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Rex Stout had published several novels before, at the age of 48, he turned to detective fiction and came up with Nero Wolfe, the detective hero of a whole string of stories.

Wolfe is “a verbally and gastronomically fastidious” man who delights in growing orchids and rarely ventures out of his New York home, gathering the essential facts of his cases with the help of his assistant Archie Goodwin. Valued at $1000-1500, the copy of Fer-de-Lance of 1934 seen above right, the first of the Nero Wolfe tales, made $9000 (£5805) in a torn and incomplete dust jacket and there were considerably higher than expected prices too for the second of his Nero Wolfe novels, The League of Frightened Men of 1935, which made $7500 (£4840), and for The Rubber Band of 1936, which reached £6500 (£4195).