Before ghost stories and the uncanny, crime fiction was my genre of choice. I’ve gone back to reading a lot of mystery lately, especially Golden Age mystery, and
recently I came across an early Rex Stout story — pre Nero Wolfe. The Last Drive (1916) is an enjoyable enough story of its kind, but got more interesting when I realized that this golf-themed mystery is an early version of the central conceit in the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance (1934). Aha!
The Last Drive was originally published as a five-part serial in Golfers Magazine, and had been long forgotten, even by Rex Stout scholars. The story was rediscovered in 2011 by Cattelya Concepcion, then a student at George Mason University School of Law. She and her professor, Ross Davies, published their discovery in the 2012 Green Bag Almanac and Reader, an annual almanac that highlights the previous year’s exemplary legal writing.
- You can download the Davies/Concepcion article, “Fore-Shadowed: Where Rex Stout Got the Idea for Fer-De-Lance” here. The article includes the entire novella, along with its original illustrations.
- If you want just the story, you can purchase an ebook version from Black Cat Mystery, or a paperback version from Wildside Press.
The 2012 almanac simultaneously served as a special edition of The Gazette, the official journal of The Wolfe Pack (a Nero Wolfe fan club), so it also featured several Rex Stout related articles written by lawyers and legal scholars. I don’t think the whole volume is online, but some selected articles are; here’s another fun one, about a story that arguably features the embryonic forms of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
- “Leg, Culp, and the Evil Judge”, also by Ross Davies, includes the entirety of Rex Stout’s 1915 novella, Justice Ends at Home, along with a discussion of the novella’s villain and his probable real-life counterpart.
Justice Ends at Home is rather more like a Perry Mason story than what I think of as a typical Nero Wolfe, and it also resembles a certain Columbo episode that I’m fond of. But these are good things, too. Both articles/novellas are pleasant light reading, especially if, like me, you like nerding out on the behind-the-scenes details of stories you enjoy.
Featured Image: Illustration for The Last Drive, part 1 (July 1916) by J. H. Crank. Source: Hathi Trust