15 Best Rex Stout Books: Exciting Mystery Tales for Fans of Detective Stories

Discover some of the best mysteries to curl up with by author Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe detective stories. Check out the best Rex Stout books here.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) was a noted mystery writer, most well known for his detective character Nero Wolfe and Nero’s loyal sidekick, Archie Goodwin. The Nero Wolfe series has received much critical acclaim over the years, even being made into a television series called A Nero Wolfe Mystery in 2001. 

Rex Stout was also known as a prominent intellectual who was involved in the American Civil Liberties Union and the Authors Guild. In World War II, he also served as the head of the Writers’ War Board and became a popular radio personality. As one of the most renowned crime thriller authors, Rex Stout has been a source of inspiration for many people, and his works can encourage new authors to learn how to write a thriller.

Here Are 15 Best Rex Stout Books

Rex Stout
Rex Stout via Wikipedia, Public Domain

1. Fer-de-Lance

In Fer-de-Lance, the 1934 debut Nero Wolfe story, Nero and his friend Archie get involved with the most deadly snake, the fer-de-lance. This dreadful snake is closely related to the murders of a college professor and a local immigrant. Nero Wolfe hopes to solve the mystery without getting poisoned himself and uses his wit and clever observations to bring a killer to justice.

The story was titled “Point of Death” in the American Magazine and received rave reviews from critics, sparking the rest of the Nero Wolfe series. Want to read the books of the “Queen of Suspense”? Check out our round-up of the best Mary Higgins Clark books! Or use the search bar at the top right of the page to search for the best authors.

“There’s no danger in me to the innocent.”

Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance

2. The League of Frightened Men

The League of Frightened Men is the second book in the Nero Wolfe series and was published just after Fer-de-Lance in 1935. The novel tells the story of a group of frightened college friends who instigated a prank that left their friend tragically crippled. After an unexpected death at a class reunion and mysterious poems that promise revenge, the group is convinced their old friend is after them. They turn to Nero Wolfe and Archie to solve the case and save their lives.

“In these eleven days, I have learned that psychology, as a formal science, is pure hocus-pocus. All written and printed words, aside from their function of relieving boredom, are meaningless drivel”

Rex Stout, The League of Frightened Men

3. Too Many Cooks

“Too many cooks spoil the broth” is a common phrase, but in this novel, Too Many Cooksit means there’s a murder that Nero Wolfe can only solve. At a five-star gathering of some of the world’s best chefs and cooks, Wolfe is asked to give the keynote speech at the party. However, a surprise of poison and murder is mixed in with the other ingredients, and to find the killer and bring them to justice, Nero and Archie need to figure out which of the visiting guests has a killing plan.

“A guest is a jewel on the cushion of hospitality”

Rex Stout, Too Many Cooks

4. Some Buried Caesar

In Some Buried Caesar, Archie and Nero are stranded when their car breaks down on the side of the road in a private pasture. A nearby local feud over the ownership of a prized bull leads to murder after a restaurant plans to buy the cow and feed it to the town as a publicity stunt. While many point the finger at the bull itself, Nero is convinced the killer is more human and less bovine. He will need to go through the list of suspects, including Archie’s new love interest, to find the right killer and bring them to justice.

“I presume you know, since I’ve told you, that my distrust and hatred of vehicles in motion is partly based on my philosophy that their apparent submission to control is illusory and that they may at their pleasure, and sooner or later will, act on whim.”

Rex Stout, Some Buried Caesar

5. Over My Dead Body

In the novel Over My Dead Body, a beautiful woman from the Balkans asks Nero for help after she is blamed for the disappearance of some valuable diamonds. Even more shocking, she claims to be Nero’s daughter. When he comes to help figure out what’s going on, a shocking murder puts even more pressure on the case. Nero Wolfe and Archie need to sort through missing identities, misplaced documents, and international affairs to stop the string of murders and solve the case.

“War doesn’t mature men; it merely pickles them in the brine of disgust and dread. Pfui!”

Rex Stout, Over My Dead Body

6. Black Orchids

Nero Wolfe has decided to travel to a flower show to see a rare black orchid, only to come across a startling murder that sends the entire event into chaos. Wolfe and Archie work to solve the crime while working on another case on the side involving deadly pen pal letters to a widower. The two cases are more closely linked than they thought, and, in one of the most classic Nero Wolfe stories, Black Orchids, they need to figure out who is responsible soon so the show can continue and more murders are stopped.

“It is surprising that Mr. Gould lived as long as he did, in view of his character.”

Rex Stout, Black Orchids

7. And Be a Villain

Using Rex Stout’s knowledge of radio, And Be a Villain centers around a radio personality whose fear of being on air is confirmed when a guest dies at the microphone. Nero Wolfe comes to solve the case and figure out what killed the guest: a bad beverage or a dangerous killer. With seemingly everyone involved in the case lying about different facts, it’s a challenging puzzle that only Nero Wolfe can solve.

“That unspeakable prepared biscuit flour…What they do to stomachs heaven knows, but that woman is ingeniously and deliberately conspiring in the corruption of millions of palates. She should be stopped!”

Rex Stout, And Be a Villain

8. In the Best Families

In an unusual change of form, Archie is left to solve the murder of an aging millionaire on his own when a letter bomb seemingly scares Wolfe away from the case. Before she died, the victim was concerned about the behavior of her young trophy husband and asked Archie to infiltrate a party to discover where he was getting his money. With a surprising death and a missing mentor, Archie must figure out why Wolfe has vanished and find the killer in the mystery novel In the Best Families.

“I’m the only woman in America who has necked with Nero Wolfe. Nightmare, my eye. He has a flair.”

Rex Stout, In the Best Families

9. The Black Mountain

In The Black Mountain, a close friend of Nero Wolfe is killed, and the detective takes on the case to find the killer and bring them to justice. However, this is no ordinary killing but part of a much larger plot. In the heart of Montenegro, international threats and political intrigues complicate the case and put both Wolfe and Archie in danger.

“I pay him the tribute of speaking of him and feeling about him precisely as I did when he lived; the insult would be to smear his corpse with the honey excreted by my fear of death.”

Rex Stout, The Black Mountain

10. The Mother Hunt

What first appears like a simple case— tracking down the mother of an abandoned baby—soon turns complicated for Wolfe and Archie. In The Mother Hunt, a baby is left on the doorstep of a widow, who is convinced the father is her deceased playboy husband. However, when trying to find the baby’s mother, Wolfe comes up against corpses, resentful police, and a killer with a devious plan.

“Maintaining integrity as a private detective is difficult; to preserve it for the hundred thousand words of a book would be impossible for me, as it has been for so many others. Nothing corrupts a man so deeply as writing a book; the myriad temptations are overwhelming.”

Rex Stout, The Mother Hunt

11. The Doorbell Rang

Nero Wolfe will take any case for the right price, but this new mystery entitled The Doorbell Rang might be too much even for him. While trying to solve a case for a wealthy widow, Wolfe and Archie must go head to head against the FBI, who aren’t afraid to pull dangerous stunts to get the detective duo off their tail. This story is likely based on real FBI corruption that Rex Stout faced during the infamous blacklisting in the 1950s. 

“I can dodge folly without backing into fear.”

Rex Stout, The Doorbell Rang

12. Death of a Doxy

When a “doxy” (otherwise known as a mistress) is found dead after having multiple affairs, the police blame a friend of Nero Wolfe’s for the crime. Determined to find the right culprit, Wolfe and Archie take on the case full of liaisons, blackmail, and killers. But to find out who killed the doxy, they’ll need to dive deep into a pool of suspects with secrets to protect in Death of a Doxy.

“Fritz came in with a piece of paper in his hand and demanded, ‘Were you drunk when you wrote this?”

Rex Stout, Death of a Doxy

13. The Father Hunt

In a parallel to the previously published The Mother HuntThe Father Hunt takes Wolfe on the case to find a woman’s absentee father. She is paying a hefty fee to track down the man, but not everything is as it seems. The money she has suddenly come into was supposedly left to her by her father, a dangerous killer who wants to strike again, and the next victim could be his daughter.

“If you please, Mr. Jarrett, no labels. Labels are for the things men make, not for men. The most primitive man is too complex to be labeled.”

Rex Stout, The Father Hunt

14. Death of a Dude

Despite his reluctance to ever leave home, Nero Wolfe ends up in Montana at a dude ranch to solve the murder of a city-slicker in Death of a Dude. Determined to find the right man and free the prime suspect, Wolfe faces threats he didn’t expect in the mountains. From unsavory political adversaries to inept local police, there is plenty to keep Wolfe and Archie on their toes if they want to return home.

“A self-invited guest is an abomination, but there is no alternative for me.”

Rex Stout, Death of a Dude

15. Death Times Three

This final novel was published posthumously, ten years after Stout’s death in 1975. Death Times Three contains three short stories starring the great detective. Wolfe needs to figure out who ruined his lunch, save Archie from being a fall guy in a woman’s scheme, and face off against the federal government when a package arrives at his home. These final three stories mark the end of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Want to read the books of the “Queen of Mystery”? Check out our round-up of the best Agatha Christie books! Or use the search bar at the top right of the page to search for the best authors.

“My house has been invaded, my privacy has been outraged, and my belongings have been pawed.”

Rex Stout, Death Times Three

FAQs About The Best Rex Stout Books

How many Nero Wolfe novels did Rex Stout Write?

In total, 47 books in the Nero Wolfe series are written by acclaimed author and mystery novelist Rex Stout. The series begins with Fer-de-Lance, originally published in 1934, and ends in 1985 with Rex Stout’s posthumous novel, Death Times Three. 

Who played Nero Wolfe in the TV series?

In the 2001-2002 television series, the detective Nero Wolfe is played by Maury Chaykin, while loyal sidekick Archie Goodwin is played by Timothy Hutton. The series had 27 episodes and originally aired on A&E for two seasons.