"How I came to write this story"
The name “Julius Katz” is a dead giveaway that the characters in this story are in some way a tribute to Nero Wolfe, even if you didn’t know that Julius’s sidekick is named Archie or that his nemesis on the police force is named Cramer, and I originally wrote this for the Black Orchid contest that Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine runs with the Wolfe Pack.
I love the Nero Wolfe books. I’ve read and admired all of them. Actually, I should say I love Rex Stout’s writing—Stout and Dashiel Hammett are easily my two favorite crime & mystery writers, and I’ve read everything I’ve been able to find from Stout, including his first novel, How Like a God, which is a dark and twisted noir masterpiece. How Like a God received a good amount of critical acclaim when it was published but sold poorly. A lesson I’m sure Stout learned from that is if you want critical acclaim, write noir, if you want to make money, write anything else!
What I loved so much about the Wolfe books—other than Stout’s terrific and witty writing—was the relationship between Nero and Archie. Nero might at times get peeved enough at Archie to fire him, and Archie might get equally annoyed at Nero and quit, but the two of them would die for each other if needed.
For a while I had this idea floating in my head of a detective series featuring a brilliant, eccentric, and ultimately, very lazy detective, like Nero, who also has a sidekick who can annoy the hell out of him, but in this case the sidekick would be an advanced piece of technology with the heart and soul of a hardboiled PI.
My feelings towards Rex Stout’s work were so reverential that I almost bypassed writing this novella, but I took the Black Orchid contest as a challenge since this type of a more charming mystery is so different than the dark noir and crime thrillers that I’ve been writing. And there was the added challenge of making my tiny advanced piece of technology, Archie, a very human character, as well as making the relationship between Julius and Archie strong enough to drive the story. Once I pushed myself to write it, I had a lot of fun. The story is far lighter and with more humor than the darker novels I’d been writing, and it was good to pull myself out of those depths.
There are similarities between Julius and Nero—both are brilliant, both are gourmets, and prefer their own desired activities over working. There are differences—Julius is athletic and handsome, and a fifth degree black belt in Kung Fu. He’s also a womanizer, and prefers gambling over almost any other activity. Julius is also a wine connoisseur, while Nero prefers beer. Julius also has a touch of larceny in him, and probably shares more DNA with my Pete Mitchel con man than he does with Nero.
So how’d the story do? Well, it lost the Black Orchid contest, but Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine picked it up and it ended up winning the Shamus Award for best PI story, the Derringer Award for best novelette, and 3rd place in Ellery Queen’s Readers Choice Awards. The follow-up story, "Archie’s Been Framed," came out last year and won first place in EQMM’s Readers Choice Awards. A new Julius Katz story will be in Ellery Queen later this year, and I’ve just released the first Julius Katz full-length novel as an e-book, Julius Katz and Archie. So yeah, I’m glad I entered that contest!Dave Zeltserman is the author of OUTSOURCED, THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD, PARIAH, and many other fine novels and stories.