FFB: The League of Frightened Men

this is the 209th in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

League of Frightened Men

The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout, © 1935, I read the 1977 paperback – mystery, Nero Wolfe

“Wolfe and I sat in the office on Friday afternoon.”

It’s been quite a while since I read a Nero Wolfe novel, and I was in the mood. So, though I’ve read this one before, I decided to read it again. That opening line was enough to pull me right in.

It’s probably not fair for me to make any judgments, since it’s been a while since I read any of these, but this didn’t seem like one of the stronger books in the series. I’d like to hear what Art Scott and others have to say about that. Still, it was fun to read and reminded me that I enjoy these and should read them more often.

The bad guy in this one, Paul Chapin, is an interesting character. Crippled as a result of a prank played on him during college, he is bitter. The group of classmates responsible for the injury have been providing for him for years. Now one is murdered, then another and after both deaths each member of the group receives an anonymous poem (that could only have come from Chapin but that couldn’t be proved) taking credit for the crime and carrying the hint of more to come. This group, now bankers, lawyers, stockbrokers, cab drivers and newspapermen, etc. come to Wolfe for help. They are the eponymous league of the title. One interesting thing about this one is that Wolfe leaves the house, not once, but twice, the second time to rescue Archie.

The Wolfe novels and stories hold up well. There may be a few anachronisms – sure Archie would have a PC these days, but the house, food, cabs, newspapers, and so forth still work just fine. I tend to accept fiction as I find it and “dated” isn’t that much of a bother to me.

It was nice to visit Wolfe and Archie again.


About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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28 Responses to FFB: The League of Frightened Men

  1. Of the early Wolfe books this is the one I remember best actually – well worth celebrating, I agree.

    • Richard says:

      I think perhaps, judging by your and other comments, that I was too harsh in my opinion. I read the book and wrote the review last summer, while in the midst of a readers block and needed something sure-fire to pick me up. This worked, but not as well as I’d hoped.

  2. Bill Crider says:

    I haven’t read this one in many years, but I remember liking it quite a bit. But then I like nearly all the Wolfe books quite a bit.

  3. I remember reading THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN a decade ago when I read all the Nero Wolfe mysteries in order. My favorite Nero Wolfe is THE GOLDEN SPIDERS but THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN ranks high in qulaity.

    • Richard says:

      See my comment to Sergio, above.

    • Barry Ergang says:

      My favorite has always been IN THE BEST FAMILIES because it’s the greatest departure from the Wolfean norm. It’s also NOT the one for readers coming to the series for the first time to begin with. They need to familiarize themselves with the household routine, Wolfe’s adherence to it and his body type as described in earlier cases, in order to fully appreciate just how radical this one is.

  4. I’ve never read a nero wolfe. Wow, I should get on that

  5. Jeff Meyerson says:

    It’s been a long time since I read a Wolfe. When I did read them this wasn’t among my favorites, like Too Many Cooks.

  6. Jerry House says:

    You can’t go wrong with Nero and Archie. Or, at least, Rex Stout’s Nero and Archie. I found the pastiches by Robert Goldsborough to be pale water.

    • Richard says:

      I never read one of the Goldsborough books, though I bought a couple.

      • Barry Ergang says:

        Except for Goldsborough’s first one I read so long ago I can’t recall the example, in which something Wolfe said I couldn’t imagine him saying in a story written by Rex Stout, they weren’t bad pastiches. All, if I remember correctly after many years, were solved in a fairly-clued manner–and not all of Stout’s were, many having been “intuited” by Wolfe rather than shared with readers via information he gleaned from others.

  7. Layson says:

    This novel has a reputation of being among the best of all the Wolfe books, but I just didn’t care for it when I read it years ago.

    I much prefer the next four entries in the series- “The Rubber Band”, “The Red Box”, “Too Many Cooks” & “Some Buried Caesar”

  8. tracybham says:

    I like some elements of this book, but the last time I reread it I did not like it as well. I agree that other early books in the series are very, very good though. My next to reread is going to be Some Buried Caesar.

  9. Art Scott says:

    Most Stout specialists would rate Cooks & Caesar above League among the pre-war Wolfes. But if you begin at the beginning, with Fer-de-lance, you’ll realize that League marks a dramatic step forward for Stout. In the first book, Wolfe doesn’t seem quite right, Archie’s voice is a little off, the mystery elements are rather stale & creaky. In League, our heroes pretty much sound like themselves, and the story elements are fresh and surprising. Consequently, I think League is a Very Important Book in the Wolfe canon. And as a bonus, Paul Chapin is one of Stout’s most memorable one-shot character creations.

    • Richard says:

      I did originally begin at the begining, Art, but that also meant I had no experience so my first taste of Wolfe and Co. was so enjoyable, I’d not notice that settling in you mention occurred. I think I would have liked this better if I’d been in a better reading mood at the time (See my comment to Sergio, above).

  10. Art Scott says:

    One more thing. Look up the WiIkipedia bio of Fay Vincent, former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and read the 1st paragraph of “Early Life & Career”. A VERY spooky example of life imitating art.

  11. Art Scott says:

    One more other thing, Rick. Archie using a typewriter in a book written and set in the 1930s is NOT an anachronism (“wrong time”). A Victorian-era Holmes pastiche mentioning a television set in the corner at 221B – THAT would be an anachronism!

    • Richard says:

      and that’s what I was saying, but if he had a PC… that would be the problem. If that’s not how I said it, then I edited out the rest of the comment. Drat.

      • Art Scott says:

        Which reminds me, somewhere in the first few pages of the first Goldsborough book, he has Archie using his new PC to type up reports. Not an anachronism, but an in-your-face challenge to the essential timelessness of the stories (though Stout was guilty of similar smudges in the later books). One of a thousand reasons why I consigned the Goldsborough books (I ground my teeth through two & quit) to the trash heap.

        • Richard says:

          I was just looking at the shelves and noticed I have the first one there. I may give it a try, but it won’t be a keeper. Probably end up donating it to the Charity League bookstore, which at least gives me, when I have a box full, a few bucks charity donation on the income taxes. As as matter of consideration, Barbara and I are going to be doing some cleaning out of various books, kitchen stuff, clothes, some old CDs and more to go to Goodwill.

  12. Matt Paust says:

    Love the title and the seductive opening line, and, yeah, I, too, miss Wolfe and Archie.

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