Nero Wolfe

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Midtown Manhattan (photo circa 1935), where most Nero Wolfe stories are set

Nero Wolfe is a fictional detective, created by the American mystery writer Rex Stout, who made his debut in 1934. Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin recorded the cases of the detective genius in 33 novels and 39 short stories from the 1930s to the 1970s, with most of them set in New York City.


  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 1:
    I am nobody's friend. How much can you pay?
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 15:
    Compose yourself, Archie. Why taunt me? Why upbraid me? I am merely a genius, not a god. A genius may discover the hidden secrets and display them; only a god could create new ones.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 16:
    Remember that those of us who are both civilized and prudent commit our murders only under the complicated rules which permit us to avoid personal responsibility.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 19:
    You stick to it, Archie, like a leech to an udder.

The League of Frightened Men

  • Archie Goodwin, trying to bestir Nero Wolfe, chapter 1:
    I'm not trying to pick a quarrel, sir. Hell no. I'm just breaking under the strain of trying to figure out a third way of crossing my legs.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 1:
    I have no talents. I have genius or nothing.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 4:
    To assert dignity is to lose it.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 7:
    To be broke is not a disgrace, it is only a catastrophe.

The Rubber Band

  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 12:
    I don't answer questions containing two or more unsupported assumptions.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 18:
    We are all vainer of our luck than of our merits.

The Red Box

  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 11:
    Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth.
  • Archie Goodwin, reporting to Nero Wolfe on the police interrogation methods he saw used (without success) on Perren Gebert, chapter 14:
    They had Gebert down there, slapping him around and squealing and yelling at him. If you're so sure violence is inferior technique, you should have seen that exhibition; it was wonderful. They say it works sometimes, but even if it does, how could you depend on anything you got that way? Not to mention that after you had done it a few times any decent garbage can would be ashamed to have you found in it.

Too Many Cooks

  • Archie Goodwin, about to board the train to Kanawha Spa with Nero Wolfe, chapter 1:
    But by gum I had got him to the station twenty minutes ahead of time, notwithstanding such items as three bags and two suitcases and two overcoats for a four days' absence in the month of April, Fritz Brenner standing on the stoop with tears in his eyes as we left the house ... and even tough little Saul Panzer, after dumping us at the station, choking off a tremolo as he told Wolfe goodbye. You might have thought we were bound for the stratosphere to shine up the moon and pick wild stars.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 6:
    To me the relationship of host and guest is sacred. The guest is a jewel resting on the cushion of hospitality.

Some Buried Caesar

  • Archie Goodwin, after Carolyn Pratt tells him Lily Rowan will ruin her brother, chapter 3:
    No man was ever taken to hell by a woman unless he already had a ticket in his pocket or at least had been fooling around with timetables.

Over My Dead Body

  • Nero Wolfe, to Neya Tormic, chapter 8:
    I carry this fat to insulate my feelings. They got too strong for me once or twice and I had that idea. If I had stayed lean and kept moving around I would have been dead long ago.

Where There's a Will

  • Archie Goodwin, on Nero Wolfe's response after one of the Hawthorne sisters states they are seeing him because of their brother's will, chapter 1:
    Wolfe frowned at her. He hated fights about wills, having once gone so far as to tell a prospective client that he refused to engage in a tug of war with a dead man's guts for a rope.

Black Orchids

Black Orchids

  • Nero Wolfe, to Johnny Keems, chapter 7:
    You are not Archie. Thank God. One Archie is enough.

The Silent Speaker

Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States
  • Inspector Cramer, chapter 9:
    Mr. Kates, I have known Wolfe for twenty years, and I can tell you why we were invited here this evening. We were invited because he wanted to learn all he could as quick as he could, without leaving his chair and without Goodwin's buying gas and wearing out his tires.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 11:
    A woman who is not a fool is dangerous.
  • Inspector Cramer, to Wolfe, chapter 18:
    That's the situation, my fat friend, as Charlie McCarthy said to Herbert Hoover.

And Be a Villain

  • Archie Goodwin, chapter 1:
    You come down from your beautiful orchids day before yesterday and breeze in here and tell me merrily to draw another man-size check for that World Government outfit. When I meekly mention that the science of bookkeeping has two main branches, first addition, and second subtraction --
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 1:
    A man condemning the income tax because of the annoyance it gives him or the expense it puts him to is merely a dog baring its teeth, and he forfeits the privileges of civilized discourse. But it is possible to criticize it on other and impersonal grounds. A government, like an individual, spends money for any or all of three reasons: because it needs to, because it wants to, or simply because it has it to spend. The last is much the shabbiest. It is arguable, if not manifest, that a substantial portion of the great spring flood of billions pouring into the Treasury will in effect get spent for the last shabby reason.
  • Nero Wolfe, on a radio host's sponsors, chapter 4:
    I mean the purpose she allows her cleverness to serve. That unspeakable prepared biscuit flour! Fritz and I have tried it. Those things she calls Sweeties! Pfui! And that salad dressing abomination - we have tried that too, in an emergency. What they do to stomachs heaven knows, but that woman is ingeniously and deliberately conspiring in the corruption of millions of palates. She should be stopped!
  • Nero Wolfe, again on the radio host's sponsors, chapter 5:
    Frequently, twice a week or oftener, you consider the problem of guests for Miss Fraser's program. It is in fact a problem, because you want interesting people, famous ones if possible, but they must be willing to submit to the indignity of lending their presence, and their assent by silence, if nothing more, to the preposterous statements made by Miss Fraser and Mr. Meadows regarding the products they advertise.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 6:
    You have no right whatever, Mr. Anderson, except to pay your share of my fee if I earn it. You are here in my office on sufferance. Confound it, I am undertaking to solve a problem that has Mr. Cramer so nonplused that he desperately wants a hint from me before I've even begun. He doesn't mind my rudeness; he's so accustomed to it that if I were affable he'd haul me in as a material witness.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 6:
    Well. I won't pretend that I'm exasperated that you're such good friends that you haven't been able to remember what happened. If you had, and had told the police, I might not have this job.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 8:
    More than ninety-nine per cent of the bets placed on horse races are outbusts of emotion, not exercises of reason. I restrict my emotions to the activities for which they are qualified.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 12:
    Pfui. I have better use for my clients' money than buying information from policemen.

The Second Confession

  • Archie Goodwin, about Nero Wolfe, chapter 1:
    It's okay. He never sleeps in the daytime. His mind works better when he can't see me.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 7:
    I responded to his tone as a man of my temperament naturally would — I am congenitally tart and thorny — and I rejected his ultimatum.
  • Archie Goodwin,thanking Saul for his suggestion that they call Mr. Sperling, chapter 15:
    Much obliged. You remind me of Mr. Wolfe.
  • Archie Goodwin, chapter 16:
    One reason I like to work for him is that he never rides me for not acting the way he would act. He knows what I can do and that's all he ever expects; but he sure expects that.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 18:
    There are numerous layers of honesty, and the deepest should not have a monopoly.
  • Archie Goodwin, chapter 22:
    As I understand it, the Commies think that they get too little and capitalists get too much of the good things in life. They sure played hell with that theory that Tuesday evening.

In the Best Families

  • Archie Goodwin, chapter 4:
    I'm fairly good with a billiard cue, and only Saul Panzer can beat me at tailing a man or woman in New York, but what I am best at is reporting a complicated event to Nero Wolfe.
  • Archie Goodwin, chapter 11:
    I lifted my right brow at him. It's one of my few outstanding talents, lifting one brow, and I save it for occasions when nothing else would quite serve the purpose.
  • Lily Rowan, chapter 14:
    I'm the only woman in America who has necked with Nero Wolfe. Nightmare, my eye. He has a flair.
  • Archie Goodwin, chapter 18:
    It's not enough to want to do a good deed, you damn fool. Wanting is fine, but you also need some slight idea of how to go about it.

Murder by the Book

  • Archie Goodwin, chapter 2:
    If you like Anglo-Saxon, I belched. If you fancy Latin, I eructed. No matter which, I had known that Wolfe and Inspector Cramer would have to put up with it that evening, because that is always a part of my reaction to sauerkraut. I don't glory in it or go for a record, but neither do I fight it back. I want to be liked just for myself.
  • Fritz Brenner, chapter 7:
    If you need any help with all the ladies, Archie, for my age I am not to be ignored. A Swiss has a long usefulness.
  • Archie Goodwin, chapter 12:
    The only reason I wouldn't vote for Saul Panzer for President of the United States is that he would never dress the part. How he goes around New York, almost anywhere, in that faded brown cap and old brown suit, without attracting attention as not belonging, I will never understand. Wolfe has never given him an assignment that he didn't fill better than anyone else could except me, and my argument is why not elect him President, buy him a suit and hat, and see what happens?
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter17:
    As practicing attorneys, you gentlemen know that the potency of knowledge depends on how and when it is used.

Prisoner's Base

  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 6:
    This whole performance is based on an idiotic assumption, which was natural and indeed inevitable, since Mr. Rowcliff is your champion ass – the assumption that Mr. Goodwin and I are both cretins. I do not deny that at times in the past I have been less than candid with you – I will acknowledge, to humor you, that I have humbugged and hoodwinked to serve my purpose – but I still have my license, and you know what that means. It means that on balance I have helped you more than I have hurt you – not the community, which is another matter, but you Mr. Cramer, and you Mr. Bowen, and of course you others, too.

Champagne for One

  • Nero Wolfe, on the remarkable coincidence that Edwin Laidlaw and Faith Usher would both be invited to the same event, chapter 5:
    In a world that operates largely at random, coincidences are to be expected, but any one of them must always be mistrusted.

The Doorbell Rang

  • Nero Wolfe to Archie, chapter 5:
    This is flummery.
  • Nero Wolfe to Archie, chapter 9:
    Confound it ... Satisfactory.
  • Nero Wolfe to FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Wragg, chapter 12:
    Pfui. Are you a dunce, or do you take me for one?
  • Nero Wolfe to Wragg, chapter 13:
    Pfui. You are not a donkey.
  • Rachel Bruner, addressing Nero Wolfe (chapter 13): You're an incredible man. ... Is there anything you couldn't do?
    Nero Wolfe: Yes, madam ... there is. I couldn't put sense in a fool's brain. I have tried.

Death of a Doxy

  • Archie Goodwin, before stating one of the second kind, chapter 9:
    There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.

The Father Hunt

  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 8:
    Women are random clusters of vagaries.
  • Nero Wolfe, chapter 9:
    If you please, Mr. Jarrett, no labels. Labels are for the things men make, not for men. The most primitive man is too complex to be labeled.

The Nero Wolfe Cookbook

  • Fritz Brenner, in the foreword, speaking of the publication of their cookbook:
    And I am also not surprised that my employer, Mr. Nero Wolfe, approves of its publication because he has a great belief in the influence of printed words in books.

    But I have not a great hope that many people will eat superior meals because they buy this book and use it. On that I could say much but I will not write much and I will give only one case. There are a man and woman, married, at whose home I eat sometimes. They own fourteen cookbooks, good ones which they have asked me to suggest, and they have many times asked me for information and advice about cooking which I have been happy to give, but the dishes they serve are only fit to eat. They are not fit to remember after I come away. Those people should not try to roast a duck, and especially they should never try to make Sauce Saint Florentin.

    The facts about food and cooking can be learned and understood by anyone with good sense, but if the feeling of the art of cooking is not in your blood and bones the most you can expect is that what you put on your table will be mangeable. If it is sometimes mémorable that will be only good luck. Mr. Wolfe says that the secrets of the art of great cooking, like those of any art, are not in the brain. He says that no one knows where they are.

    • The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, 1973

Death Times Three

Bitter End (1940)

  • Archie Goodwin, page 45, Bantam, 1985:
    I have never regarded myself as a feast for the eye, my attractions run more to the spiritual, but on the other hand I am not a toad, and I resented her expression.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
  • The Wolfe Pack, official site of the Nero Wolfe Society
  • The Nero Wolfe Database, an editable resource offering plot and character summaries for all of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories
  • Merely a Genius..., Winnifred Louis' fan site dedicated to Nero Wolfe including a complete annotated bibliography