liviapenn: wolfe and archie having breakfast (wolfe: my fandom is super domestic)
[personal profile] liviapenn posting in [community profile] milk_and_orchids
Technically, this book of short stories should have come before the last book, but I got mixed up looking at the online chronology. Oh well...


For some reason when I first read this story I thought it was one of the wartime stories, and Wolfe was trying to get around wartime rationing restrictions, because why else would there need to be a black market in meat... but now that I re-read it, that's actually not the case! Apparently there was actually a meat shortage in 1946. There is an interesting paragraph here in the Toledo Blade, circa 1947, in which "Mrs. Toledo Housewife" remembers the great meat shortage as being caused by farmers withholding livestock from the market in order to "enforce his demand for removal of price controls." Apparently price controls had been briefly lifted after the war, then re-instated, and people (rightly or wrongly) blamed the farmers for holding back meat from the market in order to get them lifted again.

(Nothing to do with Nero Wolfe, but there's a great article on that page, about a fashion trend for longer skirts: although the editor sadly admits that "masculine objection" has no power over women's fashion, he concludes by looking on the bright side and hopes that the trend for longer skirts will "...revive an interest in a neatly-turned ankle which the display of shapely knees has long since lost." ... I'm sure Archie feels the same way.)

Anyway. According to Wikipedia, in the original magazine version of this story, it wasn't even meat that Wolfe wanted! Which I find surprising. He wanted stainless steel for his plant room benches. But when it came time to revise the story for the book version, Stout changed it to meat. (And also edited it so that Archie gets the girl at the end.) It's probably better this way-- I find it hard to believe that Wolfe would go through such indignity (yelling out of the front window of the brownstone, at a gangster!!) just for new orchid benches, especially when there are probably reasonable alternatives to stainless steel out there (or he could just go on using the benches he has now, until steel becomes available). But eating meatless meals, or inferior cuts/types of meat-- that is obviously true suffering.


Maybe it's that Stout had a chance to do revisions on this story before the "final" version in Trouble in Triplicate, but to me, everything in it just *sings*. There are no slow moments, no filler, we get to see Cramer and Rowcliff and Saul, and everything just feels super breezy. Archie's narrator voice skips along, finding the perfect tone from everything to bickering with Wolfe, to flirting with girls, to having a woman die in his arms. Even in the non-dramatic moments he always hits the right pitch-- sometimes sarcastic, sometimes just exaggerating for amusement (for no reason it always strikes me as hilarious that he off-handedly mentions Fritz "cutting chives into atoms") and sometimes, almost poetic. (Regarding Dazy Perrit, Archie summarizes: "Everything he had done and might do was in his black eyes.")

As regards the case, I find it interesting that we're like a dozen books into the canon, and this is one of the first stories that deals with organized crime and has gangsters as main characters, and typical fictional "gangster" things like rival gangs, imposing bodyguards in trenchcoats, crime lords with ominous nicknames, and drive-by shootings. (I guess you could argue that the Zeck books are about organized crime, but to me, Zeck, as an archetype, is really more like a pulp supervillain than a typical fictional gangster.) Anyway, at the start this case has very little to do with actual gangster stuff-- it's all about the Perrit family drama-- until suddenly everybody is getting killed in a drive-by. The culprit is, as usual, The One You'd Least Expect, ie the fine upstanding young lawyer (who Archie thinks looks like a "bulwark" of something or other.)

The one slightly false note (to me) is the bit with Violet Angelina Sally in the middle-- after having had dinner with the Beulah (the real daughter) and her fiance, Wolfe *already knows* that her fiance is a fake (and has put Saul on the job of tracking him down). But for some reason Wolfe still goes ahead with his plan to shake down Violet (the fake daughter) with the intent of convincing her that (1) he is definitely NOT working for Perrit, BUT (2) she should stop extorting extra money from Perrit ... because it's not worth her while to do so, as Wolfe would get most of it. I don't know if Wolfe actually thought he had a chance of getting her to believe this, but it doesn't seem very likely to me.


There's a lot of bickering in this story and the usual bit where Archie resents Saul (and resents Wolfe for bringing in Saul) but it's all pretty low-key and not overly hostile. Which leads into a surprising bit, just after Archie has been shot at by gangsters in front of the brownstone, and then gets told snippily by Wolfe to go wash his face--

Usually I resented it when Wolfe froze me out of operations with one of the men he used, but now I was too played out to bother, and besides, Saul was different. It was hard to resent anything about a guy as good as Saul Panzer. At the mirror in my bathroom I saw that there was no question about my face, so I attended to it, deciding to postpone shaving until after breakfast, and then went back down one flight to Wolfe's room. He had finished his private talk with Saul and was sitting in his underwear, putting on his socks.

"What do you want to discuss?" I asked him.


I stared indignantly. "Well, by God."

He grunted. "At the moment there is nothing to discuss. You're out of it. I told Mr. Rowcliff that I engaged to make Mr. Perrit's daughter stop blackmailing him, and that I threatened her with exposure to the police, and that's all. He's an imbecile. He intimated that I am liable to prosecution for attempting to blackmail the daughter." Wolfe straightened up. "By the way, I suppose it would be futile to call that number, Lincoln six-three two three two, now that Mr. Perrit is dead?"

... I get that Wolfe and Archie are pretty informal, and if you have your secretary/right-hand-man living with you it doesn't make a *ton* of sense to insist that everyone be fully dressed in business casual before having business discussions, but I think this is the first time Archie's had a chat with Wolfe in his underwear. Especially since they just HAD a conversation and Wolfe made it pretty clear that there wasn't anything else for Archie to do, and instead of sticking around to talk to Wolfe in his pajamas, Archie went upstairs for JUST LONG ENOUGH for Wolfe to be undressed and then came back down. Really, Archie.

Earlier in the story, as Dorinda pointed out this is the one where Archie apparently offers to let Wolfe eat him (due to the meat shortage.) You would think this would be one of those bits of witty repartee that you make and then realize is actually kind of awkward in a way that you didn't actually mean but no! Archie keeps it up! It's apparently a running gag! As Archie returns to his desk to get his gun:

As I was heading back for the hall Wolfe demanded peevishly, "What is it? A mouse?"

"No, sir," I said coldly. "I was asked to descend to the sidewalk to approach a man in a car. The car is at the curb. I recognized the man in it as Dazy Perrit. Since he is one of our most famous citizens I suppose you have heard of him. His latest title is King of the black Market. He may have formed an opinion, contrary to yours, that I would be good broiled."

.... it's almost like Archie is RESENTFUL that Wolfe doesn't want to eat him.

Regarding the Wolfe & Archie timeline, Archie says twice in this story that he's been working for Wolfe for "over ten years." In the first book, "Fer-de-Lance," he'd been working for Wolfe for seven years, and it slowly progressed after that to eight, nine, ten, etc. But we've been stuck on "ten years" or "over ten years" for a while now, and I think it's either in this book, or *very* soon after this, that Archie, Cramer, etc., stop saying the exact number of years, and just say things like "I've worked for you a long time--" so as not to call attention to the fact that Archie is continually 34.

Finally, one of my favorite Archie-and-a-girl moments happens to be in this story, and it's even funnier because of how it's sort of an Archie and Wolfe and a girl moment, even if Wolfe isn't there and doesn't realize that Archie is kind of mentally framing the situation as being *about* him and Wolfe and their different approaches to women. The real daughter, Beulah has just insisted on being told the truth about her father, and Wolfe has told her that Dazy Perrit was her father and that he's now dead. Beulah starts to cry, and Wolfe flees the plant rooms:

"Good God," Wolfe muttered in a tone of horror, and got to his feet and went. In a moment, above the sounds Beulah was making, I heard the bang of his elevator door. I merely sat and waited, thinking it was natural for me to understand better than he did the most desirable and effective course of action when a young woman began to cry. After all, I thought, I see a good deal more of them than he does.

Time passed by. I was deciding the moment had come for a sympathetic hand on her shoulder when her face came up and she blurted, "Why haven't you got sense enough to go too?"

There are moments when Archie's attitude towards women gets to me, but I like that every so often he gets the rug pulled out from under him and it's made clear that he doesn't, actually, know the perfect way to handle Every Woman. "DO YOU MIND, I AM HAVING A CRY."

Archie tries to pull up and save himself:

It didn't faze me. "I have," I said politely, "but I was waiting for the noise to die down enough for you to hear me tell you that if you don't want to go in the room where Morton is in your present condition, the room at the front on that floor is mine, is unlocked, and has a bathroom with a mirror."

"It didn't faze me." LIES, LIES, LIES. You had little cartoon birds and stars circling around your head, Archie, you were so surprised.

Archie then goes downstairs to his room to make sure his room has clean towels and also to take care of "general appearances." ... I assume this means hiding the porn.

What do you guys think? :)

(And does anyone have any thoughts about the A&E adaptation of this case? I have the DVDs, but haven't had a chance to watch it this week. I may make a few comments about it later in the weekend.)

Also, if anyone wants to volunteer to do one of these write-ups, you can comment at the sign-up post here, or PM me.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-03-06 01:35 am (UTC)
dorinda: Animated image of Jim kissing Plato on the temple, from a screen test for "Rebel Without a Cause" (JimPlato_animated)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I'm back! Reading this book on the plane with an eye toward later discussion really made the trip fly by. Heh heh. Fly by. Heh.

I'm like you, the meat-shortage makes me think of a WWII-era story--I hadn't known about the postwar meat shortage. The things you learn!

But eating meatless meals, or inferior cuts/types of meat-- that is obviously true suffering.

Yeah, I have to agree--meat, and good/quality cuts thereof, feel much more motivational to Wolfe in my opinion than new orchid benches. Especially given the way we're told repeatedly that when he goes up to the orchids he's really just kind of playing/luxuriating/dabbling, with Theodore doing the real work. (Okay, granted, it's Archie saying that, and he could certainly be criticizing/downplaying Wolfe's role in the thriving of his concubines. *g*)

to me, Zeck, as an archetype, is really more like a pulp supervillain than a typical fictional gangster

I hadn't thought of it that way--I like the way you put it. Even with the tommyguns-at-the-plant-rooms deal from The Second Confession, Zeck doesn't really feel gangsterish to me.

I think this is the first time Archie's had a chat with Wolfe in his underwear.

I think you're right! I certainly would have remembered that. The level of unmentioned intimacy certainly gets me...I mean, we've had pajamas-Wolfe, and barefoot-bedhead Wolfe, and sleeping-in-the-same-room-covered-with-Archie's-blanket-Wolfe. Now, UNDERWEAR WOLFE. \o/

Personally I especially enjoyed this because of its conflict with the introduction to the edition I read, by Randy Russell in 1993. The beginning of the intro, and its central thrust, is "Nero Wolfe gives me the creeps." It goes on (and on) to display a clear and profound discomfort with Wolfe's physicality, talking about "the ravenous Wolfe" who is "a monster screaming to be fed," whose antipathy for the outdoors is "Draculan", who is "folded inside all that idle flesh". So I like that this book in particular goes even beyond the pajamas (which we have already seen Archie find dazzling and a privilege to behold!) to Wolfe in his underwear, a sight at which Archie has no complaints. Take that, Randy Russell!

Although, if you don't mind me waxing on about it, the intro has some further implications that Russell might not quite fully understand. In the course of emphasizing that he DOES NOT want to touch Nero Wolfe, he goes on, "Luckily, I don't have to touch Nero Wolfe to know him. I have Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, to do that for me." To which I know Wolfe? Or to touch Wolfe? Or...both?

Russell also says: "It is the relationship of these two characters that makes up the heart and soul of Rex Stout's work. I like to think of it as a marriage of men, though I don't always understand how the two of them get along. Archie is normal, after all."

To that, I would say: 1) Seconded, on the marriage, but 2) I think he has been completely fooled by the unreliable narrator, if he's willing to rest on the conceit that Archie is "normal".

Back to the book: as you say, this book has a lot of classic, well-crafted, familiar aspects in it, and I'd include in that list the exchange in which Perrit tells Archie to go sit in the car, and Wolfe puts the kibosh on that in no uncertain terms: "No, sir," Wolfe said emphatically..."I do nothing without Mr. Goodwin. If you confided in me, no matter what, under a pledge of confidence, I would tell it all to him as soon as you left." I never get tired of that ritual, Wolfe demonstrating his trust in/reliance on Archie, in front of Archie.

I notice that when Beulah asks who Wolfe is, Archie answers: "He saved my life once--uh, on a murder charge. I was innocent and he proved it." Has anyone ever written a story in which this was actually the occasion of their first meeting and/or Archie coming to work for him?

Violet's death feels understatedly horrible to me...just enough of a touch of graphic detail ("one bullet had torn through her cheek"), with the spelled-out gasping of "Uh--uh--". It feels hard-boiled-style, whereas some of the deaths in the Wolfe books are much more cozy-style (poisonings especially, of course).

When Archie calls Wolfe with the news of Violet's death, how much do I love that the first thing Wolfe does is interrupt him with "Are you hurt?" THIIIIIIIS MUCH. :D He does this other times, too, and I really adore 1) the relationship touch it gives, but also 2) the undercutting it does to the hard boiled aspects. I do not remember Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe having the man who keeps them interrupt their narration of dames and bullets to check if they're okay. (Speaking of which: to Wolfe, Meeker calls Archie "your punk". I have enjoyed seeing fan authors bring out this undercurrent and its connotations, given how we've seen more than one character make that kind of remark. Just wait till we get to In The Best Families and "Nero Wolfe's little Archie"!)

Back to Wolfe and the primacy of his "Are you hurt?": Archie being Archie, he knows this about Wolfe, and sometimes both relies on it and plays on it. So after the bloodbath out front of the Brownstone, when Wolfe bellows down as if he's irritated at the noise, Archie yells back, "Corpses on the sidewalk in front, and it might have been me!" He doesn't seem shy about announcing to Wolfe in particular, "HEY I ALMOST GOT HURT".

Oh--my notes have reminded me! Before Underwear Wolfe, we have Wolfe not only in his yellow pajamas, but also in yellow slippers "with turned-up toes". I never get tired of the little touches in Wolfe's wardrobe, the elaborations and curlicues.

... it's almost like Archie is RESENTFUL that Wolfe doesn't want to eat him.

HEE. I bet he is! I bet his suggestions for Wolfe eating him were detailed and helpful! I really wonder what Wolfe's reply was, given the way Archie says "it would be best to skip his retort". *g*

"It didn't faze me." LIES, LIES, LIES.

Seeeeeriously. I mean I want to call up Randy Russell and tell him just how definitively Unreliable a Narrator we have here! Hellooooo!

also to take care of "general appearances." ... I assume this means hiding the porn

And the monogrammed kidskin case and the tooled leather cardcase and the other luxurious items Wolfe has showered upon him over the years, which he likes to look at. ♥

And does anyone have any thoughts about the A&E adaptation of this case?

My DVDs are still in storage with most of my stuff, and will be probably for another couple months. Argh! I can't remember it well enough...I think a rewatch is certainly indicated.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-26 04:49 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Two hands, one dangling a silver Comedy mask and one dangling a gold Tragedy mask, under the words THE PLAYERS. (Sting_players)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
And does anyone have any thoughts about the A&E adaptation of this case?

I have my DVDs now, so I rewatched this one. I loved it! I think it's a sharp, clear adaptation, with lots of great little character moments.

First off, may I say that this show has the ABSOLUTE BEST NECKTIES. I could rewatch episodes for the neckties alone!

I love Archie's ongoing wariness of Perritt. His quick and protective pulling of his gun in the front room is great. He also does a lot of enjoyable wordless-amusement in this episode; his reaction shots are always a joy.

Wolfe using Archie's cover name cracks me up. "Four feet across, Harold," he says sweetly across the table.

They did a good job with the dying-word clue, I think it was just ambiguous enough, and very effortful. I think that's a hard task, when moving from page to screen! It's like when a character is disguised as someone else--easy to say on paper, but can be very hard to actually pull off.

Rowcliffe is hilariously uncomfortable at having to talk to Wolfe in Wolfe's bedroom, with Wolfe resplendent in pajamas and robe. Hee!

Wolfe and Fritz going completely nuts over the giant box of meat is great. I mean, their eyes are practically spinning around in their heads. I understand; I get that way with lamb chops, and I'm not even in a Great Meat Shortage. :D

The one thing I'd change is Perrit's line reading on the bit Archie refers to as the "voice of a killer". I like Perrit's performance in general, he has a very matter-of-fact authority that clearly won't brook interference. He seems to be a believable mob boss without cliche flourishes. But that line I think needed to be more distinctive, different and chilling--like, I would have suggested quiet and slow, maybe let his eyes go blank. Something that would make sense as especially frightening to Archie, more and differently than Perrit's usual brusque ordering voice has so far.

Anyway, this adaptation is highly recommended!


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