Nero Wolfe was one of the best-known characters in fiction by the time of The Doorbell Rang. It surprises no one when he defies the FBI, makes all the witnesses come to him, scowls at a woman, or scolds Archie for not eating. What may be unexpected, particularly under the circumstances, is his comic flair. There is abundant humor in all the Nero Wolfe stories, but it is usually supplied by Archie's irreverent narration and dialogue; Wolfe typically confines himself to an occasional sarcastic quip. By contrast, he is positively Falstaffian in this novel. He hams it up in the role of the indignant homeowner, enjoying the squirming of the agents he has caught red-handed, and relishing the knowledge that soon Hoover will have to listen to a tape of the whole thing. When the agents have been ejected, Wolfe invites his men to gloat and rub it in, roaring: "Talk! All of you! Talk!" Later, he rewards Inspector Cramer for his help with a full account of the trap, and Archie reports the effect: "I saw something I had never seen before and will probably never see again, a broad smile on the face of Inspector Cramer." It says much for Stout's skill that Wolfe as comedian is thoroughly believable: we accept it as a side we have not seen before, but which was always latent.
Archie Goodwin, most of the time, keeps up the cool, brash, wisecracking persona well-known to readers of the series. Normally, he is the one who provokes others to outbursts, but the strain...
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