liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (fandom eroica: hardly ever!klaus)
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Wolfe and Archie's relationship is still evolving in this book-- Wolfe is compelled to leave the brownstone for what he considers to be a non-compelling reason; I would have said "not life or death" except it literally does concern a person's death. Later, Archie manages to snap Wolfe out of a relapse and get him back on the case, and Wolfe adds a new level or layer to Archie's job, giving him a little more in terms of responsibility. So, let's start out with...

* ARCHIE VS THE RELAPSE

"What's this, you going to start a restaurant?" No attention. I said, "I've got a report to make. Forty-five people ate candy out of those boxes, and they all died in agony. Cramer is dead. H. R. Cragg is dead. The goddesses are dead. I'm sick."

"Shut up, Archie. Is the car in front? Fritz will need a few things right away."

I knew if the delivery of supplies once started there wouldn't be a chance. I also knew that coaxing wouldn't do it, and bullying wouldn't do it. I was desperate, and I ran over Wolfe's weaknesses in my mind and picked one.


A couple of thoughts:

1) I wonder why Archie doesn't seem to resent *Fritz* at all for enabling Wolfe in his relapsing. He doesn't even shoot him a resentful/pleading look as if to say "How could you! People are dead! Also we're trying to make a living here!" -- his focus is entirely on Wolfe. I mean, in a sense, there's not much Fritz *could* really do even if he wanted to help Archie out-- technically he's just an employee, so what are his options? Go on strike? In the mindset he's in, would Wolfe just fire him if he didn't co-operate? Maybe Fritz enables the "relapses" because something worse happens if he doesn't-- if he doesn't have a menu to occupy his mind, does Wolfe just go into a black funk, not get out of bed in the morning, what? Maybe if he doesn't have a culinary project to work on, the relapse lasts even longer than it usually would. (Later on though Archie mentions "Fritz was friendly again, forgiving and forgetting that I had jerked Wolfe back from the brink of the Wednesday relapse. He never toted a grudge.")

2) oh I wish Archie had written down descriptions of some of the times he tried "coaxing." *hee*

3) So what exactly is the "weakness" of Wolfe's that Archie takes advantage of? I didn't dare touch him, but I leaned down close to him. I bawled at him, "And what am I to tell Miss Frost when she comes here at two o'clock? I am empowered to make appointments, am I not? She is a lady, is she not? Of course, if common courtesy is overboard too -"

Wolfe stopped himself, pressed his lips together, and turned his head. He looked me in the eye.

After a moment he asked quietly, "Who? What Miss Frost?"


Does Wolfe know at this point that Archie is lying or does he realize it later when Archie starts sneaking out of the office to get Helen Frost?

4) Like I said before, I wonder if Archie breaking Wolfe out of the relapse is related to, maybe even the cause of, Wolfe sending Archie over to Helen Frost's house to interrogate/poke everybody, which, at this point, is *not* in Archie's job description: Strictly speaking, that wasn't my job. I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe's chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I'm chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on. This expedition to 65th Street was neither of those. I don't pretend to be strong on nuances. If Wolfe can push himself out of his comfort zone to work on this case, to leave the house and to pull himself out of a relapse, then Archie too should have to stretch himself and do things that go against the grain, maybe that's Wolfe's logic?

* ARCHIE AND WOLFE

At one point while over at Helen Frost's house Archie is getting impatient with people being illogical and: I started to sigh, then realized that I was imitating Nero Wolfe, and choked it off. Heh, I love it when Archie does that.

There's also a bit in the office where Wolfe is getting frustrated and says: ".... if we are driven to the extreme of buying steamship tickets across the Atlantic we are beneath contempt." and Archie grins at him and replies, yeah: "I'm beneath yours and you're beneath mine...." Shades of a similar statement in "In The Best Families" where Archie explains that for both Wolfe and Archie, what they think of each other is of primary importance.... Anyway then Archie says "So I suspected. You're telling me that you do know who the murderer is. Huh?"

"Archie." He wiggled a finger at me. "I dislike mystification and never practice it for diversion. But I shall load you with no burdens that will strain your powers. You have no gift for guile. Certainly I know who the murderer is, but what good does that do me? I am in no better boat than Mr. Cramer...."
I think in later books Wolfe learns better than to actually say "of COURSE I know who the murderer is and I'm just choosing not to tell you," and sticks to more vague statements like "well, I don't KNOW but I have a very strong theory and I'm just waiting for some facts to arrive," because I imagine Archie can be the most irritating person in the world when he doesn't just suspect, but actually knows, that Wolfe knows the answer and is just choosing not to tell.

(Also, speaking of being co-dependents, when Helen Frost asks Archie to go down to the police station, Archie says: I took my time eating, on to the coffee and through it, because I knew if I hurried and didn't chew properly it would upset Wolfe's digestion. N'awwww.)

* WOMEN

Wolfe is actually semi-gentlemanly in this book. At one point even though he's enraged and disgusted about having to be out of the house, he tells walk-on character Thelma Mitchell, who watched her friend die, "you have good nerves." Later, at the end of chapter ten, Helen Frost bursts into tears in Wolfe's office (just like Clara Fox in "Rubber Band") and although Archie immediately bounces up to get her a drink, keep her cousin from "comforting" her and making it worse, etc., he doesn't mention any reaction from Wolfe at all. When Wolfe invites Helen Frost to lunch and she clearly appreciates Fritz' cooking, he actually looks on her "with open approval," and then when she gives clear answers to questions he tells her "It is a pleasure to earn a fee from a client like you."

Archie doesn't have much to do with women in this book; during the candy test he spots a gorgeous redhead but then decides not to follow it up because she's a countess from Prague. The ingenue heroine is already being fought over by a couple of guys, one (again) sort of young and dopey, the other a creep, and Archie feels vaguely protective of her and that's about all. Oh, except that (iirc) this is the first time Wolfe sends Archie out on a Woman Fetching Mission, which neither one actually thinks he has a chance of completing, but which he actually completes admirably by, basically, being Archie Goodwin and charming her socks off: "I am a self-made man, and am a roughneck but not rowdy. I graduated from high school at the age of seventeen and only a few months ago I gave two dollars to the Red Cross."

We also get our first female killer in this book, Calida Frost, who gets a big talk-up from Archie: That dame has got a steel spine, a governor on her main artery that prevents acceleration, and a patent air-cooling system for her brain. If you wanted to prove she murdered anyone you'd have to see her do it and be sure to have a camera along. She kills more people in this book than any previous murderer-- Molly the model, Perren Gebert and Boyd McNair.

Also notable on the topic of "women" is the bizarre insult Helen Frost-aka-Glenna McNair hurls when she realizes Mrs. Frost is the killer: "You *woman!*" .... Dear Rex Stout, most women do not use "you woman" as an insult, because, y'know, we are one. Love, me. ^_^

* VIOLENCE

We get the weird scene of Perren Gebert getting slapped around down at the police station (it is seriously the most candy-coated "police brutality" that probably ever existed in a detective novel) and Archie's contemptuous and sort of indignant but controlled reaction. I suppose this scene is mostly there to justify Wolfe's high-handed tactics in hiding people from the police, especially innocent clients, and although Archie distances himself at the time with a lot of (internal) sarcasm and contempt, I think it really does bother him more than he lets on, to the point of complaining about it to Wolfe afterwards: If you're so sure violence is inferior technique, you should have seen that exhibition; it was wonderful. They say it works sometimes, but even if it does, how could you depend on anything you got that way? Not to mention that after you had done it a few times any decent garbage can would be ashamed to have you found in it.

Later on of course Archie slaps District Attorney Skinner's representative Frisbie in the face for calling Wolfe crooked and underhanded; actually, now that I go back and look, Frisbie doesn't even say that, he just calls Wolfe's *tactics* crooked and underhanded. Archie of course doesn't see a difference, or maybe he just wants to hit somebody, preferably a representative of The Man: "Shut up and get out of here before you make me mad. .... The next time you shoot off your mouth about Nero Wolfe being crooked and underhanded I won't slap you in private, I'll do it with an audience. Git!"

I kind of suspect this scene is here (1) just because Archie *has* always hit and/or shot somebody in each book so far and there's no reason to break the streak yet, and (2) possibly to reassure the audience that Archie is not a liberal bleeding heart pinko wuss just because he flinches at a little police brutality. So of course the best way to portray Archie as a red blooded American male is to have him slap a guy in the face, because his feelings are hurt by a slur on the reputation of the guy he lives with. Aaanyway...

.... after I had heard the front door close behind him I went and sat down at my desk and yawned and scratched my head and kicked over the wastebasket. It had been a fleeting pleasure to smack him and read him out, but now that it was over there was an inclination inside of me to feel righteous, and that made me glum and in a worse temper than before. I hate to feel righteous, because it makes me uncomfortable and I want to kick something. .... Oh, *Archie*.

* SAUL

Saul comes into the book a bit late but pretty much everything he does is awesome. *G* He winks at Archie! He BLUSHES when he uses slang to Wolfe. "Is it hot-- uh, I mean stolen?" In "Rubber Band" he drank port wine; in "Red Box" he drinks a highball with Wolfe in the office while explaining how horse races work. And Archie once again refers to the everlasting blueprint he makes of people's faces when he looks at them.

* CRAMER

Cramer visits the brownstone in chapter nine and contributes to one of my favorite Archie moments; Archie is making fun of Cramer's jaw dropping by leaning back in his chair and yawning hugely and dramatically. He gets no response, so a couple of minutes later he does it AGAIN (Archie seriously stop being twelve) and then this happens: Ash fell from Cramer's cigar to the rug. He paid no attention to it. He muttered, "I'll be damned," and sank back in his chair. I considered it a good spot for another yawn, but almost got startled into lockjaw in the middle of it when Cramer suddenly exploded at me savagely: "For God's sake fall in it, you clown!" I can just *see* Archie flailing and then pointedly regaining his dignity, like a cat falling off the tv.

Later, in chapter fourteen, when Archie goes down to police headquarters-- is this the first time Archie and Cramer have a long conversation somewhere without Wolfe? Archie says this in response to Cramer accusing Wolfe of knowing everything and holding it back: ".... The trouble with you is you don't see Wolfe much except when he's got the sawdust in the ring and ready to crack the whip. You ought to see him the way I do sometimes. You think he knows everything. I could tell you at least three things he never will know." .... that's so domestic, you guys, it kills me!

* MISC

-- So, kids, if you know French and Latin, YOU TOO could solve the case right alongside Wolfe! *G* The "foreign word that is the key to it all" clue is so, so Arthur Conan Doyle. Poor Archie, if he had only sat back and let Wolfe show off, Wolfe might have told him who the killer was, but he had to be annoying...

".... But I forget - you don't know French. Ardemment means ardently. The quotation translates, 'At least, I die ardently.'"

"Really?" I elevated the brows. "The hell you say."

"Yes. And therefore - but I forget again. You don't know Latin. Do you?"

"Not intimately. I'm shy on Chinese too." I aimed a Bronx cheer in a sort of general direction. "Maybe we ought to turn this case over to the Heinemann School of Languages. Did Gebert's quotation fix us up on evidence too, or do we have to dig that out for ourselves?"

I overplayed it. Wolfe compressed his lips and eyed me without favor. He leaned back. "Some day, Archie, I shall be constrained... but no. I cannot remake the universe, and must therefore put up with this one. What is, is, including you."


That whole scene is gold. "You'd like some more fun with my French?" "No indeed; it isn't fun." <3

-- The timeline is still progressing: Archie says, early on, Having worked for Nero Wolfe for nine years, there were a few points I wasn't skeptical about any more. and when Wolfe is yelling at him for snapping him out of the relapse, he says: ""Not disturb me? Ha! What else have you done but that during the past eight years?" We also get another summary of how long Wolfe's lived with Archie, while they're in the taxicab and Archie is driving him down to the crime scene: "Driving from the house on 35th Street near the Hudson River - where Wolfe had lived for over twenty years and I had lived with him for nearly half of them" .... I'm going to be keeping my eyes open for when characters stop saying specific numbers and start saying things like "Haven't I known you long enough to know..." etc.

-- Also let's go back to those things Archie isn't skeptical about any more: For instance: That he was the best private detective north of the South Pole. That he was convinced that outdoor air was apt to clog the lungs. That it short-circuited his nervous system to be jiggled and jostled. That he would have starved to death if anything had happened to Fritz Brenner, on account of his firm belief that no one's cooking but Fritz's was fit to eat. There were other points too, of a different sort, but I'll pass them up since Nero Wolfe will probably read this. ... I feel like this passage benefits from a Forsythian analysis.

-- Subtext patrol alert! Chapter nine, paragraph three: I had made my usual diplomatic advances to Wolfe Wednesday evening after dinner, and again this morning when he got down from the plant rooms, but all I had got was a few assorted rebuffs. I hadn't pressed him much, because I saw it was a case where a little thoughtless enthusiasm might easily project me out of bounds. He was about as touchy as I had ever seen him. Heh heh.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-02 06:15 am (UTC)
parhelion: Archie Goodwin/meganbmoore (Archie-gun)
From: [personal profile] parhelion
Man, I love these book reports and all that goes into them. One of these days soon, I'm going to read and reply to one when my brain isn't fried, and actually come up with a comment half as good as everyone provides in the original posts. Tonight, I'll have to settle for a few initial, scattered reactions:

Maybe Fritz enables the "relapses" because something worse happens if he doesn't-- if he doesn't have a menu to occupy his mind, does Wolfe just go into a black funk, not get out of bed in the morning, what?

Well, Wolfe does have the canonical, take to bed and eat nothing but soup, depressive reaction. Perhaps that's even more upsetting to Fritz than Wolfe in the kitchen getting in the way, when at least Fritz can keep an eye on what's happening?

So what exactly is the "weakness" of Wolfe's that Archie takes advantage of?

My first thought was that Archie was playing off Wolfe's pride in doing his duty. Wolfe doesn't mind being rude or lazy, but he does have those strict, if obscure and idiosyncratic, rules about obligation and courteous behavior once he's in a dutiful relationship with someone. He goes out of his way as a host, for example. It would be just like Wolfe to take trouble to see someone because of an appointment and then tell the person during the appointment to get lost.

Wolfe is actually semi-gentlemanly in this book.

I can never figure out if Wolfe's emotionally committed to male chauvinism or the appearance of male chauvinism. Does the distaste for women give him a reason to keep them away, or does his wanting to keep them away give him a reason for distaste? The way his behavior veers all over the map makes it hard to decide.

during the candy test he spots a gorgeous redhead but then decides not to follow it up because she's a countess from Prague.

The "foreign word that is the key to it all" clue is so, so Arthur Conan Doyle. Poor Archie, if he had only sat back and let Wolfe show off, Wolfe might have told him who the killer was, but he had to be annoying...

Oh, Archie! So sure so often in so many books that foreigners are nothing but comic fodder for the true, all-American tough guy even as he completely contradicts this by his happy life of letting Wolfe and Fritz shape his tastes and behavior.

Sometimes he's the best unreliable narrator ever, now set loose to describe an equally complex and self-contradictory clan of colleagues. I feel like it's this "here is what I claim to believe, told to you in a way that so vividly highlights the flaws in what I'm saying that I seem on some level to know I'm wrong" that keeps all the period attitudes in canon from making the books unreadable. The mistakes-in-retrospect become like insects trapped in amber.







(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-03 03:02 am (UTC)
parhelion: Archie Goodwin/meganbmoore (Archie-gun)
From: [personal profile] parhelion
I don't know, a lot of people describe Wolfe in these really reductive terms, "the agoraphobe misogynist!" and so on, but I expect certain things from a misogynist character that I don't see in Wolfe.

One of the many wonderful things about Some Buried Caesar that made me dibs it for my book report is the chance to compose a nice, long "what the hell?" paragraph about Wolfe's and Archie's relationships with women couched in formal terms. Even with my slash goggles off, there are enigmas within mysteries about their gender relationships.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-03 02:04 am (UTC)
dorinda: Shot from MST3K short "Mr B. Natural," showing a white boy from the 50s, with "CONFORM!" superimposed several times. (mst_conform)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I feel like it's this "here is what I claim to believe, told to you in a way that so vividly highlights the flaws in what I'm saying that I seem on some level to know I'm wrong" that keeps all the period attitudes in canon from making the books unreadable.

I think this is very well-said. That's meat and drink to me, and I think a big part of what gives me such a fannish attachment to the books--the levels of things, the labyrinths. With some other books, I have to simply and forcibly set aside my reactions to things that would otherwise distress me too much, if I want to have any fun. But with these books, by and large, there's already such a layer of unreliability and second-guessing, directed from Archie the narrator at himself and at the narrative, that there's plenty of flexibility built in for me.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-03 03:12 am (UTC)
parhelion: Archie Goodwin/meganbmoore (Archie-gun)
From: [personal profile] parhelion
I agree. Even when he blows it -- and he did a lot -- I get the feeling that Stout felt he should be trying, that there was some set of problems in the society around him he needed to consider. I'm willing to give him a fair amount of credit for that. After all, I'm not entirely sure I do as well in our own day and age as he did in his, not having the benefit of hindsight about my own opinions and writing.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-03 03:07 am (UTC)
parhelion: Archie Goodwin/meganbmoore (Archie-gun)
From: [personal profile] parhelion
I think the way Wolfe's pack of comrades flails around, going back and forth between obnoxiousness and some amazingly good behavior for their time period, keeps the books more interesting and, hmmm, realistically pulpy than behavior that agreed across the board with our own values would be.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-02 02:36 pm (UTC)
ladyvyola: quote: "SALT: a magic rock that makes food taste delicious" (magically delicious)
From: [personal profile] ladyvyola
So of course the best way to portray Archie as a red blooded American male is to have him slap a guy in the face, because his feelings are hurt by a slur on the reputation of the guy he lives with. Aaanyway...

Yeah. We got nothin'.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-03 03:13 am (UTC)
parhelion: Archie Goodwin/meganbmoore (Archie-gun)
From: [personal profile] parhelion
Good point!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-03 12:32 am (UTC)
dorinda: The continents of the world, nibbled out of an apple (world_apple)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
* This book has an odd (and, as far as I can remember, never followed-up) bit about Wolfe's family, shortly after Archie has snapped him out of the relapse:

"Did you know that I am an uncle, Archie?"
He knew perfectly well that I knew it, since I typed the monthly letters to Belgrade for him, but of course he wasn't expecting an answer.

An uncle? So he supposedly has a brother or sister? Is this like Archie's appearing/disappearing mom?

* Speaking of Wolfe backstory (or side-story), Wolfe talks about owning a house in Egypt--is this the first time we've heard about that?

* Here's this book's contribution to that pattern I mentioned in Rubber Band, with someone not wanting to talk in front of Archie, and Wolfe not only making it mandatory, but also underscoring Archie's awesomeness:

"No." McNair got energetic and positive. "I don't want it written down. And I don't want this man here."
"Then I don't want to hear it." Wolfe pointed a thumb at me. "This is Mr. Goodwin, my confidential assistant. Whatever opinion you have formed of me includes him of necessity. His discretion is the twin of his valor."


AWWW.

There's a later bit of praise from Wolfe, about Archie, in Archie's presence, that Archie then openly refers to. Wolfe wants Helen Frost to take Archie home so Archie can interrogate and snoop, and Wolfe says, "Mr. Goodwin is a discreet and wholesome man and not without acuity." Then, when he and Archie secretly meet upstairs (after Wolfe gives him the code phrases of 'get the package from your room' and 'put it on my bed' [!]), Wolfe gives him some instructions, and Archie answers, "Sure, I always do, because I'm wholesome." I love when they talk to each other in the guise of talking to someone else, especially when they also acknowledge it to each other (Prisoner's Base has a scene chock full of this dynamic that always floors me!).

A few past cases I noticed: Wolfe again refers to "Paul Chapin, his wife, and the members of that incredible League of Atonement." Cramer makes a remark about "that rubber band guy, old man Perry" (tsk, Cramer, spoilers! *g*). Plus, there's reference to a past case we never saw, when Cramer says "You know Lanzetta of the D.A.'s office? Hates your epidermis ever since that Fairmount business three years ago?" Only three years ago--it seems like we must have just barely missed it!

I believe this is the first book to show us Wolfe's pained relationship to the radio. It always kills me, the visual of him specifically turning on a really dumb program and sitting there listening with this FACE. X__X Like soaking in ice water to numb the nerves of the skin. And in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it is for his nerves he does it, to try to deaden some of the more painful interactions with popular culture and/or nitwits. Being such an introvert, and yet having a job that requires him to talk to a lot of strangers, must bring up that difficulty a lot.

There's a remark from Wolfe that (like his "hyenas of finance" rant in Rubber Band) reinforces his character trait of not approving of the excesses of capitalism:

"[Saul] has been explaining the machinery of the Irish sweepstakes. If bees handled their affairs like that, no hive would have enough money to last the winter."
"But a few bees would be rolling in it."
"I suppose so."


Although it is eventually made clear that he is not a Communist, it's also very clear that, emotionally and politically, he is on the side of the poor and oppressed rather than that of the captains of industry. (I'll eventually touch on this again in the post for Over My Dead Body.)

* All the details about candy in this book make me want to buy some. On top of the books' general power to make me hungry!



(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-03 03:25 am (UTC)
parhelion: Archie Goodwin/meganbmoore (Archie-gun)
From: [personal profile] parhelion
I *think* this is the first reference we get to Wolfe having a specifically Serbo-Croatian-ish connection-- although now that I look it up, I guess both Budapest (where Wolfe's mom lives) and Belgrade were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the teens/twenties?

When I'm in the mood for crazy fanon theories, one of my pet notions is the idea that Wolfe might be the illegitimate offspring of a Hungarian courtesan and Prince Nikola of Montenegro. I have this whole list of "evidence", including pictures of what Nicolas I looked like, reports about his family life, its explanation of how Wolfe could be so well educated and socially mobile in such a poor country, his fondness for the underdog, and Wolfe's attitudes towards the Petrovics...
Edited (Typo fix!) Date: 2010-05-03 03:26 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-04 01:51 am (UTC)
dorinda: The continents of the world, nibbled out of an apple (world_apple)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
When I'm in the mood for crazy fanon theories, one of my pet notions is the idea that Wolfe might be the illegitimate offspring of a Hungarian courtesan and Prince Nikola of Montenegro.

Oooh, I like it! Should you ever care to toss up an essay about it, it would be eagerly received.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-04 02:02 am (UTC)
dorinda: Fat Pony appears in a blaze of light! (Fat_Pony)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
thank you for giving me the excuse to ramble on.

Anytime! Seems like a total win-win situation to me!

when Wolfe and Archie cut through illogic or fussing by being like "WAIT HOLD UP" and laying everything out ON PAPER and making people read it, acknowledge that there are only a few options and even fewer logical ones, and then SIGN IT so that they can't go back on it or start randomly fussing again.

Oh, man, sooooo truuuuuue. I found it a particular balm during my re-read of this book, in fact, because boy does the cacophony of the Frost family in general (especially Dudley, the motormouth) get on my nerves. And just as I'm at maximum jangle, Archie plonks the paper down, and after just a few dwindling attempts at wriggling, Lew signs it and THEY SHUT UP. Whew.

(It also occurs to me that this is probably why Archie's tactic worked, when he suggested getting all those orchid guys to sign that letter to get Wolfe out of the house.

Hee! That hadn't occurred to me. I suppose he who lives by the signed document dies by the signed document.

Re: Archie the stenographer... I have a vague memory of Archie remarking at some point in some book that his shorthand is of his own invention. Does this ring a bell for anyone else?

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-05 02:26 am (UTC)
dorinda: Shot from MST3K short "Mr B. Natural," showing a white boy from the 50s, with "CONFORM!" superimposed several times. (mst_conform)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
That could be it, though I'm not sure--my vague memory is growing vaguer by the minute. But if I see any more about it, I'll pipe up.

"... or I've got the soul of a male stenographer.

Oh, Archie. *pat pat* Lean close for a second...closer... Honey, YOU ARE A MALE STENOGRAPHER. :D

This actually makes me think back to League of Frightened Men, and the fact that while Archie was away, he was (poorly) replaced in the household by two men, a bodyguard and a stenographer. Seems to neatly externalize the two poles of a certain concept of masculinity, which (as our sweetly unreliable narrator) Archie seems to regard as separate and unequal, despite the fact that he clearly synthesizes both, and more, within himself.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-03 01:55 am (UTC)
dorinda: Sherlock Holmes smiles fondly, unseen, at Watson. (holmes_watson_01)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Does Wolfe know at this point that Archie is lying or does he realize it later when Archie starts sneaking out of the office to get Helen Frost?

An interesting question. Wolfe says: "Did you think I was not aware of your mendacity, there in the kitchen? Have I not told you that your powers of dissimulation are wretched?" But I admit, I don't buy it, for a couple of reasons:

* If Wolfe knew from the start that Archie was lying, why on earth did Wolfe actually stop his relapse-plans and come out to the office?

* Wolfe's yelling in the office--especially "You were going to sneak out of this house and rush through the city streets in a desperate endeavor to conceal the chicanery you practiced on me."--seems more like the yelling of someone who was lied to and momentarily believed it, rather than someone who really did know all along.

I think Wolfe figures it out very shortly after he comes into the office, though, when Archie attempts to follow up his first basic lie with more detail:
"Well," I said, and swiveled. “We went and did it.”

"Go on."

He had half-shut eyes on me. I knew he suspected me, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had my number right then. But he wasn't starting back for the kitchen.


So in the heat of things, Archie managed a convincing single lie with a strong emotional jab at one of Wolfe's weaknesses (Miss Frost is coming at two o'clock and thus deserves courtesy), but when he tries to keep up the pretense while elaborating on the candy-test, Wolfe apparently sees through him.

But in any case, certainly, Archie's final attempt at sneaking away and lying is a weak and sickly botch of things. But I do so love that exchange you quoted from!:
He roared, "Where were you going?"

I tried to grin at him. "Nowhere. Just upstairs a minute."

"And why the furtive stealth?"

"I...why...egad, sir, I didn't want to disturb you."

"Indeed. You egad me, do you?" He straightened up in his chair. “Not disturb me? Ha! What else have you done but that during the past eight years?


That has such a married tone. And despite the fact Archie's been lying, Wolfe still is willing to give Archie the chance to make it come true (even if it later seems he didn't quite believe Archie could manage it), only venting his temper with NO FRITTERS FOR YOU SO THERE. :D

She kills more people in this book than any previous murderer-- Molly the model, Perren Gebert and Boyd McNair.

She's pretty horrible. And while Molly and Boyd die the same way, with a fairly simple technique of putting poison inside a small piece of something innocuous, Perren's death seems both grotesque and outré. I mean, the sheer danger levels of even being near that particular chemical--and the fragility of the contraption. Jeez. That part of her doings almost smacks of evil-supervillain, with its seemingly-unnecessary rococo flourishes.

he drinks a highball with Wolfe in the office while explaining how horse races work

Saaaaaaul! You know, I love that bit where Archie comes in in the middle of things, and they're things that have nothing to do with the case. Saul is starting to get fleshed out into someone who has his own relationship with Wolfe, independent of Archie. Sitting and having a drink, elucidating the sweepstakes. Aw.

I can just *see* Archie flailing and then pointedly regaining his dignity, like a cat falling off the tv.

YES THIS. :D I love that description! Eeee hee hee.

The ingenue heroine is already being fought over by a couple of guys, one (again) sort of young and dopey, the other a creep

And you know, compared to the ingenue-and-dope pairing of Rubber Band, this one never sits comfortably with me. Maybe Horrocks is just a nicer, sweeter, non-oppressive kind of dope or something. Because Lew ends up really bugging me, with the ortho-cousin this, and the hysterics-at-Wolfe that, and trying to control Helen and get her to quit her job and stuff. Yech.

that's so domestic, you guys, it kills me!

Me toooooo. Running spousal interference by giving Cramer a glimpse at the very fact that there is a completely-private-Wolfe, not for anyone else's consumption. (Er. *coff*)

I feel like this passage benefits from a Forsythian analysis.

BWAH. I hadn't seen that term before, and I wholeheartedly concur! (Both with the existence of the term, and with its applicability in these circumstances!)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-04 02:20 am (UTC)
dorinda: A nudibranch (a type of sea slug) with markings that make it look like it is smiling and wearing a hat. (nudibranch)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
People don't just get strangled or run over, they get bonked on the head and knocked unconscious, and *then* strangled or run over.

Granted, I haven't gathered stats. But I suppose it makes my mind jump to The Golden Spiders, and (without specifying the character) the running-over combined with the lingering death (which is how the other person in the ambulance knows to go follow up with Wolfe). Of course, the unanesthetized horror of that could very well be particularly terrible because we don't see it happening that often in the books... But I should wait for The Golden Spiders to get into it further.

And then there's something I've noticed, about how Stout's murderers tend more towards poison, strangling and running people over, as opposed to the (I assume) vastly more common in actual reality, murderers who use guns or knives-- so, is it just me, or is the common factor there that Rex Stout prefers the, um, non-penetrative method of murder to the penetrative method?

Bwah. I haven't done a corpus-wide survey, but that would be eeeenteresting. *g*

In mulling it over while falling asleep last night, I was thinking about the eventual increase in explosive devices. Again, without being specific... In wartime, of course, some of the tools of death end up being weapons of war. And much further along, there's the horrifying use of small explosives in utterly civilian circumstances. It feels much grimmer, and gorier (even if still not fully-described, the small details we do get are horribly evocative). Those'll be interesting to discuss.

or maybe even his realization as a Sherlockian that a flexible canon makes for more fun when it comes to certain types of fans?

I do wonder! I mean, here we are, being fannish about a series of books written by an openly-acknowledged fanworks-producing FAN. Even if he didn't do it on purpose, surely it could be a case of him writing what he most enjoys, and part of what he most enjoys is texts with those open fannish spaces for hypothesizing and reinterpreting.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-04 05:28 am (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
Take note! In this book, Cramer SMOKES a cigar. Thus directly contradicting later statements that Archie had never seen him light one.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-04 06:38 am (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
Hee hee hee!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-06 04:46 am (UTC)
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
From: [personal profile] hradzka
Terrific book report. My brief comments on things that I found interesting or awesome:

ARCHIE IS A DICK

Archie has some great dick moments.

-- Manipulating Wolfe into going out in the first place.

-- Deliberately driving into a pothole while taking Wolfe to the Scene of the Crime. (Immediately followed by commandeering rich, important Boyden McNair's own office chair, and ordering up beer, to make Wolfe as comfortable and possible and let him focus on the job at hand. And he makes fun of Wolfe while he's doing it. Awwww, Archie.)

-- When Cramer is totally dumbfounded, Archie breaks out with a big showy yawn.

WOLFE IS A DICK

-- Wolfe turning down the offer to conduct his interviews in Boyden McNair's pimptastic office: "I would prefer something less-- more humble." Hee hee.

-- Wolfe's interrogation of Helen Frost is a great "Wolfe is a dick" scene, but she has a great dick moment of her own. WOLFE. "Do you imagine this is a friendly chat we are having? By no means. This is a very one-sided affair. I am forcing you to reply to questions by threatening to turn you over to the police if you don't. Are you engaged to be married?" FROST. "You're a dirty fat beast." WOLFE. "I know. I ask questions of women only when it is unavoidable because I abominate hysterics."

-- WOLFE. "Ten men -- a hundred -- a thousand -- really, Mr. Cramer, with such an outfit as that, you should catch at least ten men for every crime committed." CRAMER. "Yeah. We do."

-- Wolfe graphically describing McNair's horrible death to Nancy Frost at the very scene of McNair's demise. "Yes, he died here. He swallowed the poison sitting in that chair; he staggered to his feet and tried to keep himself upright by putting his fists on my desk; he collapsed to the floor in a convulsion and died; if he were still there you could reach down and touch him without moving from your chair." DUDE. WHAT THE HELL. And then he has Archie read back from the notes about exactly what Wolfe said when she refused to cooperate, and tells her that McNair's death is totally her fault. Again: DUDE.

EVERYBODY ELSE IS A DICK

The characters in THE RED BOX, with a few exceptions, are allowed to be dicks for good reasons that usually involve their own interests. I love it when characters are allowed to act in their own interest, especially when their own interests are inconvenient to the plot. They're not making just token or obligatory objections, they're not being stand-offish just to be stand-offish and immediately back down; they're being stand-offish because it is the logical thing for them to do. This makes Stout's minor characters seem very real and fleshed out, even when they aren't very. Boyden McNair's reaction to Wolfe's investigation is a great example:

"…as I've told Cramer, nobody knows anything. And Lew Frost knows less than that." He glared at the young man. "You know damn well you're just trying to use it as a lever to pry Helen out of here." He transferred the glare to Wolfe. "Do you expect me to have anything better than the barest courtesy for you? Why should I?"


Exactly; he damn well shouldn't. I like that.

MONEY

"What do you want ten thousand dollars for, Mr. Wolfe?"

Wolfe looked grim, seeing already that he was up against it. He said in one of his deeper tones, "To deposit in my bank account."


One of the reasons I love Rex Stout? He writes about money. It is amazing to me how few writers actually write about money, when you consider that money and the having of it are awesome and important. (When Louis Auchincloss died, one obituary called him the only present-day writer who really focused on money as a valid subject; the only counter to this statement who came to my mind was Tom Wolfe.)

The novel is set in 1936, so Wolfe's ten-thousand-dollar fee would be worth $152,877.70 in 2009 dollars. Dudley Frost values Wolfe's time at twenty dollars an hour, noting that Frost has paid lawyers less; that comes out to $305.76 an hour in 2009 dollars. Nancy Frost is worth around two million dollars. The 2009 equivalent is $30,575,540.00.

Doc Volmer charges five dollars for the house call, when he tries in vain to save McNair. That's $76.44 in 2009. Archie gives Nancy Frost brandy -- 1890 Guarnier. That's 46-year-old booze, then. They also have 1928 Marcobrunner, which is a German wine. I can't find values for these, though.

Gebert was bribed a thousand dollars a month, bringing in $60,000 over five years. The 2009 equivalent is over fifteen grand a month, to a total of more than nine hundred thousand dollars.

VOCABULARY AND CULTURE

It's noteworthy how much emphasis Stout places on rights under the law. In several places, characters note that they don't have to cooperate with the police, that the police are limited in what they can do, and so on. It's not just powerful characters, too; note that the slightly annoying woman from the Better Citizens League brings this up when Archie and Cramer are running their interrogation scheme. These rights come up again and again. Archie notes at one point that if they did find the red box the best strategy would not be to lie about not having it, but to state forthrightly that they had it and its contents were confidential and immaterial, and let the cops try to get a warrant for it.

At the same time, Stout's handling of police brutality and the third degree is interesting. Archie is disapproving of it because 1) he doesn't think it produces effective information and 2) he thinks it has a corrosive effect on the cops who do it, but it's interesting -- and, to me, surprisingly refreshing -- that Archie doesn't take a stronger moral view or grandstand. If this were a modern novel, we'd get heavy-handed authorial lecturing and a crusading attitude that This Must Change; Archie accepts it as an unpleasant part of life. It makes the novel more grounded in its place and time, reminds us that Archie isn't exactly like us readers, and it doesn't take you out of the novel so the author can reassure you that he believes in all the right things.

It's interesting to see "rest room" used to mean "a room for people to rest in," rather than a euphemism for "bathroom."

Wolfe asks a model her favorite kind of candy. She says, "Candied fruits. I like nuts, too." I am willing to bet that if you asked ten models today, not one of them would know what a candied fruit even *is.*

"I shall merely assert that the words you said, and the way you said them, make it apodictical that you knew the contents of that particular box of candy before Miss Mitchell removed the lid." Apodictical is a term from Aristotelian logic, meaning something that is so necessarily true that it couldn't possibly be otherwise.

Archie offers McNair phenacetin as an alternative to aspirin. Phenacetin, first synthesized in the late 1880s, was the acetominophen of its day (actually, they were discovered around the same time, but acetominophen was abandoned in favor of a related material until the 1950s, when we found out it was awesome). Phenacetin is less popular now, and was withdrawn from the American market by the FDA in 1983 because it can cause cancer and kidney problems.

McNair describes his youth: "I wasn't much in school and was never very healthy, nothing really wrong, just craichy." I couldn't find craichy in the dictionary; it did turn up in a thesaurus under the general category of "weakness."

LINES THAT MAKE YOU LOVE 'EM:

Wolfe, on legal action:

"I know what you are thinking, that you won't be sued because I won't go to a courtroom to testify. You are correct, but I shall certainly send you a bill."


On inheriting a fortune:

"I suppose you have a lawyer?"

"I've never needed one."

"You will now. That's what a fortune is for, to support the lawyers who defend it for you against depredation."


Archie, on executives:

As I understand it, a born executive is a guy who, when anything difficult or unexpected happens, yells for somebody to come and help him.
Edited Date: 2010-05-06 04:49 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-06 12:07 pm (UTC)
hradzka: (facepalm)
From: [personal profile] hradzka
*nods* The Wolfe books are all about rules and limits-- Wolfe's schedule and his boundaries and his rules, and Archie's personal code, and yeah, also the law. Rules and regulations and limits and how, if you can't get around them, maybe you can make them work *for* you. Hm.

...

People are going to write Nero Wolfe BDSM fic as a result of this book club, aren't they? OH GOD.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-07 12:05 am (UTC)
dorinda: Hands reach for two identical glasses, which are labeled "half empty" and "half full". (halfemptyhalffull)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
-- Wolfe graphically describing McNair's horrible death to Nancy Frost at the very scene of McNair's demise.

You know, the funny thing is that I never read this as dickery. I think because it's actually the sort of thing I would want to know. Not just "He died," but the real answer to "What happened?". Wolfe goes through precisely what he observed happening and where it took place. But I didn't find it particularly graphic to my own sensibilities, because it was basic observation of action, without adjectives or emotional connotation, and it doesn't go into him screaming and moaning.

Granted, I ain't no Helen Frost. *g* And also, in context, Wolfe is using the death to goad her out of her intractablility, not trying to do her a favor by describing just what happened. Goad-wise, though, I still never really saw it as dickery per se--very likely because at that point I myself was so frustrated at Helen Frost and wanted her to stop stonewalling. By which I mean, it was a tactic with a positive purpose, whereas I suppose I see 'dickery' as innately purposeless--causing pain just in order to enjoy doing it. (Like Archie purposely driving into the pothole, perhaps. *g*)

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