liviapenn: wolfe makes a sad face (wolfe: wolfe is sad :()
[personal profile] liviapenn posting in [community profile] milk_and_orchids
Gah, sorry about being late with this, you guys.

So, this is the only Wolfe & Archie wartime mystery! Well, not the only Wolfe and Archie wartime mystery, but the only one where they work together, for the military, on a military matter. We get hints in "Not Quite Dead Enough" and in this story that Archie has done some cases for the Army that would be more like what you'd expect in wartime (tracking down missing equipment, something or other involving a "distinguished visitor from Mexico," etc.) but in this one of course it's got to be a murder case.



THE WAR

Given that Rex Stout often used his stories to depict Communist characters as cowardly, venal, amoral sell-outs, you would think he'd have wanted to write at least one story where Archie and Wolfe smash a German spy ring and kick sand in Hitler's face, etc., but in this story the motive for murder isn't sabotage or spying or anything like that, it's *corporate* espionage-- meaning, the same old motive as usual, money. Mr. Shattuck kills two men to protect his scheme of selling corporate formulas and designs, which he has access to because they've been turned over to the military to help with the war effort, to competing corporations. (Hm, I was going to say "Archie never even got to punch a German in the face," but I guess there is "Over My Dead Body.")

Although on the whole it's probably best that Rex Stout didn't write any further German characters or agents in the wartime stories, as in "Not Quite Dead Enough" none of the characters seem to be able to distinguish between "Germans" and "the German army," and everybody just talks insistently about "killing Germans" as if they really wish they could just blow up the entire country and be done with it. (And later on Archie finds a copy of "Is Germany Incurable" in Dorothy Bruce's bag, a book which argued from a medical/psychological perspective that Hitler was only a symptom of German culture being basically paranoid and psychotic at its core. I assume that since Dorothy is brilliant and capable and is reading this book, we can take it as read that this is one of Rex Stout's times when he's name-dropping a book he wants more people to read.)

WOLFE & ARCHIE

-- We get another moment where Archie is annoyed at himself for picking up Wolfe's habits, when he finds Lawson in Dorothy Bruce's closet: "Indeed," I said. That was Nero Wolfe's word, and I never used it except in moments of stress, and it severely annoyed me when I caught myself using it, because when I look in a mirror I prefer to see me as is, with no skin grafted from anybody else's hide, even Nero Wolfe's. I think I mentioned this once in my journal, but that "even" is pretty telling. <3

-- Working together while Archie is in the Army makes things pretty awkward for Archie when Wolfe (as per usual) leads up to the climax of the story by sending Archie out of the room during important discussions, and refusing to tell him ahead of time what his plans are and what kind of traps he's going to set:

".... I tell you, for instance, that Colonel Ryder was murdered, and I'm going to get the murderer. See where that puts you? What if one of your superior officers ask you a leading question? What if he orders you to make a report? As for Miss Bruce, I'm going to use her. I'm going to use Lawson. I'm going to use you. But right now, let me alone. Read a book. Look at pictures. Go to a movie."

His saying he was going to work meant he was to sit with his eyes shut and heave a sigh three times an hour, and since if he got any bright ideas he was to keep them to himself anyhow, I decided to make myself scarce. Also I had an outdoor errand, putting the car in the garage. I departed, performed the errand, and went for a walk. In the dim-out a late evening walk wasn't what it used to be, but since I was in no mood for pleasure, that was unimportant. Somewhere in the Fifties I resolved to make another stab at getting an overseas assignment. At home here, working in a uniform for Army G2 would have been okay, and working in my own clothes for Nero Wolfe would have been tolerable, but it seemed likely that trying to combine the two would sooner or later deprive me of the right to vote and I could never run for President.


Poor Archie. And after Wolfe went to all the trouble in the last story to get him posted home, too. *G*

ARCHIE

Most irrepressible moment of Archie being completely irrepressible is when he's telling the other Army guys why he can't keep the grenade any more: "I know, but I have no place to keep it except my room at Mr. Wolfe's house, and that won't do. I caught him tinkering with it last night. I'm afraid he'll hurt himself."

Everybody looked at Wolfe. He said testily, "You know Major Goodwin, don't you? ...."


And also, earlier: Going down one flight to my room, I couldn't see anything to interfere with rinsing the figure, so I stripped and stepped into the shower. Ordinarily I find that a great environment for sorting out my mind and fitting pieces together, but since in this case I was being stiff-armed clear off the field into the bleachers, I left the brain at ease and had a good time admiring my muscles and the hair on my chest. Yeah, I'm... just going to pretend this means exactly what I think it means.

WOLFE

Wolfe is kind of weird in this story. He expresses himself rather emotionally to Ryder, whose son was just killed in Sicily: I would hold up your heart if I could. Obviously you are capable of holding your chin up yourself. He flips out at Dorothy Bruce being a soldier, to the point of consistently calling her "Miss Bruce" rather than by her title, which seems rather out of character for someone who must've known about partisans & resistance fighters in WWI. (Then again, I guess partisans & resistance fighters aren't strictly "in uniform," which Sgt. Bruce is.)

We also get one of the darkest, most forceful Wolfe scenes ever, when he *purposefully* takes Shattuck out to Van Cortlandt Park for the purpose of compelling him to commit suicide. Other times he's understood that a murderer meant to kill themselves and not interfered in their decision ("Some Buried Caesar") and there are time's he's helped to make it more convenient by providing the means ("The Red Box") and then chosen to sit back and let the person kill themselves-- but this is the first (and possibly the only? correct me if I'm wrong) time in the books where he basically *makes* it happen-- imo, Shattuck would have been so defiant that he wouldn't even have thought of killing himself if Wolfe had left him alone.

There are very few characters that I can think of who are so strong, personality-wise, and so forceful that I actually *believe* they could talk somebody into blowing themselves up in five minutes flat, but Wolfe is definitely one of them. I totally believe in this scene & this monologue, that they would've been effective: If you change your mind, Mr. Shattuck, come back to the road, and we'll take you back to town, and the fight will be on. I advise against it, but I doubt if my advice is needed. You're a coward, Mr. Shattuck. I've had wide experience, and I've never known of a more cowardly murder than the murder of Colonel Ryder. Hang on to that as your bulwark. Say to yourself as you cross the meadow, 'I'm a coward. I'm a coward and a murderer.' That will carry you through, right to the end. You need something to take you that hundred yards, and since it can't be courage, let it be your integrity, your deep inner necessity, as a coward.

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

Dorothy Bruce is one of my favorite women in the books. I love the idea of a WAC secretary-spy, and she matches Archie snark for snark and trick for trick. And poor Wolfe is so upset about her presence, and then in the last scene, at dinner, he accidentally compliments her when he calls the strategy of sending out the accusing letters a "stroke of genius." Of course Carpenter says "yeah, that was Dorothy's idea," and Wolfe is like "WHAT. Well-- okay, but she ALSO was an idiot, because she tried to bribe me with a million dollars, which was so obviously ridiculous," and General Carpenter is like "oh actually that was my idea." Poor Wolfe, just live with it! You complimented a woman in uniform for her brilliant tactics during a campaign and you can't take it back!

I love the Archie-and-Dorothy banter mostly because of what it says about Archie-- he always seems to want the women he can't have, and not want the women he *could* have, Lily being the sole exception. When Dorothy is brushing him off (so neatly at first that he doesn't even know she's doing it) it only makes him pester her more. <3

Most of the other characters honestly blend in a bit with each other (to me) but I do love the subtle Wolfe-Cramer moments going on sort of behind the scenes, and Wolfe's line when he's explaining why Cramer is so justifiably cranky all the time: "Mr. Cramer is constantly leaping at the throat of evil and finding himself holding on for dear life to the tip of its tail." Haha.

OTHER

-- Archie doesn't seem to recognize Yeats when he reads the poem Dorothy Bruce typed a copy of for herself. Is he faking, or has Lily not cultured him up to Yeats yet?

-- Apparently this story was used as the basis for an episode of the 1980s Nero Wolfe TV series, though I can't imagine how you could do it in a non-wartime setting. Just make it about corporate espionage, I guess? Darren McGavin and Patti Davis guest-starred. Oh, the eighties. ^_^
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