The canon of Nero Wolfe begins in mid-sentence, so to speak. Nero Wolfe and his assistant/legman/amanuensis are already an established pair at the outset of the first book in the canon, Fer-de-Lance. We don’t really need to know the background of the two in order to enjoy the canon. And whether you read the books in the order they were published, or if you read them catch-as-catch-can, in a mishmashed order is really immaterial.
Rex Stout, the creator of the detective duo chose to keep the two perpetually at the same rough age throughout the series, so even though the first book was published in the 30’s and the final Rex Stout book was published in the 70’s, the pair did not age 40 years over the series. This allowed Stout to have Archie still be a spry young pup from the beginning to the end, and Nero to be a middle-aged but still (somewhat) active middle-aged genius.
When Robert Goldsborough took up the mantle in the 80’s, he also kept the tradition going. So when he got permission from the Stout family to produce this volume, it seems a bit odd, since the story starts out in the Depression, just prior to the actual year the first book was produced. Not that it deteriorates from the enjoyment of reading it. The only thing that grates, in my opinion, is that it takes place in an era in which Prohibition is still in full swing, so Nero Wolfe’s habit of drinking beer is illegal, and Goldsborough constantly makes note of it.
In the beginning, Archie has just recently moved to New York City and is working as an assistant to Del Bascom (a frequent, but minor character in the canon). Wolfe is the genius he always is, but he works on his own, and hires out help from fellow detectives, many of which appeared over the course of the original canon: (Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, Orrie Cather and Bill Gore)
Wolfe brings in the crew to help him resolve a case in which a rich client has hired Wolfe to negotiate some way of getting his kidnapped son back. The crew manage to pay off the kidnappers and free the tyke, but Wolfe is not satisfied with the results, since the kidnappers got away with the deed.
The second half of the book involves Archie and the rest of the crew trying to help track down the kidnappers and the one or ones in the rich man’s household who were instrumental in helping the kidnappers succeed. This entry has some faults, most of which stem from the fact that the repartee between Archie and Wolfe is not there, since they are not yet a going concern as a pair yet. But Archie is still Archie and Wolfe is still Wolfe, you are not getting an entirely different look at the two, so t is still readable and enjoyable.
I only give it 3 out of 5 stars, however.