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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
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