aris_tgd: "This story is a murder mystery--the mystery of MURDER." (Lyttle Lytton Murder Mystery)
[personal profile] aris_tgd posting in [community profile] milk_and_orchids
Well! I was going to post this last week, but Real Life intervened! So let's start this week off right with some Nero Wolfe and the villainous Arnold Zeck!

Original post for And Be a Villain
Original post for The Second Confession

I love both these books so much! I love the radio show on And Be a Villain, it feels like such a real world. Stout uses the trope of Archie going and investigating an office or an organization pretty often, and I feel like he always nails the small-town feel of personalities and petty office intrigues and shenanigans that happen when you have a group of people working together for a long time, especially when some of them happen to be artists or other creative types. I find myself less interested when Archie has to investigate a family or a group of strangers brought together by circumstance; the family stuff is similar but I feel like Stout doesn't quite have the same voice with family drama as he does with workplace drama.

And then The Second Confession! Danger! Murder! Zeck! THE PLANT ROOMS! That scene still gets me every time.

What do you guys think about our first exposure to Arnold Zeck? Did Stout do enough work building him up for the final showdown? Does he feel more like a pulp villain, a crime boss, or a supervillain? And if you were to pick any other Big Bad from popular culture to go head to head in a battle of crime and wits with Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, who would it be?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-11 02:20 am (UTC)
centuryplant: A Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Default)
From: [personal profile] centuryplant
"And Be A Villain" is one of my very favorites because of the radio show setting and because of Zeck's blackmail scheme, which may be the most interesting crime in the entire series. There've actually been examples of malware that claims to have found something illegal on the victim's computer or phone, and extorts a payment -- targeting people at random, but asking for a small enough amount that they'll just pay up, almost exactly like what Zeck does. I've always wondered if there was some real 1940s equivalent that Stout knew about, or if he just made it up.

Great Archie-Wolfe values too, of course, but lots of the books have that; not many have mystery plots that I like as much.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-14 05:10 pm (UTC)
dorinda: A black-and-white portrait of a little girl that gradually shifts to look demonic. (demongirl_animated)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I think the books do a good job of building Zeck, in terms of keeping him offscreen for as long and as much as possible. It's that old rule, you know, where you can build a character up to great heights by having other characters talk about him, making him larger than life without having to go over the top.

Handled better than Moriarty, in fact (and I'm sure we'll talk about Moriarty again when we get to In The Best Families)--ACD had all of the talk about Moriarty happen in the same story where we first meet him and he dies, so it was kind of jammed together. Stout stretched it out more, making Zeck into a slowly-growing background menace. He did his patented thing where Zeck's first phone call is referred to later as having happened during an offscreen case (one of the unspecified wartime ones), and then we get other creepy phone calls, the plant room disaster, etc.

And of course, having someone like Wolfe be no-fooling wary of Zeck definitely gives Zeck a high status, villainwise. Wolfe doesn't participate in any of Archie's attempts at joking about this one person--to Wolfe, Zeck is always serious business.

I don't think I have the taxonomy of pulp villain vs crime boss vs supervillain down well enough to say for sure. But I will say that the strategy of building up a super-scary villain by keeping him offscreen does require that the actual onscreen appearance of said villain can stand up to it. So I think this is where I rule out a standard crime boss--crime bosses and the political structure of a mob are comparatively so much warmer and homier, somehow. Like with Dazy Perrit & co. in Trouble in Triplicate: Before I Die, Perrit and Meeker and them could put Archie on edge, but by and large they were understandable and manageable. They were businessmen--just businessmen with a lot of clout, and with a riskier way of expressing their displeasure. Zeck never seems to be anything as mundane as a businessman, despite the gangstery tommyguns he sends to destroy the plant rooms.

Maybe that means I'm leaning toward pulp villain? I know we'll have more to say about that in In The Best Families, re: Zeck being involved in every level of society, police department and government included. So he has tendrils everywhere, and you can't trust anyone, which has that spooky, quasi-magical feel to it. But what the material difference is between pulp villain and supervillain, I don't quite know. Any thoughts on this?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-14 05:25 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Hands reach for two identical glasses, which are labeled "half empty" and "half full". (halfemptyhalffull)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Also, I've been mulling over the destruction of the plant rooms, which is a sequence that I love to bits. So drastic, so shocking to all involved! Neither Wolfe nor Archie keeps his cool.

I'm currently thinking along the lines of liviapenn here, where I'm wondering if Wolfe actually did plan to take Archie along with him when he eventually had to depart to who-knows-where to prep for his final showdown with Zeck.

But then the plant rooms were hit and hit hard, all at once, Wolfe's concubines felled in one great blow. And it tells Wolfe that Zeck's bit of respect he extends to Wolfe as his archnemesis is not extended to Wolfe's beloveds--not the plants (and Theodore their caretaker), not the kitchen/brownstone (and Fritz its caretaker), and therefore not Archie.

So it'd be here that he decided for sure to leave Archie behind, even while he kept the same party line out loud about taking him with/keeping him in the know. Leaving Archie behind and honestly ignorant would keep him safe.

I dither back and forth, though. Because granted that Wolfe gets a level of respect from Zeck--when Wolfe escapes on his own, Zeck respects his solo withdrawal from the playing field and is content to let him go. But Archie's still there, and there's the risk that should Zeck wish to try calling Wolfe back into the fight, he'd have Archie right there to harm or kidnap or whatever as he pleased (I mean, Wolfe left the brownstone and went to Archie's rescue back in The League of Frightened Men, and Archie wasn't even in the grip of an arch-fiend!).


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