Wolfe warns a murder suspect that the police are coming to arrest him and have all the evidence they need to get a conviction. The suspect takes his father up for an airplane flight and goes into a nose-dive crash that kills them both, as revenge for his father killing his mother years earlier.
  • Tar and Feathers: In Death of a Dude, when Archie questions a friend of one suspect (the murder victim had gotten the girl he loved pregnant and then deserted her), the friend says that she had indeed encouraged the suspect to seek revenge that day, but that he'd planned to tar and feather the man, not kill him. This causes Archie to reflect that at least now he knows why said suspect had visited a chicken farm and a roofing business that day, as he'd apparently planned to go through with the tarring and feathering before his victim turned up dead and been gathering the supplies.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Wolfe and Archie vs. Inspector Cramer, Purley Stebbins, and other police officers. They don't like each other, and both sides love to get the best of the other, but they can and do work together.
  • Thinking Tic: Whenever Archie sees Wolfe close his eyes and start pushing his lips in and out, he knows Wolfe's brain has just gone into overdrive. It's the only time Archie knows for sure that Wolfe is working, and he never interrupts it.
  • This Bear Was Framed: In Some Buried Caesar, a champion bull is framed for goring the first victim.
  • Title Drop: Throughout the series. One noteworthy example is The Doorbell Rang: it's the last line of the novel, and Wolfe is making a visitor who is heavily implied to be J. Edgar Hoover, the immensely powerful director of the FBI, wait on his doorstep.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Sid Amsel to the impromptu alliance of detectives in "Too Many Detectives," although shady might apply better than evil. Plenty of times when Wolfe has multiple clients, at least one is some kind of dirtbag.
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • Archie really, really likes milk. He's also quite fond of ham-on-rye or corned beef sandwiches.
    • Wolfe loves shad roe so much that it's served at almost every lunch and dinner during the short time it's in season. Archie is sick of it by the time the season is over.
    • Sweet corn becomes a dinner staple during the summer, and Wolfe describes it as "ambrosia" when properly cooked ("Murder Is Corny").
  • Tuckerization: Lieutenant George Rowcliff — he of the angry stutter — was based on Lieutenant Gilbert Rowcliff, an officer who'd made Stout's life a living hell when he was serving aboard Theodore Roosevelt's yacht. Years later, Stout professed himself wryly amused when Rear Admiral Rowcliff was named Judge Advocate General of the Navy.
  • Undying Loyalty: Archie will often hint at disloyalty towards Wolfe towards a client, but this is usually just to get their guard down and see if they might be willing to take advantage of this (and, consequently, whether they might have something to hide or fear from Wolfe). In truth, his loyalty towards Wolfe is completely unbreakable.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • In Murder by the Book, Blanche Duke suggested that Leonard Dykes write a book to impress one of their coworkers; though the suggestion was light, Dykes' selection of topic got himself and three others killed.
    • In Plot it Yourself, when Wolfe briefs his clients on the progress he's made in investigating several false claims of plagiarism but admits an impasse, Mortimer Oshin makes a suggestion which could break the investigation. This suggestion does indeed have the potential to crack the case, and therefore ends up getting three of the people claiming to have been plagiarized by the authors killed to protect their employer's identity before Wolfe finally cracks the case.
  • The Un-Smile: The killer in "The Zero Clue" makes one before trying to bluff past a damning omission.
  • The Un-Twist: In "Poison a la Carte" the killer is the only suspect who was consistently hostile and uncooperative, and in Please Pass the Guilt, the man who went to a psychiatrist's office after the murders and reported hallucinating seeing blood on his hands did it. "Bullet for One" begins with several clients hiring Wolfe to prove a specific man is guilty of murder, despite not having too much to indicate that he really is guilty, with one client going as far as to insinuate Wolfe should frame him, but the object of their suspicion did in fact do it.
  • Urban Legend Love Life: Wolfe, who has little-to-no comprehension of or ability with women whatsoever, seems to view Archie as something like The Casanova. Archie quite likes the idea but is willing to admit he's not quite the ladykiller Wolfe seems to believe he is.
  • Verbal Tic: Wolfe's dismissive "Pfui". Archie sometimes retorts with "Phooey" or "Nuts," the last of which Inspector Cramer likes to use as well.
  • The Watson: Archie plays with this trope; he's a detective himself, and a pretty good one (who occasionally solves the case before Wolfe), but he's the narrator of all the mysteries Wolfe gets involved in and so a lot of the time writes them so that the reader won't work out too quickly exactly what's going on. He is also often legitimately forced to question exactly what Wolfe's thinking and doing, but is generally snarkier about it than the usual example.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back: A variation appears in "Not Quite Dead Enough"; after the outbreak of World War II, Wolfe is struck by a fit of patriotism, abandons all his old habits and vices — including his detective work — and begins to lose weight in order to enlist as a GI. However, his training regime is hilariously ineffective and the government would rather put his brilliance to work as a counter-intelligence operative, meaning Archie has to figure out a way to get him to abandon his quixotic pursuit and return to his old habits.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: It's actually part of Archie's job to deliver these to Wolfe on a semi-regular basis in order to keep him motivated. He delivers an epic one in The Golden Spiders after a boy who visits Wolfe is killed.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: A lot of the victims tend to have a lot of people who want them dead. Blackmailers are quite common.
  • Worthy Opponent: The first couple of times they cross swords, Arnold Zeck expresses a reluctance to outright kill Nero Wolfe because the world is "a more interesting place" with Wolfe occupying it.
    • In Plot it Yourself, Wolfe tells the killer:
    You made one {mistake}. Only one of any consequences. You shouldn’t have allowed the committee to hire me. I don’t know how you could have managed it, but I don’t know how you could have managed any of your miracles, and you don’t either. If it had occurred to you, you would have done it somehow.
    • In The Silent Speaker, this is zigzagged; Wolfe suspected the killer from early on, but after his arrest does say he was “a foolish and inadequate man but not intellectually to be despised. One item of his program might even be called brilliant.”
  • Writer on Board:
    • Stout loathed J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, and for good reason: he was investigated during the Red Scare and came very close to being blacklisted, as his strident anti-Communism wasn't enough to defer Hoover's suspicion that any prominent liberal must be a fellow traveller. Stout eventually published an enormous Take That! against Hoover in The Doorbell Rang.
    • He was as strongly anti-Communist as he was anti-Hoover. The Second Confession and the short story "Home to Roost" show Communists as not just dangerous and violent but also stupid and willfully ignorant.
    • The entire oeuvre is full of Writer on Board, but Stout sometimes uses it to poke fun at himself. In the novel Gambit, he has Archie holding back a snicker as Wolfe furiously burns a hated dictionary in the office fireplace because it stated that "imply" and "infer" were synonyms. In real life, Stout had been one of the loudest voices denouncing that particular dictionary.
    • Wolfe is often shown reading real-world books that Stout himself had read, including "The FBI Nobody Knows" in The Doorbell Rang and "Mathematics for the Million" in "The Zero Clue." Word of God is that he likewise shares his creator's reverence for Jane Austen.
  • You Keep Using That Word: A literal In-Universe invocation: Wolfe dislikes the use of "contact" as a verb, and (as mentioned above) once burned a dictionary because it claimed that "imply" and "infer" were synonyms.
  • You Know Too Much: The motive for a lot of murders. In Murder By the Book, the killer kills three people who know too much before killing the person he really wants dead and had planned to kill all along, due to anticipating this.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: