The Golden Spiders

The Golden Spiders

Infobox Book |
name = The Golden Spiders
title_orig =
translator =

author = Rex Stout
cover_artist = Bill English
country = United States
language = English
series = Nero Wolfe
genre = Detective fiction
publisher = Viking Press
release_date = October 26, 1953
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages = 186 pp. (first edition)
isbn = NA
preceded_by = Prisoner's Base
followed_by = Three Men Out

"The Golden Spiders" is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout. It was first published in 1953 by The Viking Press.

Plot introduction

quotation| His fist hit the desk, which for him was a convulsion. "No!" he roared. "Reputation? Am I to invite the comment that it is a mortal hazard to solicit my help? On Tuesday, that boy. On Friday, that woman. They are both dead. I will not have my office converted into an anteroom for the morgue!"
Wolfe, declining to give Lon Cohen a human interest story, in "The Golden Spiders", chapter 5

A youngster comes to Wolfe's office and tells Wolfe that he saw a woman driving a car, apparently being menaced by her passenger. The next day, the boy is murdered while washing car windows at a nearby intersection.

Plot summary

Pete Drossos, a twelve year old from the neighborhood, rings Wolfe's doorbell one evening and interrupts his after dinner coffee. Wolfe has just thrown a tantrum, occasioned by Fritz's choice of herbs to garnish the entree. Archie regards Wolfe's behavior as childish, and so to twit him, Archie admits Pete – who says, "I gotta case."

Turning Archie's prank against him, Wolfe invites Pete to tell his story. He observes that Archie, who had been about to leave to watch a billiards match, will now have to stay and take detailed notes concerning Pete's case.

Pete has quite a tale. It seems that he was working the wipe racket [In response to a query, Pete explains to Wolfe that one wipes the windows of cars stopped at lights, hoping for a tip.] when a woman driver with a male passenger mouthed an appeal to him: "Help. Get a cop." Pete had the presence of mind to note the time and the car's tag. Later, Pete reflected that the car was a Caddy [The Cadillac was regarded in 1953 as an elite automobile.] and the driver was wearing gold earrings, shaped like spiders. So there might be money involved, and he decided to enlist Wolfe's assistance.

Hearing all this, Wolfe tells Archie to phone the police, give them the tag number, and suggest a routine check. After Archie phones the precinct, Wolfe lectures Pete at length on the attributes of a successful detective, among which are a robust [Wolfe explains to Pete that "robust" means "hardy." Despite the vast differences in vocabulary, Wolfe and Pete communicate reasonably well.] ego and integrity in the matter of fees. The conference ends when Pete has to return home.

The next evening, Sergeant Purley Stebbins appears on the stoop. Admitted to the office, Stebbins wants to know why Archie reported a tag number the night before. Archie wants to know why Stebbins wants to know. Stebbins reveals that a boy named Peter Drossos was struck and killed, two hours earlier, by a Cadillac with that tag number.

After Archie reviews Pete's story for Stebbins, Pete's mother rings the doorbell. In the ambulance just prior to his death, Pete asked his mother to give Wolfe the $4.30 he has saved. Embarrassed to keep the money, Wolfe tells Archie to donate it to charity, but Archie suggests that they use it [Augmented by $1.85 that Archie donates.] to buy an ad in the "Times" seeking information about a woman driving a Cadillac and wearing spider earrings.

The ad gets two responses. First Inspector Cramer arrives, wanting to know what they're up to. Archie explains, and Cramer then wants to know if they've ever heard of Matthew Birch: there is evidence to indicate that Birch, an agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, was "also" struck and killed by the Cadillac that killed Pete.

The other reponse is from a woman named Laura Fromm, a young and wealthy widow. She comes to the brownstone wearing gold earrings shaped like spiders, and wants information about Pete, but she won't say why. She retains Wolfe to provide help and advice, but first she wants to do some investigating herself. Wolfe satisfies himself that she is not the woman who asked Pete to get a cop, accepts her retainer, and warns her to beware – two people have already been murdered.

Mrs. Fromm apparently ignores Wolfe's advice, for the next day Wolfe and Archie learn that her body has been found, run over by car. They soon hear from a lawyer named Dennis Horan, counsel for Mrs. Fromm's favorite charity, Assadip [ Association for the Aid of Displaced Persons. The term "displaced person" was used during and subsequent to World War II to refer to people forcibly removed from their countries of origin.] . He wants to know about the check that Mrs. Fromm gave Wolfe as a retainer. He starts to warn Wolfe that outstanding checks written by a deceased person do not clear the issuing bank, but Wolfe informs Horan that the check has already been certified, and therefore will clear. Horan wants to know how Wolfe can justify keeping the retainer. Wolfe responds that Horan is not his mentor in propriety and ethics, but that he intends to earn it.

Archie heads for the "Gazette" to get information on Mrs. Fromm's death and on her associates. He learns that a few hours after meeting with Wolfe, she had attended a dinner party at the Horan apartment with several friends and associates, and after she left the party she was not seen until the discovery of her body. Seeking more information about Mrs. Fromm's activities after she left Wolfe's office, Archie scams his way, dressed as a mortician, into the Fromm household to question Jean Estey, Mrs. Fromm's personal secretary. He learns only that Mrs. Fromm had done nothing out of the ordinary, merely dictating some letters before dressing for the dinner party.

Wolfe gathers Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather and Fred Durkin to assist in his investigation. It's possible that there is a connection between Mrs. Fromm's death and Assadip, so Saul will pose as a refugee seeking Assadip's assistance, to see if anything unexpected results. Orrie will try to trace the spider earrings worn by the woman Pete saw in the car, and subsequently by Mrs. Fromm. Fred will explore Wolfe's conjecture that Matthew Birch was the passenger Pete saw in the Cadillac.

As the 'teers leave the brownstone, two lawyers arrive: Dennis Horan, counsel for Assadip, and James Albert Maddox, personal counsel for Mrs. Fromm — they are at odds over which of them has standing to represent Mrs. Fromm's interests. Maddox wants Wolfe to disgorge the $10,000 retainer that Mrs. Fromm paid him. Maddox implies that he will not pursue the funds if Wolfe will tell him the substance of his conversation with Mrs. Fromm. Wolfe refuses, and Maddox storms out, threatening to replevy the money. With Horan still present, Wolfe telephones the police, reports Maddox's behavior, hints that Maddox tried to bribe him, and asks that the information be given to Inspector Cramer. Horan nearly accuses Wolfe of slander, and then also leaves.

A couple of days later, Saul, Orrie and Fred each report progress. Orrie has tracked down the owner of a jewelry store where the spider earrings were once on display. Saul, after successfully posing at Assadip as a displaced person, has been visited by a man who demands money from him; Saul is now following the extortionist. And Fred has made contact with someone who knew Birch, but it sounds like he's in trouble. Archie sends Orrie to help Saul, and then goes to back Fred up.

When Archie catches up with Fred, he finds him in the basement of a public garage, relieved of his gun, and tied to a chair. A couple of goons, Egan and Ervin, are getting ready to torture him for information. In a spate of violence that is very rare in the Wolfe series, Archie shoots a gun out of Egan's hand, kicks Ervin in the stomach and slams Egan into a wall.

With the goons disabled, Archie unties Fred and goes back up to the garage, where he encounters Saul and Orrie. It turns out that it was Egan who tried to extort money from Saul, and Saul and Orrie have followed him to the garage. It's apparent that there's a blackmail operation going on: Egan carries a notebook filled with hundreds of names, including Leopold Heim, the alias that Saul used at Assadip. It also looks like Birch had something to do with the scheme, and Archie wants more information from Egan.

The book's plot continues with a scene even more rare in the series than the gun play: Archie, with help from Saul and Fred, proceeds to torture Egan. Egan's legs are twisted around one another and put under enough stress to make his face go gray. [Stout leaves it to the reader to decide whether Egan's alternative, phoning the police, excuses the torture.] Although it is generally conceded that torture does not elicit dependable information, Archie believes what he hears: that Birch ran the blackmailing racket, that Egan saw Birch with a woman in a Cadillac on the same day that Pete wiped its windshield, and that Egan gets his leads via the phone, from a woman who identifies herself with the catchphrase, "Said a spider to a fly."

Then Horan unexpectedly shows up at the garage. Although he claims that Mrs. Fromm, before her murder, had asked him to investigate the activities there, it is clear that Horan has been a participant in the blackmail operation and showed up to help Egan. All involved – Archie, the 'teers, Egan, Ervin and Horan – adjourn to the brownstone for the remainder of the night, to await Cramer's arrival the next morning.

Egan is sewn up tight, for his assault on Fred, his attempt to blackmail Saul, and for the notebook with the names of blackmail victims in his possession. To avoid being implicated in Mrs. Fromm's death, he gives up Horan, who used his association with Assadip to obtain the names of recent immigrants, vulnerable people who would be easy to blackmail. Wolfe maneuvers Horan and Egan – with the assistance of the proprietor of a store in Newark – into identifying the other participant in the blackmail ring, the murderer of Pete Drossos, Matthew Birch and Laura Fromm.

Cast of characters

*Nero Wolfe — The private investigator
*Archie Goodwin — Wolfe's assistant, and the narrator of all Wolfe stories
*Fritz Brenner — Wolfe's master chef
*Pete Drossos — A 12-year-old who lives in Wolfe's neighborhood
*Anthea Drossos — Pete's mother
*Mrs. Damon (Laura) Fromm — Socialite and philanthropist, major supporter of the Association for the Aid of Displaced Persons (Assadip)
*Jean Estey — Mrs. Fromm's personal secretary
*Paul Kuffner — Public-relations consultant for Assadip and for Mrs. Fromm personally
*Angela Wright — Executive Secretary of Assadip
*Dennis Horan — General counsel for Assadip
*Claire Horan — His wife
*Vincent Lipscomb — Editor and publisher of the periodical "Modern Thoughts", and friend of Laura Fromm
*James Albert Maddox — Personal counsel for Laura Fromm and executor of her estate
*Matthew Birch — Of the Immigration and Naturalization Service
*Lawrence (Lips) Egan — Organized crime figure
*Mortimer Ervin — Local thug
*Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather — Operatives employed by Wolfe
*Lon Cohen — Of the "Gazette"
*Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins – Representing Manhattan Homicide

The unfamiliar word

In most Nero Wolfe novels and novellas, there is at least one unfamiliar word, usually spoken by Wolfe. "The Golden Spiders" contains one, spoken not by Wolfe but by attorney Maddox, and is the sort of legal term that Stout tended to avoid:
* Replevy. Chapter 8.


"The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery" (A&E Network)

The original telefilm "The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery" aired on the A&E Network March 5, 2000. The Jaffe/Braunstein Films production starred Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe, and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. Veteran screenwriter Paul Monash adapted the novel, and Bill Duke directed.

In a 2002 interview in "Scarlet Street" magazine, executive producer Michael Jaffe explained why the novel was selected to introduce contemporary audiences to Nero Wolfe:

:There are three or four really extraordinary novels — "The Silent Speaker", "In the Best Families", and " The Doorbell Rang", for example. These are some of the most famous and most complex and most amazing stories in the series, but we didn't want to start with those particular ones for a whole complex of reasons. We wanted to pick a story that had activity in it so that we could slowly bring people into the static milieu of Nero Wolfe's house. "The Golden Spiders" took you outside. There's a gunfight and a tough interrogation scene. It was a very strong story with a lot of pathos, because a young boy is murdered and Wolfe has to deal with his mother. So that was why we chose that one. [Vitaris, Paula, "Miracle on 35th Street: Nero Wolfe on Television"; "Scarlet Street", issue #45, 2002, p. 34]

Other members of the principal cast of "The Golden Spiders" who would continue in the A&E series "A Nero Wolfe Mystery" include Bill Smitrovich (Inspector Cramer), Colin Fox (Fritz Brenner), Fulvio Cecere (Fred Durkin), R.D. Reid (Sergeant Purley Stebbins) and Trent McMullen (Orrie Cather). Saul Rubinek, who would take the role of Lon Cohen in the series, was cast as Saul Panzer in the pilot. Prior to the original film's broadcast, Rubinek was asked what made him want to do the project:

:Maury Chaykin and I have known each other for almost 30 years and so we know what each other's doing, and I've also been an aficionado of Rex Stout's. ... By total coincidence, I started doing book tapes. I must have done seven or eight book tapes reading Rex Stout novels. I've always known Maury would be great casting as Nero Wolfe... And as it turned out, there's a character called Saul Panzer, who is one of Wolfe's operatives. ... At one point, Saul has to go undercover and play an immigrant. ...

:Rex Stout was a great humanitarian, and he did a tremendous amount of charity work, and he was very compassionate towards immigrants to the United States. It's not out of keeping with Stout's personality that he would have written about victimization of immigrants who are being blackmailed. The center of the story is about that. And don't forget that he's writing in the fifties, when there was a lot of reaction against immigrants after the Second World War coming into America, and it wasn't pleasant. I would imagine it's not so different from the eighties when the Vietnamese were coming into America, and there was a lot of reaction against that. There's always a period during American history where the American public might react against who we're letting into the country, and I think he had a great deal of compassion for that, for people who are stateless. I was born in a refugee camp myself, and my family are Holocaust survivors, and I was naturalized as a Canadian citizen before I became an American citizen, so it's a part of the story that I kind of connected to. [ [ A&E Network interview with Saul Rubinek] , retrieved June 23, 2007]

Other members of the cast of "The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery" (in credits order) are Mimi Kuzyk (Laura Fromm), Larissa Laskin (Jean Estey), Gary Reineke (Dennis Horan), Beau Starr (Lips Egan), Elizabeth Brown (Mrs. Horan), Nancy Beatty (Mrs. Drossos), Robert Clark (Pete Drossos), and Nicky Guadagni (Angela Wright).

After the high ratings (3.2 million households) garnered by "The Golden Spiders", A&E considered a series of two-hour Nero Wolfe films before ordering a weekly one-hour drama series — "A Nero Wolfe Mystery" — into production. [Dempsey, John, "Wolfe series at the door for A&E"; "Variety", June 26, 2000]

"Nero Wolfe" (Paramount Television)

"The Golden Spiders" was loosely adapted as the premiere episode of "Nero Wolfe" (1981), an NBC TV series starring William Conrad as Nero Wolfe and Lee Horsley as Archie Goodwin. Other members of the regular cast include George Voskovec (Fritz Brenner), Robert Coote (Theodore Horstmann), George Wyner (Saul Panzer) and Allan Miller (Inspector Cramer). Guest stars in the series debut include Carlene Watkins (Jean Estey), Penelope Windust (Laura Fromm), Katherine Justice (Angela Bell [Wright] ), David Hollander (Pete Drossos) and Liam Sullivan (Paul Kessler [Kuffner] ). Directed by Michael O'Herlihy from a teleplay by Wallace Ware (David Karp), "The Golden Spiders" aired January 16, 1981.

Publication history

*1953, New York: Viking, October 26, 1953, hardcover
*1953, Toronto: Macmillan, 1953, hardcover
*1954, New York: Viking (Mystery Guild), January 1954, hardcover
*1954, London: Collins Crime Club, May 10, 1954, hardcover
*1955, New York: Bantam, November 1955, paperback
*1964, London: Fontana, 1964, paperback
*1995, New York: Bantam Crimeline ISBN 0553277804 June 1, 1995, paperback
*1995, Auburn, California: Audio Partners ISBN 1572700386 1995, audio cassette (unabridged, read by Michael Prichard)
*2008, New York: Bantam Dell Publishing Group (with "Some Buried Caesar") ISBN 0553385674 September 2008, paperback


External links

*imdb title|id=0210714|title=The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery
* [ "A&E Will Adapt Nero Wolfe Mystery Classic, "The Golden Spiders"] ; "Business Wire", July 6, 1999
*Dale, Don, [ "Rex Stout's eccentric sleuth Nero Wolfe is brought to life in A&E's "The Golden Spiders"] ; "Style Weekly", February 28, 2000
*Cuthbert, David, [ "Famous detective Nero Wolfe takes on murder in "The Golden Spiders"] ; "Times-Picayune" (New Orleans), March 1, 2000
*Oxman, Steven, [ "The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery"] ; "Variety", March 1, 2000
*Stasio, Marilyn, [ "A Perfectionist Pursues the Perpetrators"] ; "The New York Times", March 5, 2000
*Amole, Gene, [ "A&E Isn't Just Crying Wolfe"] ; "Rocky Mountain News", March 7, 2000
*Leonard, John, [ "Stamp of approval for the Nero Wolfe mystery, "The Golden Spiders"] ; "CBS Sunday Morning", March 12, 2000
* [ "The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery"] at The Wolfe Pack, official site of the Nero Wolfe Society
*imdb title|id=0658792|title=Nero Wolfe — "The Golden Spiders"'

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