We read the entire (and considerable) collection of Nero Wolfe stories nearly forty years ago, some contemporaneous with their original publication. "Family Affair", released in 1975, turned out to be Rex Stout's last novel, even though his estate paid Robert Goldsborough to do a credible job of writing seven more entries in the Wolfe series. Stout was in his early 80's as of this writing, but his plot and vocabulary were as excellent as ever, with quite a surprising twist and sense of justice at the close of the story. During our recent re-read, we were a little surprised to see political commentary about Watergate and (then President) Nixon - obviously the author was upset at the scandalous turn of events, and uses Wolfe's dialogue to register his severe chagrin.
This book reminds us of several things. One - it's amazing how much fun, mystery, and suspense some of the classic writers of fifty years ago could pack into a 150-200 page volume. Few words were wasted, and no filler or irrelevant subplots were deployed to compile the 400-700 page tomes we so often get today. Two - it occurs to us, that characters were revealed ever so slowly over the course of multiple stories. So one can't just pick up this novel and even begin to understand the complexities of our genius detective and his affable sidekick; it takes reading several entries in the set to really get to know these guys in a way that eventually seals their place in our hearts and minds as "best friends!" Lastly, there is a certain predictability we come to enjoy - not from guessing the outcome (difficult!) but rather just enjoying the eccentricities and habits of the familiar people and places: Wolfe's bottle caps, his globe, Cramer's cigars, the old brownstone, etc.
In the story, a waiter is bombed to death (!) in Wolfe's guest bedroom, causing both he and Archie a sense of outrage so strong they commit to finding the killer on their own with no client in sight. They soon deduce the police will never figure it out, and somewhat uncharacteristically refuse completely to cooperate with the police. Wolfe leaves the house (amazing!) to speed along the investigation, and even spends a night in jail - incredible! While these seeming inconsistencies irk some of Stout's fans, we found them acceptable in terms of the unusual nature of this plot, which we don't intend to spoil an iota with further commentary.
We found ourselves as pleased as ever with Wolfe and Stout. We were partially moved by nostalgia, but that had nothing to do with the sheer enjoyment and entertainment value found in this fine conclusion to the tales of one of the greatest detectives in modern fiction.