The vicissitudes of time


Someone recently pointed out to me a moment in a Nero Wolfe novel where Nero and Archie are solving a mystery for the now-adult son of one of their former clients. Here’s the son, all grown up, while Nero and Archie haven’t aged a bit. Funny! And perfectly appropriate, for that type of detective novel. But that’s why this post caught my eye. Indeed, the post begins with a mention of detective series where the characters remain untouched by time, including Nero Wolfe:

Much the same happened with Nero Wolfe, who irrefutably established the benefits of overconsumption and complete physical inactivity by remaining in the pink of health for fifty years while refusing to stir from his brownstone on West 35th. Rex Stout knew what Christie knew: readers want constancy in a series.

You’ve all read some of the Nero Wolfe novels, yes? Because anyone who enjoys the English language used with style, plus clever detective stories, ought to try this series. Sherlock Holmes never appealed to me, for some reason, but this series did and I’ve read most of the books several times. They’re quick and fun and light and easy to enjoy, and now and then there’s a really memorable sentence. I have always remembered something Nero once said to Archie … let me see …

“Archie.” He was gruff. “No man can hold himself accountable for the results of his psychological defects, especially those he shares with all his fellow men, such as lack of omniscience. It is a vulgar fallacy that what you don’t know can’t hurt you; but it is true that what you don’t know can’t convict you.”
― Rex Stout, Prisoner’s Base

So convenient that other people have gone to the trouble to create lists of memorable quotes from Nero Wolfe mysteries, so that I could easily find the exact quote I wanted.

However, the author of this post is discussing something else: a series where he wrote several books, time passed, and he then picked up the series and brought the protagonist forward in time and into the present day.

The background of the series was the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, with the old terror gangs mutating into organized crime groups in the chaotic new geopolitical landscape. The third book came out just before 9/11, a watershed event that marked the end of an era. In an important sense, Pascual’s world ended on 9/11.

Adam [Adam Dunn, a publisher] stressed that he was interested in Pascual twenty years on, personally as well as in the context of his environment. What had he been doing for twenty years and how would he, middle aged now and long out of the game, cope with this brave new world?

Interesting challenge. The author, Dominic Martell, describes other detective series where the protagonist does age and change and move through time. Lots of examples. Martell eventually handled it this way:

I had Pascual retire to the Catalan hinterland and raise a son with the woman he winds up with at the end of the third book. And I traced out the connections and circumstances that would make him, twenty years on, a valuable property for an agency intent on skulduggery and requiring a front man of unstable identity who can’t refuse the offer he is made.

That’s a nice couple of decades to give his protagonist. Glad it wasn’t too grim. I imagine that whatever challenges Pascual faces in the newest book, he’ll probably surmount them. Oh, I notice that the new book, KILL CHAIN, is on sale for $1.99 on Amazon at the moment. Well, that’s tempting. I sometimes like a political thriller. I’m not in the mood for one right this minute, but no doubt eventually.

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1 thought on “The vicissitudes of time”

  1. Lord Peter Wimsey aged, too. When readers wrote to complain that he had lost his elfin charm, Sayers said “any man who retained elfin charm at the age of forty-five should be put in a lethal chamber.”

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