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
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)
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]

When Nero Wolfe reacts petulantly to an unexpected change made to one of his favourite meals by his chef Fritz Brenner, Archie Goodwin pranks him by allowing Pete Drossos, a twelve-year-old boy from Wolfe's neighbourhood, to enter the brownstone and disturb Wolfe's dinner. Drossos claims that while he was wiping the windows of a car at a nearby stoplight, the female driver—who was wearing distinctive golden earrings fashioned into the shape of spiders—indicated she was being threatened by her male passenger by mouthing "Help. Get a cop." To indulge Pete, Wolfe has Archie contact the police with the car's description and license plate, but the next day, Sgt. Purley Stebbins arrives at the brownstone, demanding to know the identity of Wolfe's source. A car matching the details Archie gave to the police and driven by a man in a brown suit and hat was involved in a vehicular homicide, and both Wolfe and Archie are shocked to learn that the victim was Pete Drossos.

Pete's mother visits the brownstone, informing Wolfe that her son's dying words were a request to hire Nero Wolfe to find his killer; she has brought his life-savings, totalling $4.30, with this in mind. Angered by Wolfe's reluctance, Archie uses Pete's money to have a newspaper advert published calling for the woman Pete had encountered to contact Wolfe. Upon seeing the advert, Inspector Cramer demands to know the reasons for Wolfe's involvement, and in doing so reveals that there is evidence that the same car that killed Pete was also responsible for running over and killing Matthew Birch, an agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, on the same day that Pete approached Wolfe. A second response comes from Laura Fromm, a young and wealthy widow who arrives at the brownstone wearing golden earrings similar to those described by Pete. Although initially claiming to be the woman in the car and asking for information about Pete, Fromm is horrified to learn of his murder and eventually admits that she wasn't present, but she suspects she knows who was. Intending to seek Wolfe's advice after she has confirmed her suspicions, she gives Wolfe a retainer of $10,000.

Although Wolfe warns her to be careful, the next day the news breaks of Laura Fromm's murder. Angered at the thought that two people seeking his help have been murdered soon after consulting with him, Wolfe announces that he intends to keep the $10,000 on the assumption that he has now been hired to solve Fromm's murder. Archie learns from Lon Cohen at the Gazette that on the night of her death Fromm had attended a dinner at the apartment of Dennis Horan, the attorney for Fromm's favourite charity, the Association for the Aid of Displaced Persons (Assadip). Pretending to be a mortician, Archie sneaks into Fromm's apartment to question Jean Estey, Fromm's personal secretary, but is prevented from learning much by the intervention of Paul Kuffner, a public relations advisor for both Fromm and the Association.

With little to go on, Wolfe engages the services of Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather. Panzer is assigned to investigate the Association, while Cather attempts to track the sale of the earrings. Durkin is assigned to confirm or deny an assumption that Wolfe is making—that Matthew Birch was the passenger that Pete saw in the car. Under Wolfe's direction, Archie approaches several people involved in the case, among them Jean Estey, Horan's wife Claire and Angela Wright, the director of the Association, with an offer to reveal what was said in the conversation between Wolfe and Fromm. Angela Wright alerts Paul Kuffner, who attempts to bribe Wolfe to learn the information but is rebuffed. Orrie eventually learns that Mrs. Fromm herself purchased the earrings, while Saul, who is posing a refugee seeking aid from the Association, reveals that after approaching Dennis Horan for help he was visited by a man who attempted to blackmail him. Durkin reveals that he has made contact with Mortimer Ervin, a man who claims to have known Birch.

While Orrie goes to assist Saul, Archie follows Fred to his meeting with Ervin, after which Fred is taken to a public garage. There, Ervin and another hoodlum, "Lips" Egan, discover that Fred is a private investigator and intend to torture him to learn who is investigating them. Archie sneaks into the garage and manages to disarm Egan by shooting his pistol from his hand, after which he and Fred subdue the criminals. Panzer and Cather arrive soon after, revealing that they were tailing Egan—the same man who tried to extort money from Panzer. A search of Egan's coat reveals a notebook with a lengthy list of the names and addresses of other immigrants whom Egan and Erving were blackmailing. Under interrogation, Egan claims that Matthew Birch was running the extortion ring under the direction of a woman that Egan never met, before the interrogation is interrupted by an unexpected visitor—Dennis Horan. Horan and the thugs are brought to Wolfe's office, where they are interrogated by Inspector Cramer. Although Horan attempts to disassociate himself from the criminals, Egan confesses to the blackmail scheme and informs the police that Horan was one of the ringleaders.

Although the police begin to suspect Horan of being the murderer, after sending Orrie on an unrevealed errand Wolfe announces that he is ready to identify the murderer. With the suspects gathered, Wolfe reveals that the police have been operating under a flawed assumption—the 'man' driving the car that killed Pete Drossos was in fact a woman dressed as a man to conceal her identity, and was the same woman that Pete had seen driving the car previously. The woman was Jean Estey, the head of the extortion ring, who had been kidnapped by Matthew Birch after he had learned that she was taking more than her share of the blackmail proceeds. After overpowering and killing Birch, Estey realized that Pete could identify her and so murdered him to conceal her identity. Laura Fromm had begun to suspect Estey's corruption after hearing her use a codephrase to her confederates -- "said the spider to the fly"—and was murdered after confronting her. After Wolfe produces the tailor who sold Estey the man's suit she used as a disguise and Horan confirms that Estey was the head of the blackmail ring, she is arrested for murder. The case solved, Wolfe destroys the notebook containing the details of the illegal immigrants to prevent their identities from being exposed.

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.



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


  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]