8 NOVEMBER 1975, Page 7

Stout party

Even the elderly or aged or just plain old are not, unfortunately, immortal. The other week that great detective story writer, Rex Stout, died at the age of eight-eight. Stout's hero, the huge, greedy, beer-drinking, orchid-loving Nero Wolfe — whose feats of detection, normally performed without leaving his old brownstone house, were chronicled by his Watson, Archie Goodwin — has been the only fictional detective to attain anything like the mythic status of Sherlock Holmes. Lord Peter Wimseys, and even Hercule Poirots, may come and go, but only around Holmes has there come into existence a body of straight-faced humorous scholarship devoted to treating him as a real person, and solemnly analysing the clues Arthur Conan-Doyle offered in the stories about his education, early life, loves, etc. Nero Wolfe was an important part of that entertaining industry. Wolfe was, after all, a Montenegrin, and it is widely believed that Holmes, on his world travels between "The Final Problem" — at the end of which Watson supposes him killed by Moriarty — and "The Empty House" — the first story in the volume The Return of Sherlock Holmes — sojourned there with Irene Adler. (To Holmes, Watson wrote in ''A Scandal in Bohemia," which tells of the first meeting between the great detective and this lady, she was always the woman. By her, it is thought, he had a son, and that son was Nero Wolfe. This theory was first propounded by Bernard de Voto in 1954, and subsequently further argued by John Clark in The Baker Street Journal in 1956. In 1957 Ellery Queen gave it his blessing. Stout himself wrote to the BSJ in 1955, neither confirming nor denying the theory, but saying that he was "privy to many details" of Wolfe's life which "must remain moot for some time." However, "if and when it becomes permissible for me to disclose any of these details, your distinguished journal would be a most appropriate medium for the disclosure." Is it too much to hope that the papers of Rex Stout, confirming a distinguished pedigree, will now be made available to an eager public?