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[personal profile] soupytwist posting in [community profile] milk_and_orchids
The Silent Speaker is next! We start with Archie agreeing with Wolfe, which my notes solemnly inform me does not bode well. Then comes political intrigue, a murder literally on the steps of the Brownstone, and Wolfe missing his orchids for multiple days in a row, by gosh.

The Plot

One of the leading lights of the Bureau of Price Regulation is murdered under circumstances that implicate the BPR's great enemies, the National Industrial Association. Then his confidential secretary gets murdered right outside the Brownstone, and Wolfe resorts to pretending to be having a breakdown for three days before revealing a story of bribery and corruption that led to murder to hush it up.

The specifics of the two groups politics aren't gone into in any depth, but what we do hear makes it pretty clear which side of the spectrum is which. It's also not difficult to tell where Stout's sympathies lay, by the end. Stout does do pretty well at making it unclear whether it's a personal murder or a political one, though, I think. It's plausible right up to the reveal that Phoebe Gunther's actions have a whole load of different motives, which I quite like.

Archie seems genuinely very worried when Wolfe fakes having a breakdown for a few days to get out of seeing people. I was wondering if maybe this is something to do with Wolfe's relapses: is this just rather too close to the times when Wolfe really has been mentally unwell? Or is it just lying to the police on a large scale that's freaking him out? Archie does have a brief work-related explanation for why he's so out of sorts (“we were being bombed out of a position that no-one but a maniac would ever have occupied in the first place”), and feeling like they may lose makes sense as part of it because it does look bleak, but that doesn't, to me anyway, quite explain the panic. Archie eats two dinners but doesn't remember either of them! Archie, of the famously awesome memory! And “No admittance this is a house of mourning beat it!” is vehement even for him.

And then the ending! I don't care much about Kates, who is shown as pretty pathetic except for the one moment where he stands up for himself, but I love the reveal of the next layer of story: Archie laying out the evidence that Wolfe totally knew where the missing cylinder was ages ago is a lot of fun, and a great finish. It's also interestingly ambiguous: Archie thinks Wolfe hid the truth for longer than he needed to because he – like Archie, apparently – hates the NIA. Wolfe says it's because he didn't want Phoebe Gunther's hard work to go to waste. Archie basically goes “Nuts!” to this. What do you reckon?

I think I go for a mixture of the two, personally. It seems to me more like Archie is incredulous at the idea of Wolfe having that much respect and admiration for a woman, but Phoebe Gunther is pretty awesome, and Wolfe is fairly consistent in thinking so.

But given that this is one of Stout's My Political Opinions, Let Me Show You Them books, I think the political angle is pretty likely too. I never quite know what I think of the political bits... some of it hasn't dated particularly well, in various ways, but I think I like that Wolfe and Archie both do have consciously political opinions about things and act on them. Even when Stout's using them as a mouthpiece in, uh, some less than subtle ways, I don't mind. Maybe the distance from the issues helps; I can imagine this being pretty polarising back in the day.

Phoebe Gunther

I think she's great, she is one of my favourites. I love that she's snarky - “I almost think I would let you hold my purse if I had to fix my garter”. Hee. She is one of the few people who really manages to run rings around the official investigators due to her own smarts and initiative. I also like that she is clearly respected at her job, and is allowed to have at least some strong opinions of her own while doing so.

It sucks that she gets killed partly because of her own initiative, but I choose to take it as her being too nice, really, to deal with thoroughly unpleasant people who don't stoop at killing. And her death is very personal: she is killed right on the doorstep, and Archie especially takes her death very personally. Which is, well, a trope that's been used in the books before, but I really believe it here that this is something both Wolfe and Archie would react emotionally to.

Phoebe is also unusual in having dyed hair that isn't remarked on negatively. I also like that it's “Golden Bantam!”, which is both a funny name and a hilarious thing for Archie to know off the top of his head.

Cramer

Cramer is a good guy in this one – from the beginning bit where he gets annoyed because “he had long ago caught on that Wolfe was starting from scratch, and had arranged the gathering for the purpose of taking in, not giving out” he's pretty sympathetic. And then he gets basically kicked out, and replaced with...

Inspector Ash, who is such a douchebag that I found him kind of difficult to believe in. On the other hand, he did make me a lot more appreciative of Cramer! Having the extra level of threat worked narratively, though. I also thought maybe Ash was supposed to provide balance to the fact that otherwise all the assholery is coming from the NIA guys, and give a bit of hint that there's stuff going on with the police that Wolfe and Archie are not necessarily privvy to. What did you think?

Also: Ash grabs Wolfe, Wolfe slaps him in the face, and Archie gets between Wolfe and the resulting punch! Wolfe even says “Hit him, Archie. Knock him down.” Woah, I believe the correct word is EPIC.

Also also, Archie refers to this as an “emergency”, which I think is adorable, but also highlights that they are very lucky they don't have to deal with Ash as a permanent feature. My goodness, they'd be screwed if they did.

Wolfe/Archie

This is the book where Archie says “Frankly I wish I could make my heart quit doing an extra thump when Wolfe says satisfactory, Archie.” ♥ Wolfe and Archie are quite settled in their marriedness at this point, but this is one of the cuter moments.

- Lily Rowan gave him a bunch of Sulka shirts, with different coloured stripes. He wore the purple one and “Wolfe took one look at the shirt and clammed up on me.” Archie wears the shirt for a week out of spite, and still thinks it's because it was purple, and not because Lily gave it to him.

-
“I have noted, perhaps in more detail than you think, your talents and capacities. You are an excellent observer, not in any respect an utter fool, completely intrepid, and too conceited to be seduced into perfidy.”


Wow, “not in any respect an utter fool” from Wolfe is basically HOW ARE YOU SO AMAZING ♥ ♥ ♥ from anyone else! Although it does turn out to be softening Archie up to get him to try to seduce info out of Miss Boone, which Archie does not approve of At All. (And good for him. Wolfe, come on! Even if Archie does have lady-bewitching perfume as he says – “Stag at Eve” apparently! - that's not a good thing.) Except then he basically does anyway, because he is Archie Goodwin, Sort Of Ladies Man.

- Archie has further confessions about his Wolfe obsession: “I had made a close prolonged study of Wolfe's attitude toward women.” Oh, honey. Archie talking about how Wolfe's opinions of women don't match what Archie's years of research suggests seems weirdly young to me. It's like a kid complaining that their worm farm doesn't look like the picture in the book, or something.

This is also kind of acknowledging the way that Archie says Wolfe's a misogynist while actually being worse about women himself. Archie complains that if Wolfe really didn't like women then the more “womany” aspects of women would be worst, but that's not true. Also, Wolfe apparently appreciates the aesthetic appeal of the female form. (Though the bit about Wolfe perving on ladies' ankles is kind of weird. Thanks for that, Archie.) And it does all this right before Archie goes into a bit about Mrs Boone having a pug nose.

- Wolfe reads Archie just as well as Archie does him: “Mr Goodwin likes to brag. It proves nothing.” Hee.

Misc stuff I found cute/funny/interesting

A few little nods to the fact Archie and Wolfe are post-war at this point: Archie says “and besides it stimulates my inferiority complex because I should have been a colonel” and calls his plan to get paid Operation Payroll. I also like “And anyway, I'm in disguise as a detective”, hahah.

“At the peak of one of his lazy spells he wouldn't have exerted himself to bat an eyelash even if someone had accused him of specialising in divorce evidence.”

- Mrs Boone's response to discussion of money being “Only thirty thousand?!” and wiping the smile off Wolfe's face is pretty funny.

- Wolfe doesn't like paying taxes, but he disapproves of trying to cheat them.

- Archie apologising to Fritz about the unfortunate side effects of him and Wolfe having a tiff. “I'm sorry you had that extra trouble, serving coffee in two places, but he has got to learn how to compromise. You heard me offer to split the difference and drink it in the hall.”

- Wolfe fakes never shaking hands, which I sort of thought before but found interesting to have confirmed from Archie's point of view. I like the note that how Wolfe takes an insult depends on how he's feeling, also.

- I am a very bad person but I find the bit just before the reveal of Phoebe's death, with Fritz hovering in the doorway beckoning to Archie, pretty funny, albeit mostly for Archie's observation that that would be exactly how Fritz would act if the Brownstone was actually on fire.

- Archie getting O'Neill into the cab is pretty badass! ...aaaand then they wait around getting a stenophone, which is pretty funny but also an illustration of the way the books generally do excellently well at the day to day bureaucracy stuff, the minutae of running an office and running low on, like, typewriter ribbons or whatever. I appreciate when my heroes run low on coffee or have to wait for irritating little holdups like stenophone delivery people. Obviously too much of that and it would be boring and annoying, but I think Stout's balance is perfect for the stories he's telling.

- More Bronx cheers – this time by a kitchen full of private dicks. I still think there's some kind of obsession with blowing raspberries. Seriously, did grown men actually regularly do that back in the day?

I also think it's interesting for a brief flash of Archie as being the social superior: usually Archie puts himself as the street-smart lower class guy to Wolfe's elite, but the guys in the kitchen clearly don't see Archie as being on their level. Archie likes to think of himself as being a regular Joe, but there's clearly an extent to which the rest of the world sees him as “eating fancy food, charging enormous fees and living in a fabulous house”.

I think this is one a lot to talk about. Anyone? :D

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-18 02:56 am (UTC)
centuryplant: A pink Fairy Slipper orchid (Fairy Slipper orchid)
From: [personal profile] centuryplant
Archie thinks Wolfe hid the truth for longer than he needed to because he – like Archie, apparently – hates the NIA. Wolfe says it's because he didn't want Phoebe Gunther's hard work to go to waste. Archie basically goes “Nuts!” to this.

I didn't read it that way at all! I thought Archie's last line meant "oh, well, I was planning to badger you about your ethics, but if you did it for Phoebe Gunther then fine."

I also like that it's “Golden Bantam!”, which is both a funny name and a hilarious thing for Archie to know off the top of his head.

Isn't it, though. And it makes an interesting contrast with that line of Wolfe's in The League of Frightened Men that [personal profile] liviapenn pointed out, about how Dora Chapin attends Mrs. Burton to "do something to her hair."

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-18 06:18 pm (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
Yes, I read that line the same way.

Poor Fritz. With Wolfe being pompous and Archie being snarky, I'm surprised he didn't serve the coffee in the hallway himself!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-18 06:21 pm (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
Wolfe doesn't like paying taxes, but he disapproves of trying to cheat them.


I always like how even Wolfe, who values his personal autonomy above just about everything else, is nonetheless grown-up enough to know that we have to have a society, and it costs money to maintain it. His objection is not to the idea of government but to the morons who often are its instruments.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-19 08:04 am (UTC)
liviapenn: phoebe gunther is smarter than you (wolfe: saving it for mr. goodwin)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

I was wondering if maybe this is something to do with Wolfe's relapses: is this just rather too close to the times when Wolfe really has been mentally unwell? Or is it just lying to the police on a large scale that's freaking him out?

I don't think it's that. *G* Archie is a born liar! I think it's that Wolfe left Archie *too far* out of the loop on this one. He didn't tell him anything, not even that he *had* a plan. I think I've observed before how irritating it is for Archie when Wolfe goes, "I know who the killer is, and I have a Plan, but I just won't tell you about it yet," but I guess this is the other option-- not telling Archie anything at all and just letting him believe that the whole case is going to crash and burn.

And I think Archie's panic is also somewhat justified by their financial situation-- the book starts with them being so desperate for cash that they basically hustled the NIA into hiring them, and now they've returned that money (so they're on the hook for all the expenses of the case) not to mention they're probably never going to be hired by anyone again after this debacle, and might get sued by the NIA, etc.! So if Wolfe doesn't snap out of it, it's not just "oops, we might not solve the case" but possibly like, "we might have to fire Fritz and Theodore and move into a cold-water flat!" or something unthinkable like that. ^_^

Archie laying out the evidence that Wolfe totally knew where the missing cylinder was ages ago is a lot of fun, and a great finish.

Oh, yes, I love this! Especially how Archie draws it out. :D

It's also interestingly ambiguous: Archie thinks Wolfe hid the truth for longer than he needed to because he – like Archie, apparently – hates the NIA. Wolfe says it's because he didn't want Phoebe Gunther's hard work to go to waste. Archie basically goes “Nuts!” to this. What do you reckon?

I actually read it as-- Archie *first* thinks that all of Wolfe's shenanigans were to manipulate the situation so that he could *believably* return the thirty thousand dollar retainer, and then after waiting a bit, earn the hundred thousand dollar reward-- which comes a bit close to crossing the ethical line of "Private detectives don't betray their clients." And I don't think Wolfe really hated the NIA personally, but like you said, he respected Phoebe and her sacrifice, and he dragged it out for so long because he wanted to hurt the NIA for her, or on her behalf anyway. (And probably it doesn't help that they're all jerks.) Which, again, is still kind of murky ethically, but if it's for *Phoebe* and not just for the money, then Archie is okay with it.

Hee. She is one of the few people who really manages to run rings around the official investigators due to her own smarts and initiative. I also like that she is clearly respected at her job, and is allowed to have at least some strong opinions of her own while doing so.

I love Phoebe too (see icon!) Despite the fact that we actually have lady private eyes like Dol Bonner and Sally Colt, I personally see Phoebe as the closest we get to a girl version of Archie Goodwin. That scene where she's talking about her relationship with her boss could absolutely be a scene of Archie talking about his relationship with Wolfe--

"What did Mr. Boone depend on you for?"

"To do what he told me to."

"Of course." Wolfe was merely murmuring. "But what did he get from you? Intelligent obedience? Loyalty? Comfortable companionship? Happiness? Ecstasy?"

"Oh, for the lord's sake." She looked mildly disgusted. "You sound like a congressman's wife. What he got was first-class work. I'm not saying that during the two years I worked for Mr. Boone I was always fresh out of ecstasy, but I never took it to the office with me, and anyway I was saving it up until I met Mr. Goodwin. .... If you want to know whether I was on terms of sinful intimacy with Mr. Boone, the answer is no. For one thing, he was too busy, and so was I, and anyhow he didn't strike me that way. I merely worshiped him."

"You did?"

"Yes, I did." She gave the impression that she meant it. "He was irritable and he expected too much, he was overweight and he had dandruff, and he nearly drove me crazy trying to keep his schedule under control, but he was honest clear through and the best man in Washington, and he was up against the dirtiest gang of pigs and chiselers on earth. So since I was born weak-minded to begin with, I merely worshiped him, but where he was getting ecstasy I really don't know."


Seriously, she could be Archie talking about Wolfe, there! Just cross out "dandruff" (and possibly "honest clear through.")

And really this is totally what Archie would do if Wolfe got killed: he would figure out *not just* how to bring the culprit to justice officially, but how to punish them in the way that Wolfe would have wanted, to destroy whatever it is they killed Wolfe over, and only *after* everything they tried to save has been destroyed, *then* turn the killer over to the cops. And, imo, he'd also probably get killed trying, like Phoebe did.

I don't think Phoebe gets killed because she was too nice, really. I think she just underestimated how psychotically audacious Kates could have dared to be, killing her right on the doorstep like that. I mean, she probably assumed he wouldn't try anything right outside a house that was full of cops, and other cars/taxis could have pulled up at any moment...

And her death is very personal: she is killed right on the doorstep, and Archie especially takes her death very personally. Which is, well, a trope that's been used in the books before, but I really believe it here that this is something both Wolfe and Archie would react emotionally to.

I was thinking about this earlier-- maybe I've lost track, but is this the first time san innocent person has been *murdered* in/near the brownstone? Mostly the people who have died in the brownstone before this have been The Killer, haven't they? (Calida Frost who kills herself in "Red Box", and then whats-his-name who gets shot by Archie and the other guy in "Rubber Band...") Later on, innocent people get murdered in the brownstone who are strangers to Wolfe and Archie, but yeah, it's much more affecting this time to have it be a double whammy-- that it happens on their home ground *and* that it's Phoebe, who Archie really connected with.

Cramer is a good guy in this one – from the beginning bit where he gets annoyed because “he had long ago caught on that Wolfe was starting from scratch, and had arranged the gathering for the purpose of taking in, not giving out” he's pretty sympathetic.

And he gives Wolfe an ORCHID! <3 <3 <3 SO MANY HEARTS. He is so darling. Warning Wolfe not to try any more tricks, because he's got his EYE on him, so THERE, and then totally being too embarrassed to be like "here's your orchid," but running awayyyyy and being like "oh yeah, that's for you, GOODBYE." And Wolfe treasures it even though it's just a grubby ordinary orchid and not a special collectors' orchid like all of his! Did I mention, SO MANY HEARTS. <3

Wolfe even says “Hit him, Archie. Knock him down.”

Haha, yes. Earlier when Archie hits Don O'Neill, Wolfe is all peevish and "I dislike commotion," but now all of a sudden it's SIC HIM, ARCHIE. GET HIM! And Archie literally throwing his body in between Wolfe and a punch! N'aaw.

This is also kind of acknowledging the way that Archie says Wolfe's a misogynist while actually being worse about women himself. Archie complains that if Wolfe really didn't like women then the more “womany” aspects of women would be worst, but that's not true. Also, Wolfe apparently appreciates the aesthetic appeal of the female form.

Yeah, not to mention, that doesn't even make any sense as something Archie would expect if Wolfe didn't like women on *misogynist* grounds. If ONLY it were true that "misogynist" and "man who appreciates the sight of attractive women" were non-overlapping groups!

I also think it's interesting for a brief flash of Archie as being the social superior: usually Archie puts himself as the street-smart lower class guy to Wolfe's elite, but the guys in the kitchen clearly don't see Archie as being on their level. Archie likes to think of himself as being a regular Joe, but there's clearly an extent to which the rest of the world sees him as “eating fancy food, charging enormous fees and living in a fabulous house”.

Yeah, maybe he can pretend to be "just one of the guys" most of the time, when he's out there in the world, but now they're all actually *in the house* and eating Fritz' food and really seeing how they live. He can't deny it now! So of course he goes in the other direction and totally plays it up: "that's, you know, French, which is the language of Frenchmen, who live in FRANCE, which you uncultured flatfoots wouldn't know about--" etc.

Also, I think that "Bronx cheer" is probably a genteel gloss on "middle finger". *G*

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-20 02:26 am (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
SO MANY HEARTS.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most adorable scenes in the entire corpus. "Oh, yes, that little thing, left it there, guess you can have it, BYE!!!!"

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-27 10:33 pm (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

I didn’t think they might not get hired again, I have to say; though I guess Cramer being potentially out of action would make that more likely.

I was also thinking of it in terms of the fact that this case is getting a LOT more publicity than their cases usually get-- I mean there are huge crowds around the brownstone within an hour or so of Phoebe getting killed just because there's a rumor about a break in the case! So if Wolfe (working for the NIA) fails to solve the case, that is going to be a huge thing in the papers. (Like, worst case scenario, people will assume what Phoebe Gunther sort of half-assumed at first, and come to the conclusion, "Wolfe never fails to solve the crime, but this time he didn't. So the NIA must have paid him off to NOT catch the killer." And then Wolfe gets tied in with the demonization of the NIA building up in people's minds, etc.)

So I think failing to solve *this* case would be a lot worse for Wolfe's professional reputation than other cases where there isn't that "glare of the spotlight" level of public interest.

I was thinking about this earlier-- maybe I've lost track, but is this the first time san innocent person has been *murdered* in/near the brownstone? ....

There was the other guy in Red Box, but I don’t know if he counts as an innocent exactly – he wasn’t The Killer but he wasn’t someone particularly sympathetic, either.


Oh, right, yeah. And you make a good distinction in that he *died* in the brownstone but the murderer didn't specifically choose to (or *dare* to) make Wolfe's office the site of the murder. Actually choosing to kill someone on Wolfe's doorstep is a big deal.

Yeah, not to mention, that doesn't even make any sense as something Archie would expect if Wolfe didn't like women on *misogynist* grounds. If ONLY it were true that "misogynist" and "man who appreciates the sight of attractive women" were non-overlapping groups!

Seriously! It actually reads way more like Archie has been trying to work out exactly how heterosexual Wolfe is and is entirely discomfited to find that he might be a bit. *g*


Haha, yeah. I think in one of the later books Archie references Wolfe being "allergic to women" and I think that's a really apt way to put it-- I mean, I'm lactose intolerant so in a way you could say I'm "allergic" to ice cream, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it in the past, or that I wouldn't like to have any if I somehow magically could. (Because I would like to. Ice cream!) It just affects me really badly, so I choose to avoid it completely and not think about it too much. I think that's how Wolfe feels about women. (And I think Archie eventually figures this out, or something like it.)

Also, I think that "Bronx cheer" is probably a genteel gloss on "middle finger". *G*

See, I totally thought that too, but when I looked it up everything said it meant blowing a raspberry! But maybe that was another use of it, or Stout liked the phrase enough to use it instead, in the same way he tells us people swear without actually going there. :)


Oh, yeah, I know that it *actually* means "blowing a raspberry" but I figure, you know, that's just what Archie SAID their reaction was. He's not going to write "And then they all told me to fuck off and die." :D

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