The Golden Spiders

This article is about the novel. For the A&E Network original film, see The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery.
The Golden Spiders
Author Rex Stout
Cover artist Bill English
Country United States
Language English
Series Nero Wolfe
Genre Detective fiction
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
October 26, 1953
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 186 pp. (first edition)
OCLC 1391763
Preceded by Prisoner's Base
Followed by Three Men Out

The Golden Spiders is a Nero Wolfe detective novel by Rex Stout. It was first published in 1953 by The Viking Press.

Plot introduction

His fist hit the desk, which for him was a convulsion. "No!" he roared. "Reputation? Am I to invite the comment that it is a mortal hazard to solicit my help? On Tuesday, that boy. On Friday, that woman. They are both dead. I will not have my office converted into an anteroom for the morgue!"
Wolfe, declining to give Lon Cohen a human interest story, in The Golden Spiders, chapter 5

A youngster comes to Wolfe's office and tells Wolfe that he saw a woman driving a car, apparently being menaced by her passenger. The next day, the boy is murdered while washing car windows at a nearby intersection.

Plot summary

After Wolfe reacts petulantly to a change in one of his favourite meals, Archie plays a prank on him by allowing Pete Drossos, a neighbourhood child, to enter and ask for Wolfe’s help on a case. Pete claims that while he was washing the windows of car at a stop light the driver, a woman wearing distinctive golden earrings in the shape of spiders, silently asked him to summon a police officer, and Pete believes she was being threatened by her male passenger. To indulge Pete, Wolfe has Archie pass Pete’s information on to the police, but the next day they learn that the same car, now driven by a man in a brown suit and hat, has struck and killed Pete. Matthew Birch, an agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, was also struck and killed by the same car, apparently on the same day that Pete approached Wolfe. While this suggests Birch was the man Pete saw in the car evidence at the scene proves Birch was killed before Pete, ruling him out as Pete's murderer.

Wolfe is visited by Pete’s mother, who gives them his meagre savings and asks them to use it to find his killer. Archie, angered at Wolfe’s reluctance to get involved, puts an advertisement in the newspaper, asking the woman in the car to contact Wolfe. Laura Fromm, a wealthy widow, responds to the advertisement and arrives at Wolfe’s house wearing the golden spider earrings. Wolfe and Archie quickly determine that she is not the person they seek, but she is horrified on learning of Pete’s death and claims that she may know who was driving. Fromm refuses to reveal the information, but the next day Wolfe and Archie receive news that she too has been struck by a car and killed. Angered by the fact that two people who came to him for help are now dead, Wolfe decides to solve the murders.

Archie learns that the last people to see Fromm alive are all directly or indirectly connected to a charity for displaced persons that Fromm supported with sizeable donations. While Wolfe assigns his operatives Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather to pursue various leads, Archie approaches those present at the dinner - including Fromm’s secretary Jean Estey, the charity’s attorney Dennis Horan and his wife, and the charity’s director Angela Wright - and offers to sell them details of the conversation between Wolfe and Fromm in an attempt to flush out the guilty party. Before he can approach Paul Kuffner, the charity’s PR director, Kuffner approaches Wolfe and offers to pay for the information. Realising he has been tipped off, Wolfe rejects the offer.

Saul Panzer, who has been posing as a displaced person seeking help from the charity, reveals that after he had approached Horan for help he was subsequently visited by a man who tried to blackmail him out of $10,000. Meanwhile, Fred Durkin has tracked down two hoodlums who claim to have been working with Birch. On discovering that Fred is a private investigator they attempt to torture him for information, but Archie, Saul and Orrie — who have been independently following either Fred or the hoodlums — manage to rescue him. Saul confirms that one of the hoodlums, “Lips” Egan, is the blackmailer, and a notebook in his pocket reveals the existence of a blackmail ring targeting poor, illegal immigrants.

Before the investigators can interrogate the hoodlums further, Dennis Horan arrives unexpectedly at Egan’s base of operations. Archie takes Horan and the hoodlums to Wolfe’s office, where they are held for questioning by Wolfe and Inspector Cramer. Horan tries to distance himself from the two hoodlums, but Egan confesses to the blackmail and implicates Horan as well. Egan revealed that Birch was one of the ringleaders of the operation, but that he in turn took orders from an unknown woman. This prompts Wolfe to realise a flawed assumption that the police have been working under: that the driver of the car that killed Pete Drossos was a man, when in fact it was a woman disguised as a man.

With the principals and several police officers assembled in his office, Wolfe reveals the identify of the murderer: Fromm’s secretary Jean Estey. Estey was the true mastermind of the blackmail ring, but Fromm had begun to suspect her and, after overhearing the codeword she used - “said a spider to a fly” - had given the spider earrings to Estey as a subtle way of confronting her. Estey murdered Birch after he tried to blackmail her into giving him a larger take of the blackmail operation, murdered Pete when realising that he could identify her and Birch as being in the same car, and murdered Fromm to prevent Fromm from exposing her. Estey is arrested for murder after the owner of the store where she bought the man’s suit she used as a disguise identifies her, and Horan and Egan are arrested for blackmail. With the case solved and the perpetrators convicted, Wolfe burns Egan’s notebook to prevent the identities of the immigrants contained within from being exposed.

Cast of characters

The unfamiliar word

In most Nero Wolfe novels and novellas, there is at least one unfamiliar word, usually spoken by Wolfe. The Golden Spiders contains one, spoken not by Wolfe but by attorney Maddox, and is the sort of legal term that Stout tended to avoid:

Reviews and commentary


The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (A&E Network)

The A&E Network original movie The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery first aired March 5, 2000. The Jaffe/Braunstein Films production starred Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe, and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. Veteran screenwriter Paul Monash adapted the novel, and Bill Duke directed.

A&E initially planned that The Golden Spiders would be the first in a series of two-hour mystery movies featuring Nero Wolfe.[1] The high ratings (3.2 million households) garnered by the film, along with the critical praise accorded Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin, prompted A&E to order a weekly one-hour drama series — A Nero Wolfe Mystery — into production.[2]

Other members of the principal cast of The Golden Spiders who would continue in the A&E series A Nero Wolfe Mystery include Bill Smitrovich (Inspector Cramer), Colin Fox (Fritz Brenner), Fulvio Cecere (Fred Durkin), R.D. Reid (Sergeant Purley Stebbins) and Trent McMullen (Orrie Cather). Saul Rubinek, who would take the role of Lon Cohen in the series, was cast as Saul Panzer in the pilot.

Nero Wolfe (Paramount Television)

The Golden Spiders was loosely adapted as the premiere episode of Nero Wolfe (1981), an NBC TV series starring William Conrad as Nero Wolfe and Lee Horsley as Archie Goodwin. Other members of the regular cast include George Voskovec (Fritz Brenner), Robert Coote (Theodore Horstmann), George Wyner (Saul Panzer) and Allan Miller (Inspector Cramer). Guest stars in the series debut include Carlene Watkins (Jean Estey), Penelope Windust (Laura Fromm), Katherine Justice (Angela Bell [Wright]), David Hollander (Pete Drossos) and Liam Sullivan (Paul Kessler [Kuffner]). Directed by Michael O'Herlihy from a teleplay by Wallace Ware (David Karp), "The Golden Spiders" aired January 16, 1981.

Nero Wolfe (Radiotelevisione italiana S.p.A.)

Roberto Jannone adapted The Golden Spiders for the third episode of the RAI TV series Nero Wolfe (Italy 2012), starring Francesco Pannofino as Nero Wolfe and Pietro Sermonti as Archie Goodwin. Set in 1959 in Rome, where Wolfe and Archie reside after leaving the United States, the series was produced by Casanova Multimedia and Rai Fiction and directed by Riccardo Donna. "La principessa Orchidea" aired April 19, 2012.[3][4]

Publication history

Fontana's fourth paperback edition features William Conrad, star of the Paramount Television series Nero Wolfe (1981)
In April 2006, Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine estimated that the first edition of The Golden Spiders had a value of between $200 and $350. The estimate is for a copy in very good to fine condition in a like dustjacket.[7]
The "concept-driven" dustjacket designed by Bill English was cited by graphic design scholar Steven Heller for its spare use of color, sans-serif typography and use of the entire front and back cover area.[8]


  1. Dempsey, John, "A&E embarks on ambitious mystery plan"; Daily Variety, January 15, 1999
  2. Dempsey, John, "Wolfe series at the door for A&E"; Variety, June 26, 2000; "A&E packs 'Wolfe'"; Variety, June 22, 2000
  3. "Nero Wolfe". Casanova Multimedia. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
  4. Episodes, Nero Wolfe (TV series 2012), Italian Wikipedia; retrieved May 27, 2012
  5. Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, Garland Publishing; ISBN 0-8240-9479-4), pp. 30–31. John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer are associate editors of this definitive publication history.
  6. Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I (2001, New York: The Mysterious Bookshop, limited edition of 250 copies), pp. 29–30
  7. Smiley, Robin H., "Rex Stout: A Checklist of Primary First Editions." Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine (Volume 16, Number 4), April 2006, p. 34
  8. Heller, Steven (July 9, 2015). "Bill English Covers Rex Stout". Print. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
  9. Penzler, Otto, Collecting Mystery Fiction #9, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Part I, pp. 19–20
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