The Golden Spiders

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This article is about the novel. For the A&E Network original film, see The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery.
The Golden Spiders
Stout-TGS-1.jpg
Author Rex Stout
Cover artist Bill English
Country United States
Language English
Series Nero Wolfe
Genre Detective fiction
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
October 26, 1953
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 186 pp. (first edition)
ISBN NA
Preceded by Prisoner's Base
Followed by Three Men Out

The Golden Spiders is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout. It was first published in 1953 by The Viking Press.

Plot introduction[edit]

His fist hit the desk, which for him was a convulsion. "No!" he roared. "Reputation? Am I to invite the comment that it is a mortal hazard to solicit my help? On Tuesday, that boy. On Friday, that woman. They are both dead. I will not have my office converted into an anteroom for the morgue!"

— Wolfe, declining to give Lon Cohen a human interest story, in The Golden Spiders, chapter 5

A youngster comes to Wolfe's office and tells Wolfe that he saw a woman driving a car, apparently being menaced by her passenger. The next day, the boy is murdered while washing car windows at a nearby intersection.

Plot summary[edit]

After Wolfe reacts petulantly to a change in one of his favorite meals, Archie plays a prank on him by allowing Pete Drossos, a boy who lives in the neighborhood, to come in and talk to him. While he was cleaning the windows of a passing car, Pete says, the woman driving it mouthed the words, "Help. Get a cop." Pete believed that she was being threatened by the man in the passenger seat, but he did not see a gun; he also remembers a scratch on her cheek and the gold spider-shaped earrings she was wearing. To indulge Pete, Wolfe has Archie give the car's description and license plate number to the police.

The next day, Sergeant Purley Stebbins visits the brownstone and demands to know the source of Archie's information. He tells them that the same car, now driven by a man in a brown suit and hat, had struck and killed Pete. The news shocks Wolfe and Archie, and they are soon visited by Pete's mother, who gives them his savings of $4.30 and asks them to use it to find his killer. Archie, angered at Wolfe's reluctance to get involved, puts an advertisement in the newspaper, asking the woman in the car to contact Wolfe. They are soon visited by Inspector Cramer, who demands to know Wolfe's reason for being involved and also brings news that the same car had been used to kill Matthew Birch, an agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Birch was killed on the same day that Pete approached Wolfe.

A woman responds to the advertisement and comes to see Wolfe; she is Laura Fromm, a wealthy widow, with a scratched cheek and gold spider earrings. Wolfe and Archie quickly determine that she is not the person they seek, but she is horrified at the news of Pete's death and pays Wolfe a $10,000 retainer, saying that she may know who was driving and needs to confirm her suspicions first. The next day, Wolfe and Archie receive news that she too has been struck by a car and killed. Angered by the fact that two people who came to him for help are now dead, Wolfe decides that he will earn the money Laura paid him by solving her murder.

From Lon Cohen, Archie obtains a list of people with whom Laura had dinner on the night of her death. All are directly or indirectly connected to the Association for the Aid of Displaced Persons ("Assadip" for short), a charity Laura supported with sizable donations. The dinner took place at the apartment of Dennis Horan, legal counsel for Assadip. Pretending to be a funeral director, Archie slips into Laura's apartment to question her secretary, Jean Estey. However, he does not learn very much before Paul Kuffner, a public-relations advisor for both Laura and Assadip, arrives to end their conversation.

Wolfe hires Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather to pursue various avenues in the case. Saul is to infiltrate Assadip by posing as a displaced person, Fred is assigned to determine whether or not the man Pete saw with the female driver was Birch, and Orrie traces the sale of the earrings. Archie, meanwhile, approaches the people who were present at the dinner - including Jean, Horan, and Assadip director Angela Wright - with an offer to sell them a description of the conversation between Wolfe and Laura. Before he can speak to Kuffner, the last name on his list, Kuffner visits the brownstone and offers to pay for the information. Realizing that Angela must have tipped him off, Wolfe and Archie reject his offer.

Orrie finds the shop that sold the earrings and discovers that Laura bought them herself, while Saul reports on his undercover work. At a suggestion from Assadip, he had asked Horan for help and was subsequently visited by a man who tried to blackmail him out of $10,000. Meanwhile, Fred has tracked down Mortimer "Mort" Ervin, a man who claims to have known Birch. Archie follows the two to a public garage, where Ervin and another hoodlum, Lawrence "Lips" Egan, learn that Fred is a private investigator and begin to torture him for information. Archie bursts in and disarms Egan; he and Fred subdue Ervin and Egan, and Saul and Orrie arrive soon afterward, having followed Egan to the garage. Saul confirms that Egan is the man who tried to blackmail him, and a notebook in Egan's pocket - filled with names and addresses of immigrants - suggests that the crime may have affected hundreds of others.

Egan claims that Birch was in charge of the blackmail ring and taking orders from a woman that Egan had never met; he got his leads from her by telephone. They are surprised by the arrival of Horan, and Archie, Saul, Fred, and Orrie take him to Wolfe's office, along with Egan and Ervin, and keep them there for the night. The next morning, Cramer interrogates them there; Horan tries to distance himself from the two hoodlums, but Egan confesses to the blackmail and implicates Horan as well. The police begin to suspect Horan of being the murderer and take the criminals and Wolfe's men in for questioning - all except Orrie, whom Wolfe has sent out on an errand. He soon announces that he is ready to reveal the murderer.

With the principals and several police officers assembled in his office, Wolfe states that the police have been operating on a flawed assumption: that the driver of the car that killed Pete was a man. He hypothesizes that this person was actually a woman, the same one who had asked Pete to get help. Laura had become suspicious of this woman, having overheard the password she used to give information to Egan for the blackmail scheme - "said a spider to a fly" - and had bought the spider earrings and lent them out as a subtle method of confronting her. Birch had threatened the woman when she tried to take a larger share of the blackmail proceeds, prompting her to ask Pete for help. The woman murdered Birch, then Pete, and finally Laura to protect herself from exposure or retaliation. Orrie's errand, Wolfe explains, was to find the clothing shop that sold the brown suit and hat worn by the driver who killed Pete. The shop's owner identifies Jean as one of his customers, and she is placed under arrest for the three murders.

In the final chapter, Wolfe burns Egan's notebook to prevent the immigrants' identities from being exposed. Archie worries that he may be committing the crime of destroying evidence, but his fears prove unfounded. Even without the notebook, Horan and Egan are convicted on the blackmail and Jean on the murders.

Cast of characters[edit]

  • Nero Wolfe — The private investigator
  • Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant, and the narrator of all Wolfe stories
  • Fritz Brenner — Wolfe's master chef
  • Pete Drossos — A 12-year-old who lives in Wolfe's neighborhood
  • Anthea Drossos — Pete's mother
  • Mrs. Damon (Laura) Fromm — Socialite and philanthropist, major supporter of the Association for the Aid of Displaced Persons (Assadip)
  • Jean Estey — Mrs. Fromm's personal secretary
  • Paul Kuffner — Public-relations consultant for Assadip and for Mrs. Fromm personally
  • Angela Wright — Executive Secretary of Assadip
  • Dennis Horan — General counsel for Assadip
  • Claire Horan — His wife
  • Vincent Lipscomb — Editor and publisher of the periodical Modern Thoughts, and friend of Laura Fromm
  • James Albert Maddox — Personal counsel for Laura Fromm and executor of her estate
  • Matthew Birch — Of the Immigration and Naturalization Service
  • Lawrence (Lips) Egan — Organized crime figure
  • Mortimer Ervin — Local thug
  • Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather — Operatives employed by Wolfe
  • Lon Cohen — Of the Gazette
  • Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins – Representing Manhattan Homicide

The unfamiliar word[edit]

In most Nero Wolfe novels and novellas, there is at least one unfamiliar word, usually spoken by Wolfe. The Golden Spiders contains one, spoken not by Wolfe but by attorney Maddox, and is the sort of legal term that Stout tended to avoid:

  • Replevy. Chapter 8.

Reviews and commentary[edit]

  • Anthony Boucher, The New York Times Book Review (November 15, 1953) — A highly professional and thoroughly satisfactory mystery.
  • James Sandoe, New York Herald Tribune (November 8, 1953) — Mr. Stout has fancied his case freshly, heard in acutely and if, after all this, he resolves it a little dully, there is to the last the pleasant acidity of Archie.
  • Saturday Review of Literature (November 21, 1953) — Nero Wolfe, armchair eye, solves three-ply killing while NY cops grind teeth. Archie Goodwin, aide, busy boy in this baffler; usual smooth job.

Adaptations[edit]

Nero-Wolfe-VHS.jpg

The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (A&E Network)[edit]

The A&E Network original movie The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery first aired March 5, 2000. The Jaffe/Braunstein Films production starred Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe, and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. Veteran screenwriter Paul Monash adapted the novel, and Bill Duke directed.

A&E initially planned that The Golden Spiders would be the first in a series of two-hour mystery movies featuring Nero Wolfe.[1] The high ratings (3.2 million households) garnered by the film, along with the critical praise accorded Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin, prompted A&E to order a weekly one-hour drama series — A Nero Wolfe Mystery — into production.[2]

Other members of the principal cast of The Golden Spiders who would continue in the A&E series A Nero Wolfe Mystery include Bill Smitrovich (Inspector Cramer), Colin Fox (Fritz Brenner), Fulvio Cecere (Fred Durkin), R.D. Reid (Sergeant Purley Stebbins) and Trent McMullen (Orrie Cather). Saul Rubinek, who would take the role of Lon Cohen in the series, was cast as Saul Panzer in the pilot.

Nero Wolfe (Paramount Television)[edit]

The Golden Spiders was loosely adapted as the premiere episode of Nero Wolfe (1981), an NBC TV series starring William Conrad as Nero Wolfe and Lee Horsley as Archie Goodwin. Other members of the regular cast include George Voskovec (Fritz Brenner), Robert Coote (Theodore Horstmann), George Wyner (Saul Panzer) and Allan Miller (Inspector Cramer). Guest stars in the series debut include Carlene Watkins (Jean Estey), Penelope Windust (Laura Fromm), Katherine Justice (Angela Bell [Wright]), David Hollander (Pete Drossos) and Liam Sullivan (Paul Kessler [Kuffner]). Directed by Michael O'Herlihy from a teleplay by Wallace Ware (David Karp), "The Golden Spiders" aired January 16, 1981.

Nero Wolfe (Radiotelevisione italiana S.p.A.)[edit]

Roberto Jannone adapted The Golden Spiders for the third episode of the RAI TV series Nero Wolfe (Italy 2012), starring Francesco Pannofino as Nero Wolfe and Pietro Sermonti as Archie Goodwin. Set in 1959 in Rome, where Wolfe and Archie reside after leaving the United States, the series was produced by Casanova Multimedia and Rai Fiction and directed by Riccardo Donna. "La principessa Orchidea" aired April 19, 2012.[3][4]

Publication history[edit]

Fontana's fourth paperback edition features William Conrad, star of the Paramount Television series Nero Wolfe (1981)
  • 1953, New York: Viking, October 26, 1953, hardcover[5]
In his limited-edition pamphlet, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, Otto Penzler describes the first edition of The Golden Spiders: "Decorative gray boards, gray cloth spine with yellow lettering. Issued in a black, white and yellow dust wrapper."[6]
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of The Golden Spiders had a value of between $200 and $350. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.[7]
  • 1953, Toronto: Macmillan, 1953, hardcover
  • 1954, New York: Viking (Mystery Guild), January 1954, hardcover
The far less valuable Viking book club edition may be distinguished from the first edition in three ways:
  • The dust jacket has "Book Club Edition" printed on the inside front flap, and the price is absent (first editions may be price clipped if they were given as gifts).
  • Book club editions are sometimes thinner and always taller (usually a quarter of an inch) than first editions.
  • Book club editions are bound in cardboard, and first editions are bound in cloth (or have at least a cloth spine).[8]
  • 1954, London: Collins Crime Club, May 10, 1954, hardcover
  • 1955, New York: Bantam, November 1955, paperback
  • 1964, London: Fontana #964, 1964, paperback. Second printing, February 1970; third printing, July 1978; fourth printing, September 1981 (#6469)
  • 1995, New York: Bantam Crimeline ISBN 0-553-27780-4 June 1, 1995, paperback
  • 1995, Auburn, California: Audio Partners ISBN 1-57270-038-6, audio cassette (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
  • 2008, New York: Bantam Dell Publishing Group (with Some Buried Caesar) ISBN 0-553-38567-4 September 30, 2008, trade paperback
  • 2010, New York: Bantam Crimeline ISBN 978-0-307-75597-1 June 2, 2010, e-book

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dempsey, John, "A&E embarks on ambitious mystery plan"; Daily Variety, January 15, 1999
  2. ^ Dempsey, John, "Wolfe series at the door for A&E"; Variety, June 26, 2000; "A&E packs 'Wolfe'"; Variety, June 22, 2000
  3. ^ Nero Wolfe, Casanova Multimedia; retrieved May 27, 2012
  4. ^ Episodes, Nero Wolfe (TV series 2012), Italian Wikipedia; retrieved May 27, 2012
  5. ^ Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), pp. 30–31. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  6. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I (2001, New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, limited edition of 250 copies), pp. 29–30
  7. ^ Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 34
  8. ^ Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, pp. 19–20

External links[edit]