Leg, Culp, and the Evil Judge


Nobody could have known it at the time, but when Rex Stout’s novella Justice Ends at Home was published in 1915, it foreshadowed not only the rise of two enduringly popular fictional heroes (Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin), but also the fall of one enduringly objectionable actual villain (Judge Martin T. Manton of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit). Leading scholars of the work of Rex Stout agree that the two main heroic characters in Justice Ends at Home — the flabby, phlegmatic, middle-aged Simon Leg and his sharp, energetic, youthful assistant Dan Culp — prefigured the fat Nero Wolfe and svelte Archie Goodwin who made their first appearance in Stout’s 1934 novel, Fer-de-Lance. As Stout biographer John McAleer puts it, “eighteen years before Fer-de-Lance was written, Wolfe and Archie already lived nebulously in the mind of Rex Stout.” Unlike Simon Leg and Dan Culp, Judge Fraser Manton — the main villainous character in Justice Ends at Home — has passed largely unnoticed by scholars of Stout and of the law. But the fictional Judge Manton is in fact a prefiguration of the infamous real-life Judge Martin T. Manton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The similarities go beyond the names. Indeed, the two Mantons have enough in common to support an inference that Stout based his fictional Judge Fraser Manton on the real Martin Manton, although the real Manton would not become a judge until 1916 — the year after Justice Ends at Home was published. In other words, Stout’s selection of a corrupt Judge Manton for the lead bad-guy role in Justice Ends at Home was intriguingly prescient.