Never having read an entry in Robert Goldsborough's continuation of the series – begun in 1986, with currently a dozen titles available – I thought it was definitely time to try a book. Although the eighth Goldsborough title published, I decided on Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, which shows Goodwin arriving in New York City around 1930 and connecting first with amiable private detective Del Bascom. Archie has to work to prove himself, which he does, finding a husband trying to hide out on the isle of Manhattan. When Del is called in as one of the operatives to assist Nero Wolfe on a kidnapping and ransom case, Archie tags along and enters for the first time that famous brownstone with the orchids on the top floor.
The kidnapped boy is Tommie Williamson, and an encounter with the kidnappers at the rendez-vous finds Tommie safe, but the criminals escape with a vast sum in ransom money. Believing that the kidnapping was in part an inside job, Wolfe persuades hotel magnate Burke Williamson to introduce Archie as the family's new chauffeur to solve two problems: he can keep an eye on Tommie in case anything happens again, and he can use his excellent memory of conversations to report discussions from the house staff. Also, the chauffeur position is available because the prior employee, William Bell, has mysteriously disappeared shortly after the kidnapping had concluded.
By necessity, this "origin story" throws Stout's usual winning formula a bit off-balance. As it is a tale of Archie working as an independent operative before he becomes a factotum for Wolfe, there is more gumshoe gunplay and interaction with hard-boiled types than pursuit of a fair-play puzzle solution. The first-person narrative directive is responsible for this focus, but it works here. When Wolfe is allowed a gathering-of-the-suspects moment in the novel's climax, it is a high point to watch the genre pieces lock into place. It's also enjoyable to see familiar faces like Inspector Cramer, Sergeant Stebbins, Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather, and Fred Durkin in attendance. Goldsborough is respectful to Stout's canon, if not especially inspired to do something more with the well-known characters.
There are a few quibbles with an otherwise enjoyable story. As for the kidnapping mystery, there was never a prime suspect assigned in terms of an accomplice at the house (besides the missing and soon-to-be-found-dead Bell), and clues and evidence were scant. As a result, the middle section where Archie speaks with the staff at the Williamson house feels like a rather desultory fishing expedition. Perhaps it is, but there isn't much forward momentum when what's under discussion isn't particularly notable or urgent.