aris_tgd: "This story is a murder mystery--the mystery of MURDER." (Lyttle Lytton Murder Mystery)
[personal profile] aris_tgd posting in [community profile] milk_and_orchids
Hello, everyone! I'd like to kick off the reprise of the book club with a chance to go back and refresh our memories about what we've already covered, to give people who weren't here (me) a chance to say some things about the early books and to get us all in the mood to keep going until the end!

Oh, also, I made a banner:



Feel free to use it for all community purposes!

The first half-decade of Nero Wolfe books started with Nero and Archie already settled in the Brownstone with Fritz, Theodore, and a cast of supporting New Yorkers in place. But that isn't to say that Rex Stout didn't make changes as he settled into the world he'd created and decided exactly what he wanted to do with it.

Here are the original book club posts for the first six novels:

Fer-de-Lance as pilot episode
Fer-de-Lance
League of Frightened Men
The Rubber Band
The Red Box
Too Many Cooks
Some Buried Caesar

What do you think are some of the most important traits of a Nero Wolfe novel, or the most important characterizations of the core cast of characters, and where do you see those starting to come into play in the early novels? I find it interesting that some of Nero Wolfe's habits are completely set and unchanged from the beginning, but one of his major character beats (his "relapses") is basically gone by the end of this part of the canon. It feels almost like that was one of those tropes lifted from Sherlock Holmes' dark moods which got dropped when Stout started doing his own thing.

What are some favorite moments? I love Lily Rowan conspiring with Wolfe about the sketches in Some Buried Caesar. And of course the discussions about food in Too Many Cooks. And any time that Archie and Wolfe bicker, and whenever Archie gets worried about Wolfe and tries not to show it!

Is there anything that was in the early books that you're sad didn't make it to the later ones?

What's your favorite early Wolfe book? Favorite early Wolfe murder or Wolfe-murderer showdown?

I'll post the next set of recaps in a couple days, depending on how much people are enjoying chatting about these!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-16 08:27 pm (UTC)
ceitfianna: (pooka illustration)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
Wow, I didn't even know you existed. I adore Nero Wolfe and the tv series. I"m currently in the midst of rereading In the Best Families for the first time in a while so the timing of this is amazing.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-16 09:17 pm (UTC)
ceitfianna: (lost in a library)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
Aww, its such a great book too because it plays with tropes and plot points that have been done before while making them better. Also I thought about that question of how do you capture a Nero Wolfe as I wrote a fic and trying to capture Archie's voice was interesting. It was easier than I'd expected as I'd read so many of the books, but still there's a sound.

I remember I once started one of those books written by the other author, Bainsborough and it didn't sound right at all. New technology was put in but it didn't fit and the books do adjust with the tech of the era.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-17 03:54 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

What's funny is that even the Rex Stout mystery books that AREN'T Wolfe+Archie books are... just kind of meh, in my opinion. They're all just straight up traditional third person/narrator POV, "The detective walked down the hallway. He examined the crime scene for a clue." etc., where the "narrator" doesn't have any opinions or "vocal" quirks and just disappears into the narrative. (And they're all, iirc, much more traditional "solo detective protagonist" stories.) It's just strange, especially since, like you said, Archie has a VERY distinct and individual first person POV where he ALWAYS lets you know his opinions and secret thoughts about what's going on and what he's doing and what Wolfe's doing. And he's so grounded in a certain place & time, and you couldn't really confuse his voice with anyone else's, even in these very first few books.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-17 08:37 pm (UTC)
ceitfianna: (Tumnus)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
I was disappointed by the Kerry Greenwood first book as I love the Phryne Fisher tv series, but somehow the verve was different.

The not Stout Wolfe book was disconcerting, trying too hard. I had the same experience when I read the new 'Poirot' which tried too hard and the character wasn't there just the style, no substance.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-18 02:30 am (UTC)
ceitfianna: (pooka illustration)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
I think I've seen the Chapman name before, I'll look for the name again.

I know, but often fanfic surpasses professional at least when its direct fanfic. There's more understanding of it and a lot of professional authors have cultivated their voice so they're not good at doing someone else's.

The only fic I wrote was set in the era, I wrote a fic which had Archie meeting with Steve and Bucky before Captain America. Steve was connected to a case due to an art class he was attending. Trying to transpose Archie and Nero to the modern world would be hard.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-18 08:37 pm (UTC)
ceitfianna: (Tumnus)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
Ooh, I'll have to look out for it since Doctor Who crossovers well with a lot of things.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-16 10:45 pm (UTC)
dorinda: A little clam made of pink and grey yarn, peeking out of its shell with googly eyes. (clam_cute)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Is there anything that was in the early books that you're sad didn't make it to the later ones?

I don't miss the relapses per se, but I must admit I really really miss Wolfe's WWI background when it eventually has to fade away. Because of Stout's choice to move forward in time instead of writing 1930s/40s-set books that gradually become period pieces (at least, moving the world forward, although the main characters only questionably), we perforce lose Wolfe's specific foundational trauma: the horrors of the war, the Great Serbian Retreat, killing people (Germans for sure, who else we don't know), etc. The Wolfe who says "I starved to death in 1916", or who, when Archie joins the military in WWII, completely flips out and says "I am going to kill some Germans. I didn't kill enough in 1918."

It's just such a dramatic, terrible, shattering, dare I say romantic origin story for Wolfe, and fits so well with his personality, especially his vulnerabilities. I hate to lose it!
Edited (missed an adjective) Date: 2015-07-16 10:46 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-16 11:25 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Randolph Scott smiles at Cary Grant. (Randolph_Cary)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
and whenever Archie gets worried about Wolfe and tries not to show it!

Yisssssss. I believe it comes across pretty clearly in the book club posts I contributed, but one of my absolute favorite angles on this is the repeated trope where Wolfe is physically attacked and (usually) injured, a shocked Archie leaps to his side and examines him, and when it turns out not to be life-threatening, Archie cracks wise to hide his feelings. UNF SO GOOD.

Like, in The Rubber Band we get Archie pulling Wolfe's coat off and ripping his shirt sleeve; in Too Many Cooks we have Archie's voice cracking; in Over My Dead Body we have him asking "Did she get you?" in a voice that sounds funny to him (though he gets no time for a wisecrack afterward). I love it SO MUCH.

Of course, I also love the versions from books like Fer-de-Lance and Some Buried Caesar, where there's a sudden danger ([1]possible bomb, [2]bull), Archie tries to throw himself alone in the way of the danger, but Wolfe doesn't allow it. The mutual protectiveness just smashes me flat.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-17 12:05 am (UTC)
travels_in_time: (Default)
From: [personal profile] travels_in_time
I can't remember which book it is, but I know it's a very early one--when Archie gets drugged and kidnapped, the thing he's most upset about is that something Wolfe gave him--a wallet, maybe?--has been taken away. I think he actually cries about it. And then Wolfe willingly gets in a car with the person he KNOWS is the murderer, so he can go rescue Archie. I read this one after I'd read several others, so the getting-in-the-car thing really stood out to me. I really do <3 these guys.

(I hope I've remembered it correctly; skimming through these entries, looks like y'all know the canon backwards and forwards!)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-17 01:34 am (UTC)
dorinda: Animated image of Jim kissing Plato on the temple, from a screen test for "Rebel Without a Cause" (JimPlato_animated)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
You remember perfectly! Though really, let me emphasize that no remembering is required for any of this, perfect or otherwise--heck, I only remember the stuff I do remember because I squeed to friends about it in emails, or took notes for book club discussion. :D

And oh gads yesssss, that scene is SO GOOD. We did a bit of discussion of it in the post for The League of Frightened Men, and you'll see me in there going on about it in allcaps, heh.

I mean, the leather cardcase has orchids carved on one side, and pistols on the other, and their initials inside! Archie cries, and it's the presence of the card-case in the letter to Wolfe that made him realize the situation really is grave, so we know that Wolfe knows that Archie would never willingly let go of the case. And as you say, Wolfe leaves the Brownstone (!) and gets in a car driven by someone else (!!) to rescue him. That entire sequence is a total go-to re-read for me. ♥

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-17 03:14 pm (UTC)
nestra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nestra
I KNOW. All of this.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-18 01:54 am (UTC)
travels_in_time: (Default)
From: [personal profile] travels_in_time
I had a few in our neighborhood library that I've read and re-read, but I just got my hands on a complete collection, and I'm plowing through all of them. So much good stuff still to discover!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-17 01:24 am (UTC)
lycomingst: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lycomingst
I was sorry we didn't see more of Wolfe's dog, Jet.

It's been a while since I've read the books but I have them all on the bookshelf and it'll be a pleasure to delve into them again.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-17 04:05 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

I think we sort of covered this as we went through each book individually, but it really is interesting how the first four books are pretty good, but you can tell Stout was still resisting getting "stuck" writing traditional genre detective fiction. He spent a lot of time focusing on telling the stories of his OCs and their Deep Psychological Concerns and Twisty Psyches and Relationships and including lots of monologues and flashbacks to these characters' mysterious pasts and stuff. (Pretty much every mystery in the first 4 books depends on Something That Happened 20 Years Ago In Another Country and it's like the brownstone is just a setting for these stories to be told.)

And then in "Too Many Cooks" and "Some Buried Caesar" Wolfe & Archie finally get out of New York for two books! Two whole books that take place COMPLETELY outside New York. And it's like they suddenly evolve into the more recognizable *main characters* versions of themselves, because Stout can't depend on all the typical business of brownstone life that he's been depending on for the past 4 books. There's no "filler" in Too Many Cooks or Some Buried Caesar of "Wolfe went upstairs to the orchid room" or "I hung around trading zingers with Saul," etc.

It's also interesting to put these 6 books into a "block" because TMC introduces Marko Vukcic and SBC introduces Lily Rowan, and after that I think the "supporting cast" of the Wolfe books is 100% completely set - everyone is established and no more prominent supporting characters are ever really introduced.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-18 05:30 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

It feels like the first four are him kind of finding his feet and pulling a lot from other stuff that was around in the genre, but once he decided to get them out of town for a while he really shifted into another gear.

Yeah. Like, even in "Too Many Cooks" there is still the European influence, with lots of foreign characters and their tangled backstory, and the villain being this pulp/mystery stock character (the Slinky Lynx-Eyed European Femme Fatale with the Hypnotic Seduction Gaze who Destroys Men and Breaks Up Male Friendships) who doesn't really show up again in Wolfe canon as far as I can remember.

But you also get these really interesting aspects (which we talked about in the Too Many Cooks review) of the black characters' portrayal and actually letting them talk about how racism affects their lives & their choices. And it's totally not perfect, but it does seem like something that was coming a lot more directly from Stout's personal experience and opinions-- it just feels a lot less based in previously established cliche, than a lot of previous books and their B or C plots.

And then you get Some Buried Caesar which, I think, drops out most of the Holmesian cliches altogether and fills in the empty spots with pure Wolfe & Archie. Wolfe manipulating his way among the people, the focus on advertising and publicity stunts connected to Caesar, introduction of Lily and the new Archie + Lily dynamic, the part where Archie gets thrown in jail and forms a prisoner's union, all this stuff is hilarious and awesome and could really ONLY be Wolfe and Archie.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-19 02:49 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

Yeah, Rex Stout worked in wartime propaganda/anti-propaganda VERY heavily and I think he also had some experience in advertising, so the consideration of "what is the public thinking" and "how should we spin this in the papers" and "what information should I leak to Lon Cohen" etc. is often something that shows up in canon (although not much in these first six, I think-- more often later on.)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-18 05:31 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

Oh, and I forgot -- Lon Cohen hasn't been added to the supporting cast yet, I don't think he shows up till The Silent Speaker(?) maybe.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-18 04:14 pm (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
"(Pretty much every mystery in the first 4 books depends on Something That Happened 20 Years Ago In Another Country and it's like the brownstone is just a setting for these stories to be told.)"

Did we talk last time about how this is totally a Conan Doyle hangover? At least he didn't just stop the contemporary narrative completely dead for dozens of pages to report on the Mormons of forty years ago, like certain stories I could mention.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-19 05:46 am (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
Archie would have ten wives!!!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-17 06:37 am (UTC)
vicki_rae: (ZZZ - Fireworks)
From: [personal profile] vicki_rae
How did I not know this? Off to join immediately.

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