Seed on the Wind

Hard Case Crime: Titan. Dec. 2023. 368p. ISBN 9781803364841. pap. $15.95. M
Before launching the epic career of armchair detective extraordinaire Nero Wolfe, Stout tried his hand at mainstream fiction, with intriguing results. In this, his second novel, from 1930, Stout revived the intricate nonlinear plotting that garnered critical praise for his debut, How like a God (a reissue of which is due out from Hard Case this summer), jumping back and forth through time to puzzle out the unconventional life choices of heroine Lora Winter, a serial single mother with four children by four different fathers—and counting. Something of an antecedent to the protagonists in James Cain’s Mildred Pierce and Vera Caspary’s Laura, Lora seems to be no-nonsense modern woman carving out a life against the odds and on her own terms. Clearly something must be wrong with this picture. Taken as psychological fiction, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that the author himself soon reached, that he was, as he told his biographer, “a good storyteller” but “would never be a great novelist,” with this correction: Stout is a great storyteller.
VERDICT One of the most ingenious plotters ever, Stout keeps readers guessing in this compelling saga, a curious forerunner to Ross Macdonald.
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