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In the Best Families

(Nero Wolfe #17)

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  3,051 ratings  ·  174 reviews
Aging millionairess Mrs. Rackham asks Nero Wolfe to find out where her penniless husband has suddenly been obtaining mysteriously large sums of money, a request that leads to murder and to threats against the master detective himself.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 1st 1995 by Bantam (first published September 1950)
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Bill Kerwin
May 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing

In the Best Families (1950) tells of Nero Wolfe's battle to the death with Arnold Zeck (his Professor Moriarty) in which the great detective goes underground--leaving Archie in the dark and in the lurch--to prepare for their final confrontation.

This is the third and final volume of the so-called Arnold Zeck Trilogy. The other two are And Be a Villain (1948) and The Second Confession (1949) It is a fine end to the series, and a satisfying adventure in itself.

These three books are among Stout's
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You heard the beginning of this story often enough: a wealthy plain looking woman married a handsome younger guy (would "bought him" be a better term?) The only two things the latter has are exactly the ones I already mentioned: youth and good looks; the money comes from his wife. At one point he increased his demands for money; the wife refused him and - to her complete surprise - he continued his lavish lifestyle without visible means of supporting it.

Nero Wolfe avoids divorce cases like a
La Tonya  Jordan
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to La Tonya by: Carmel,IN Public Library Mystery Book Club
Shelves: good-read
Nero Wolfe is a private detective with a moral sense of earning his pay, dislike for women, an obession with orchirds and food, a devoted assistant Archie Goodwin, and a healthy regard for money. He has been hired to find out where Mrs. Sarah Rackham husband is receiving his money.
Mrs. Rackham has not given her husband any money for months. The next day Mrs. Rackham is murdered and this set's the stage for Nero Wolfe. The facade starts to crack when it is discovered that Mr. Barry Rackham is
David Monroe
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
In both And Be a Villain and The Second Confession, Nero Wolfe's Moriarty analog, crime boss, Arnold Zeck had sharp but long-distance encounters with Wolfe. These episodes hinted that in some future book Zeck would play a leading role -- and now he does.

It all begins when a lonely, wealthy and self-described "homely" woman comes to Wolfe's office wishing to discover the source of her husbands' new income. She had cut him off, but somehow he was suddenly rolling in it. She suspects her younger
Kim Kaso
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Another wonderful entry in the series featuring great upheaval in the lives of all involved with Nero Wolfe. Great snarky remarks from Archie, and a central role for him. Highly recommended, these books always make me smile.
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: series, read-audio
It has been several months since I listened to Michael Pritchard narrate one of the Nero Wolfe stories. I really missed listening to his voice.

What a shock that Wolfe could walk out and disappear and leave Archie to establish a business of his own. For the details, sorry, you need to find out for yourself! This is one of the best of them.
Bryan Brown
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mysteries
This is a fabulous example of a Nero Wolfe story, and one of my favorites. However, this would also be a terrible book to start with to introduce Nero.

Part of what makes this book so terrific is Rex Stout has spent the last 20 some odd stories (including those books with more than one story) setting the rules and habits of Nero's house and habitation. He is nearly religiously devoted to his daily periods with his orchids, and meal times are strictly non-business situations. Additionally, he
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the best out of the first 20 or so Nero Wolfe books, which are all good. Wolfe finally is forced to address a threat which has repeated itself several times previously, and the result is a story which has to deviate from the formula while still retaining all that is wonderful about Stout's creations.
Jul 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
As is usually true of trilogies and denouements of the Moriarty Gambit this book didn’t quite deliver all that was promised in the lead up.
Warnings: many spoilers to follow.

On the purely “I figured things out before Wolfe/Goodwin revealed it” front I nailed Leeds as at least involved with Zeck by the time Zeck called the house post sausage warning. After the detailed description of the dogs and their reactions to Goodwin my first question after the murder itself was “how did the murderer get so
Sheila Beaumont
The final installment of the Zeck trilogy, this is one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries. Master criminal Arnold Zeck is Wolfe's counterpart to Sherlock Holmes' Moriarty. This book is unusual in that homebody Wolfe actually leaves home for almost five months to prepare for a showdown with Zeck. Archie Goodwin doesn't know where he is and has to carry on by himself. If you're familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon, you'll notice parallels between this novel and Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final ...more
Anand Ganapathy
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ourlibrary
I began this book a month back ( read a chapter and could not continue ) . Read it at a stretch over last couple of days. One of the best Nero wolfe mysteries by Rex stout. Wolfe escaping from his home for a few months, Archie as a free lancing detective , a gripping plot.... Need I say more ?
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I listened to this audiobook. Reclusive, eccentric, enigmatic Nero Wolfe is a genius private detective who never leaves his Manhattan brownstone. Archie Goodwin is his personal assistant and acts as Nero’s eyes and legs. We hear of their cases through Archie’s witty narrative. A wealthy woman hires Nero to uncover how her unemployed husband is suddenly getting money to spend. Nero sends Archie to the woman’s home under the pretense of investigating the poisoning of a dog belonging to the woman’s ...more
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries, owned

The final book involving Arnold Zeck. (view spoiler)

It was nice to see a brief reappearance of Lily Rowan in this book.
Adam Graham
Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a great book throughout it's 2nd act. The most fascinating part of the book is when Wolfe disappears, leaving Archie and the rest to fend for themselves.

For Archie, there's the question of how to deal with feeling being abandoned by someone who was almost a father figure to him. The complexity of the Wolfe-Archie relationship is in full force here.

One thing that stands out in this book with Archie on his own is that Archie is, in many ways, as eccentric as Wolfe. However, Archie's
May 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The third in the Arnold Zeck series of Nero Wolfe novels. I read this one years ago, but I had forgotten just how good it is. There are two plots, each related to the other: one involving criminal genius Arnold Zeck who has Wolfe so frightened? determined? that he abruptly leaves his beloved brownstone and disappears, leaving Archie with nothing but a note saying "Don't try to find me." The other is a more-or-less standard mystery involving a body discovered by Archie early in the book, and his ...more
Pamela Shropshire
Over several previous books, there has been an overarching plot line concerning a criminal mastermind, named Arnold Zeck, but so powerful that even Wolfe dared only to speak of him as X. Wolfe once told Archie (paraphrased) that although he tried to avoid confronting Zeck and his crooked enterprise, if it ever became unavoidable, he would leave the brownstone, go to a secret location unknown to all except 2 or 3 people, and stay there until he was able to bring X down for good.

Well, it is in
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I will confess ...this was better than OK for me, but not a lot. But, the truth is my concentration wasn't the best reading this book. A lot of too much thinking about other problems and then the, 'where am I, what's going on and who is this character?' questions, leading me to turn back the pages and trying to find a familiar place. Yeah too much thinking about other things. Which is ironic because this is exactly the kind of book I would turn to take a respite from too many other issues.

So I
Alexis Neal
Jun 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, audio
It starts with a seemingly simple chore: find out where a certain married man is getting his sizable income. But one package of tear gas and a dead dog later (along with a murder, of course), and Wolfe finds himself pitted against the powerful super-villain Arnold Zeck. There's no doubt about it--Wolfe is in a deep hole with only one way out. So he flees. Leaves the house, leaves the orchids, arranges for new jobs for his cook Fritz and his orchid nurse Theodore. The house is offered for sale. ...more
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What an absolute treat to read this book! I was actually looking for something else in Barnes & Noble, and saw this series featuring detective Nero Wolfe. I have known the name of the fictional detective forever, it seems like, but have never, til now, read one of the books. But Mystery Lovers, this is a treasure, as I am sure the other books in the series are, so let's start enjoying Rex Stout's witty dialog and intriguing plots that our parents and grands likely ate up!

This title, In the
Lisa Kucharski
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Just finished this, practically at the edge of my seat the entire time! It's showdown time between Wolfe and Zeck. Zeck's presence was seen in And Be A Villian, and The Second Confession. Zeck is like a Moriarty for Wolfe. Wolfe has known a showdown would be inevitable at some point, and had mentioned what would have to happen if the two ever at cross purposes. If only Zeck had left well enough alone! Archie, the heart and muscle of the Wolfe team, has his world pulled out from under him. And ...more
Philip Kromer
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Nero Wolfe fans
Shelves: highlighted
This is the finest Nero Wolfe book. I do love them all, but this is a significant cut above. The scope, the stakes, the action and the prose all crackle.

You might think to jump in with it first, and you can generally read the NW novels in any order because, like Bertie and Jeeves, nearly nothing changes even as the decades do. However, you should absolutely not read this until you have at least Fer-de-lance, Some Buried Caesar, and A Second Confession under you belt first. (And if you're in it
May 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Nothing about this one fits the mold. The case is at once the most complex and the simplest of all the Nero Wolfe books. Wolfe must leave the comfort of his New York brownstone to confront a well-connected crime boss before another innocent person or Wolfe, himself, ends up dead.
Vicki Cline
May 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nero-wolfe
This one was really different. Wolfe has to disappear because arch-villain Zeck is after him. Poor Archie is on his own for a few months, and although he makes out OK, he doesn't like it. Naturally ,it all works out in the end.
Jul 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Rex Stout. Nero Wolfe. Archie Goodwin. A little Fritz, a glimpse at Theodore. Who could ask for more?
Nov 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the great ones. This one is particularly interesting for Nero Wolfe fans; Wolfe is only a peripheral character, Archie is the star.
Diane K.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
And so we come to the end of the Zeck trilogy. It's not quite as effective as the first two, namely for a reason that Stephen King brings up in his nonfiction book DANSE MACABRE: monsters are much scarier when they're kept out of sight. No matter how horrible they look, they can't possibly be as horrible as your imagination can make them. Zeck as a cold voice on the telephone, always completely in the know about everything (the cost of Wolfe's ruined orchids, for example), dispensing destruction ...more
Mary Bennett
In the Best Families is Rex Stout's 17th Nero Wolfe book and this particular book is the third in a series pitting Wolfe against a villainous character named Zeck who has been described as Nero's Moriarty.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Nero Wolfe books, he is an investigator who is very selective about his cases. He doesn't work on divorce cases, spouses checking up on each other, or the like. So when a wealthy Mrs. Rackham comes to him about her husband, at first, he is unwilling
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I don't know if Conan Doyle was the inventor of the arch-nemesis evil mastermind, but whoever it was, I wish he hadn't. (I say "he" because if it was invented before Doyle used it, it was by a man). Holmes had Moriarty, James Bond had Blofeld, Modesty Blaise had Gabriel...and even Nero Wolfe had Arnold Zeck. Personally I never cared for the trope, and Zeck is to weird to be true. Half Blofeld, half Don Corleone, all odd. This is blessedly Zeck's last bow, and I bet Stout had tons of fun writing ...more
Apparently, I should have read certain books before this one. I don't think I suffered greatly on that score.
When an author is willing to forgo the usual formula in a series, I am impressed. There is still the denouement at the end, but we can't have anything. In this installment, Nero disappears at a critical junction of solving the case of the wealthy wife who wants to investigate her husband. This leads us to a complex tale with Archie in the spotlight. If you like Archie with his frankness
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one was highly unusual, in more ways than one, and this made it difficult to rate because it was sort of hard to know how to really compare it with a standard Wolfe story. I ended up with the view that Stout sort-of-kind-of got away with writing this kind of book, even if I generally prefer a standard mystery to this sort of book (just as I e.g. prefer Christie's Poirot novels to her Tommy and Tuppence stories).

It would be a bad idea to read this one before you've read the other Zeck
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Rex Todhunter Stout (December 1, 1886 – October 27, 1975) was an American crime writer, best known as the creator of the larger-than-life fictional detective Nero Wolfe, described by reviewer Will Cuppy as "that Falstaff of detectives." Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin recorded the cases of the detective genius from 1934 (Fer-de-Lance) to 1975 (A Family Affair).

The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated

Other books in the series

Nero Wolfe (1 - 10 of 47 books)
  • Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe, #1)
  • The League of Frightened Men (Nero Wolfe, #2)
  • The Rubber Band (Nero Wolfe, #3)
  • The Red Box (Nero Wolfe, #4)
  • Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe, #5)
  • Some Buried Caesar (Nero Wolfe, #6)
  • Over My Dead Body (Nero Wolfe, #7)
  • Where There's a Will (Nero Wolfe, #8)
  • Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe, #9)
  • Not Quite Dead Enough (Nero Wolfe, #10)
“He straightened up. “Your chief trouble,” he said, not offensively, “is that you think you’ve got a sense of humor. It confuses people, and you ought to get over it. Things strike you as funny. You thought it would be funny to have a talk with Rackham, and it may be all right this time, but someday something that you think is funny will blow your goddam head right off your shoulders.” Only after he had gone did it occur to me that that wouldn’t prove it wasn’t funny.” 1 likes
“So I didn’t like it, and I either had to lump it or bow out. I tossed a coin: heads I stick, tails I quit. It landed tails, but I had to veto it because I had already talked to Orrie Cather and he was coming at noon, and I had left messages for Fred Durkin and Saul Panzer. I tossed again, tails again. I tossed once more and it was heads, which settled it. I had to stick.” 0 likes
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