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.
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