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
My apologies. Real life intervened. I had to briefly change my entire appearance and flee to California to adopt a life of crime in order to bring down a criminal mastermind.

But now!

The one you've all been waiting for!

In The Best Families, originally published 1950, the final book in the story of Nero Wolfe's confrontation with Arnold Zeck!

This is an amazing book. The status quo at Wolfe's house gets completely upended, Archie gets separated from Wolfe for the first time since he joined the Army, Wolfe puts aside many of his scruples and all of his habits, the boys go toe-to-toe with Arnold Zeck, and eventually a murder gets solved. (And several get committed!)

I don't know if this is the most intense Archie and Wolfe's feelings get, but it has some terrific Archie-and-Wolfe moments. And the murder mystery isn't too bad either, even though it's relegated to the very beginning and very end of the book.

Shall we begin?

Introduction--A Case, A Warning

We begin as in many other Nero Wolfe mysteries, with a client coming to see Wolfe, a family member tagging along, a case Wolfe doesn't really want to take, money being offered, and various domestic happenings around the brownstone. In this case the client is Mrs. Barry Rackham, her business is wanting to know where her husband is getting all his extra spending money, as he's been living off her wealth since they've been married and she's stopped giving him cash when he asked. The family member is Calvin Leeds, her cousin, who reluctantly agrees to help Archie get an in to the household and start asking Barry some questions. The money is ten thousand dollars, and the domestic happenings include getting a call about some fresh sausage from a gourmet sausage maker available for Wolfe to purchase.

All of which is perfectly normal until Archie makes a particular point of detailing when the sausage arrives and its journey to the kitchen to be opened, whereupon we discover the package contains not sausage, but a canister of tear gas, sent by someone with an agenda to make sure that Barry Rackham is not investigated: Arnold Zeck.

Archie's quick reflexes save anyone from inhaling anything noxious, and as soon as the smoke clears, Zeck calls and makes it clear that he considers investigation into the Rackhams to be treading on his turf.

And Then It Gets Bloody

Wolfe refuses to back down, of course, and that evening is when Archie is already set to investigate the Rackham clan. He visits Calvin Leeds and makes a show of investigating the month-old case of the poisoning of his dog, and meets the rest of the cast:

Annabel Frey, Mrs. Rackham's daughter-in-law (to her son by her first marriage, son now deceased.) "This was my first check on an item of information furnished us by Mrs. Rackham, and I gave her an A for accuracy. She had said that her daughter-in-law was very beautiful. Some might have been inclined to argue it, for instance those who don't like eyes so far apart or those who prefer pink skin to dark, but I'm not so finicky about details." She wanted to see Archie work, so he had to put in a solid hour of dog-poison detecting when he didn't want to! Poor, poor Archie.

Dana Hammond, who came to watch Archie work with Annabel Frey. Vice-president of Mrs. Rackham's trust, handles her money. Archie estimates that he also wants to handle Annabel Frey.

Oliver A. Pierce, state assemblyman. Used to be involved with Annabel, is now seeing Miss Darrow. Archie thinks he's smooth and will probably go places, if he doesn't turn out to be a murderer.

Lina Darrow, Mrs. Rackham's secretary. "... I never saw a finer pair of eyes. She was obviously underplaying them, or rather what was back of them. When I was questioning her she pretended I had her in a corner, while her eyes gave it away that she could have waltzed all around me if she wanted to." I love how Archie describes women he is impressed with.

And last but not least, Barry Rackham. Archie wants to know, mainly, if Rackham is on to him, and he can't figure it out all evening.

We're introduced to this whole cast of characters and Archie spends several hours with them, and then Mrs. Rackham goes for a walk, and Calvin Leeds takes Archie back to his place. Archie gets tucked in and Leeds takes a minute to look around for anything amiss, given that one of his dogs had recently been poisoned. Archie has some trouble getting to sleep, mulling over the events of the day and Rackham's behavior in particular, and is about to drop off when he hears something whimpering out in the dark.

He gets Leeds and they go investigate, and find one of the more heartbreaking sights I've ever heard described in a Wolfe novel, Mrs. Rackham's dog, dying of a knife wound.

The dog dies after snarling in pain when Leeds tries to soothe him, and they take him inside, leaving the knife intact. Then they go searching in the woods and find, not unexpectedly, Mrs. Rackham, dead of wounds from the same knife.

Leeds goes to the house to call the police and a doctor, and Archie goes to keep watch on the dead dog. He takes the opportunity to call Wolfe, ask for instructions, and report.

I'm fairly good with a billiard cue, and only Saul Panzer can beat me at tailing a man or woman in New York, but what I am best at is reporting a complicated event to Nero Wolfe.

The police show up shortly after he is done reporting, he leaves them the evidence, and gets taken to the main house to be interrogated by the Westchester PD. The farce reintroduces recurring characters Con Noonan and DA Cleveland Archer, but poor Archie doesn't get any sleep and doesn't learn anything else from a group of suspects ill inclined to be talkative. Eventually they let him go back to Leeds' place to get some rest. Archie, however, doesn't sleep, and it's a good thing he doesn't.

I have a way of realizing all of a sudden, as I suppose a lot of people do, that I made a decision some time back without knowing it. It happened that morning at 6:25. Looking at my watch and seeing that that was where it had got to, I was suddenly aware that I was staying awake, not so I could phone Wolfe at eight o'clock, but so I could beat it the hell out of there as soon as I was sure Leeds was asleep; and I was now as sure as I would ever be.

Archie packs his things, gets to the car--he wakes the dogs, but he manages to be on the road back to New York before anyone can stop him. He drives until he reaches the brownstone, and finds something shocking before he even gets out of the car: the door is standing wide open.

The Next Phase

Nero Wolfe has, of course, gone.

Wolfe had spoken before of going away and taking Zeck on head-to-head, but he had always implied he would be taking Archie along. And now he is gone, with brief notes to Fritz and Theodore to seek employment with Marko Vukcic and Mr. Hewitt, respectively, and for Archie: "AG: Do not look for me. My very best regards and wishes... NW."

Archie is pissed. He's snappish at everyone. He isn't going to go look for Wolfe, of course, Wolfe has asked him not to and he's got his pride. Fritz is worried that Wolfe won't eat (and he's nearly right), and Theodore doesn't want to go work on Long Island. Wolfe has also put ads in the paper announcing his retirement, which means Archie has to deal with inquiries left and right, which does not improve his mood any.

There's a glimmer of hope when Marko Vukcic calls and asks to see him, and Archie assumes Wolfe will be waiting for him--but no, disappointment all around. Archie!

Marko lets Archie know that he's been given power of attorney and can sign all of Wolfe's checks, Wolfe has instructed him to sell the house, and to instruct Archie, "You are to act in the light of experience as guided by intelligence."

Poor Archie, and everyone assuming he knows where Nero Wolfe went, because of course Wolfe wouldn't vanish without telling Archie! That would mean he didn't trust Archie Goodwin, and everyone knows that Nero Wolfe trusts Archie Goodwin, how could he not tell Archie where he went and what was going on?

After driving around aimlessly thinking for a while and getting nowhere, Archie is pulled up to Westchester to dictate and sign a statement. He learns that Rackham wants to contradict him on the points of Mrs. Rackham's query to Wolfe, and that the will has been read and Annabel Frey, Calvin Leeds, Lina Darrow, and Barry Rackham have all inherited large sums of money and in Annabel's case, a house. The Westchester PD and DA attempt to get Wolfe's whereabouts out of Archie, but him having no whereabouts to turn over, they wind up throwing him in jail.

In jail, Archie makes a contact who will come in handy later, Max Christy, a cultured criminal interested in the rapidity of horses, who offers Archie a job. This whole thing could be a setup for Zeck to get a better look at Archie, but the tag is made politely and then Christy is out, followed quickly by Archie getting sprung by Parker.

Archie then has to settle in for life without Wolfe. He handles correspondence, checks, and business, and gets a visit from Calvin Leeds, who is upset to see Wolfe gone and no indication that Archie or Wolfe will work on solving his cousin's murder. Cramer comes and lets on he knows a bit more about Zeck than Archie may have thought he did, and wants Wolfe to know that Zeck is out of reach. It nearly ends in a fistfight.

Three weeks later, very little has happened, except that Marko Vukcic has drawn five thousand dollars out of Wolfe's account for "travel expenses." Then Annabel Frey calls and asks Archie to come talk with the assembled cast up in Westchester, and that kicks Archie into gear. He gets himself his own detective office, his own stationery, moves in his dictionary, and heads up to interrogate as his own detective with his own agency. He gets nowhere with the suspects, all but Annabel refusing to speak to him.

The next few months we get brief glimpses into Archie's own cases, and they're charmingly varied. We get another glimmer of Nero Wolfe maybe moving in Marko Vukcic withdrawing more money for travel expenses, but mostly Archie gets good at working for himself, and proudly doesn't have to dip into expenses or Wolfe's bank account. He even makes plans to take a vacation to Norway with Lily Rowan, but he gets the sense he isn't going to be able to make it. And sure enough, Max Christy shows up, with an offer for a job--tailing someone. And he can meet the man who wants to offer him the job if he gets picked up by a car that evening.

Curious, and thinking the man might possibly be Zeck or at least a link to Zeck, Archie takes the stroll and gets picked up in the car.

Not only was he not Zeck; he was no one I had ever seen or heard of, though I was fairly well acquainted, at least by sight, with the high brass in the circles that Max Christy moved in. This bird was a complete stranger. With more skin supplied for his face than was needed, it had taken up the slack in pleats and wrinkles, and that may have accounted for his sporting a pointed brown beard, since it must be hard to shave pleats.

The man is Roeder, he comes from the West Coast, and he speaks through his nose. And the man he wants tailed is Barry Rackham, which is enough to get Archie's attention. They drive to Archie's office and Roeder comes up to speak with him, asks Archie to check for a bug, and then:

"I see you have my dictionary here."

Not through his nose. I whirled and went rigid, gaping at him. The eyes again--and now other items, too, especially the forehead and ears. I had every right to stare, but I also had a right to my own opinion of the fitness of things. So while staring at him I got myself under control, and then circled the end of my desk, sat down and leaned back, and told him, "I knew you all--"


So Wolfe is back, and intends to find the murderer of Mrs. Rackham and take down Zeck, though not in that order. He hires Archie to tail Rackham to put pressure on him for Zeck, because that will allow them to get to Zeck himself. They freak Rackham out with the tailing, and then Archie allows himself to get caught and has a talk with him where he takes his measure and offers to sell him some information. Rackham is panicked, because Zeck has been threatening to release evidence that he killed his wife, which Rackham denies, but he knows that anything Zeck wants to make happen will happen. Archie takes his money one day, then a few days later comes back and returns the money, saying Zeck is just too big, Archie doesn't want to be caught with the accessory to murder charge, and that Rackham should meet with Zeck and get back on his good side.

There are a few complications, of course. The police from Westchester drag Archie up again just as he's set up the meeting, everyone's timing gets thrown off, it's all very tense. But finally Archie, Wolfe, and Rackham are alone with Arnold Zeck, and it's time for the endgame.

The End of Zeck, and Murderer's Row

We meet Zeck for the first time when he outlines his plan for getting Rackham to jump back into the fold to Archie, and we get one of my favorite descriptions of Zeck's eyes: "The eyes were the result of an error on the assembly line. They had been intended for a shark and someone got careless."

Wolfe and Archie have obtained a gun, and because Wolfe, as Roeder, has become a trusted associate, he is able to smuggle the gun past Zeck's security. And in the middle of their pitch to Zeck, Wolfe and Archie together team up and push Zeck away from his control desk, tie him to his chair, and gag him!

"Mr. Zeck," [Wolfe] said, "you told me on the telephone two years ago that you had great admiration for me. I hope that what has just happened here has increased it. I'm Nero Wolfe, of course. There are many things it would give me satisfaction to say to you, and perhaps I shall someday, but not now. It is true that if one of your men suddenly opened the door Mr. Goodwin would kill you first, but I'm afraid you'd have company. So I'll get one. Having by your admission matched you in intellect, it's a question of will, and mine has not failed me, as you thought."

They are in a precarious situation. The only way out of the room is past Zeck's security, and they can't really use him as a hostage. They can't kill him without security killing them. So Wolfe tells Zeck he'll make a deal--trade Zeck the information he's gathered against him for the information proving Rackham guilty of murdering his wife. In order to make the deal, Archie puts down the gun in order to untie him...

And of course Rackham grabs the gun and shoots Zeck.

Archie finishes untying Zeck and getting rid of the gag right before the goons bust in, find Rackham with a smoking gun in hand, and shoot him dead, killing two murderers with one plan.

Home safe, Wolfe happily being fed properly again, Archie assumes that's all, but Wolfe believes he still has to earn his fee and find the murderer of Mrs. Rackham... who he is convinced was not Barry Rackham. And when we get all the suspects together again, the second saddest part of the book happens, because we discover the murderer was actually Calvin Leeds. Nero Wolfe's contempt is well-deserved, I feel, because Leeds is a man who would kill a dog he trained himself, and it's grimly satisfying to see him caught.

Other Thoughts

You didn't think I was going to get out of this post without talking about Lily Rowan, did you?

LILY ROWAN, she's so awesome! When Wolfe shows up in Roeder disguise and needs a woman to offer him cover, so that he doesn't have to explain to Zeck or his minions what he's doing for a few hours, Archie calls Lily and she's great. "I'm the only woman in America who has necked with Nero Wolfe. Nightmare, my eye. He has a flair." And she gets Archie to spritz Wolfe with her perfume!

Archie and Lily do wind up getting that trip to Norway, too. I'm sure they had a lovely time among the fjords.

In the beginning of the book Archie estimates that he and Wolfe handle 40 cases a year, of which we the reader only get glimpses of a few.

The plot of this book is interesting, in that it's something of a short story plot wrapped around the Zeck happenings. None of the other characters are really fleshed out, not even Annabel, who asks Archie to come investigate, and Lina, who is the flirtatious one who wanted to get involved with Barry Rackham, then attempted to frame him for murder and made Archie's meetings go all wonky. I am willing to forgive that for the excellent rest of the supporting cast, though; almost everyone in New York showed up at one point or another to wonder why Archie doesn't know where Nero Wolfe is.

Zeck's killing! I thought the big showdown was a little anticlimactic, actually? There was a lot of tension and buildup, but the actual confrontation happened very quickly and depended on manipulating Rackham. And there was a bit of a throwaway at the end, where Wolfe reveals that Rackham didn't kill his wife, but had totally killed someone else, and that's what Zeck was blackmailing him for... so it's totally cool that he died, because he was a murderer. It's not quite convincing a murderer to kill themselves, but it's a little cold.

Still, Archie and Wolfe feels? Many of them?

What are your favorite bits? What are your favorite quotes?

Are there any other fictional supervillains/supercriminals you'd want to see Nero and Archie go up against?


(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-02 12:51 pm (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn
I have to quickly reread the book to get some of my thoughts together, but the most obvious comment about this book is: it's maybe the biggest Holmesian homage in the series -- just, obviously "How would I do Reichenbach if it happened to Wolfe and Archie?" To the point where I even wonder if Wolfe's awful goatee is a slight reference to the goatee Holmes has while he's undercover in "His Last Bow," although it's probably just that growing a beard is an easy but effective disguise.

Anyway, "In The Best Families" is Wolfe and Archie's version of "The Final Problem" + Reichenbach Fall + The Great Hiatus + "The Empty House," except all in one book, because obviously Stout wasn't literally trying to kill off Wolfe the way ACD was trying to kill off Holmes and that makes a difference.

It's amusing to me to imagine the version of "In The Best Families" that's actually split up between two books -- one where Wolfe disappears and is presumed to be dead/gone forever and Archie has to solve some B-plot mystery while the Zeck plot goes unfinished, and then another book where Archie gets started on another mystery, it turns out to be connected to Zeck, Wolfe comes back and they solve it together (and take down Zeck.) But that isn't really the kind of series Stout was writing -- every book works as a standalone, to the point where you could *probably* appreciate it as a standalone even if it was the first one you'd ever read. Although all the guest appearances of the supporting cast might fall a little flat.

So as an alternate universe version of Reichenbach, it's obviously different in some key ways. Archie never thinks Wolfe is dead and the outside world doesn't think so either-- they all know he's just pulling one of his "stunts". (Ugh, now I'm thinking of the EVEN MORE HORRIBLE version of this story where Archie, like Watson, has strong reason to believe Wolfe perished taking down his archenemy, but no one else believes him and everyone assumes this is typical Wolfe-and-Archie trickery.) Also, unlike Holmes, Wolfe really does have a clever plan and a good reason to disappear long-term (which is a plot hole which kind of gets papered over in the Holmes stories).

Where the stories are similar -- Archie first sees Wolfe in disguise and doesn't recognize him, and Wolfe makes up an excuse to come to his office and speak with him alone. Arguably Archie does better than Watson while his great detective is away, although of course Watson was also widowed during that time just for extra sadness, and Archie still has Lily. However, Archie is just as left out of Wolfe's master plan as Watson is, and is only brought back in once Wolfe needs a backup for the final, violent phase of his master plan to confront Zeck. (The part where neither Wolfe nor Archie pulls the trigger on Zeck is interesting to me too -- he can't just be arrested, the way Moran is in "The Empty House," and it's very Wolfe to arrange things so that the violence doesn't touch him or Archie personally, but it's not quite what you'd expect from most detective/adventure/mystery novels.)

More thoughts later! :D

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-03 01:26 am (UTC)
travels_in_time: John Watson smiling (SH--John smiling)
From: [personal profile] travels_in_time
(Ugh, now I'm thinking of the EVEN MORE HORRIBLE version of this story where Archie, like Watson, has strong reason to believe Wolfe perished taking down his archenemy, but no one else believes him and everyone assumes this is typical Wolfe-and-Archie trickery.)

I would read this fic. *waits hopefully*

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-03 02:00 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

Nooooo, it would be AWFUL. I think I said in the book club discussion of "The Silent Speaker" that what Phoebe Gunther does after her boss gets murdered is exactly what we could expect from Archie if Wolfe got killed -- he would go off on a solo quest, sacrificing everything for revenge, and probably die. But I don't even know WHAT he would do if there was no revenge to be had! It would be the worst thing ever. I don't know if Wolfe coming back could even fix it!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-06 06:16 pm (UTC)
dorinda: A black-and-white portrait of a little girl that gradually shifts to look demonic. (demongirl_animated)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
it's maybe the biggest Holmesian homage in the series -- just, obviously "How would I do Reichenbach if it happened to Wolfe and Archie?"

Yeah, seriously. I'm always thinking about Moriarty when I think about Zeck, and I wonder if Stout, as he was twining Zeck into the earlier books, already had Moriarty this specifically in mind.

I think the kicker Moriarty-wise is his head--most specifically the word "dome". Holmes's first sight of Moriarty goes:

He is extremely tall and thin, his forehead domes out in a white curve, and his two eyes are deeply sunken in this head. He is clean-shaven, pale, and ascetic-looking, retaining something of the professor in his features. His shoulders are rounded from much study, and his face protrudes forward, and is forever slowly oscillating from side to side in a curiously reptilian fashion. He peered at me with great curiosity in his puckered eyes.

And Archie's goes:

Actually there was nothing to him but his forehead and eyes. It wasn't a forehead, it was a dome, sloping up and up to the line of his faded thin hair. The eyes were the result of an error on the assembly line. They had been intended for a shark and someone got careless. They did not now look the same as shark eyes because Arnold Zeck's brain had been using them to see with for fifty years, and that had had an effect.

One's a serpent, one's a shark, but they both specifically have this great dome of a forehead. It's like "dome" is synecdochic for Moriarty across the board--the song "Macavity" in the musical Cats, about the criminal-mastermind cat, has the line "His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed", and it's like BING!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-06 07:52 pm (UTC)
dorinda: From a French postcard of 1902: a woman in hat, coat, cravat, and walking stick writes on a pad of paper. (writer)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Ahahahaha, facepalm, I had the Macavity song running through my head and completely skipped that it came from the poem. Derp.

Agreed about the big head = big brain...Doyle was all over that, I think. It's waved about as a smug deduction in the Blue Carbuncle, when he's telling Watson that the owner of the big hat must obviously be a scholarly man. Okay, buddy, if you say so!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-02 04:50 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Fat Pony appears in a blaze of light! (Fat_Pony)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
OH GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK. I tend to put little strips of torn paper in as bookmarks for pages with something particularly interesting or excellent, and my copy of this book is just a forest of little waving flags!

However, I'm in the middle of a giant foofaraw involving moving a relative overseas, and will be for the next couple days, so I'll have to reply a little later. Luckily I have a three-day weekend coming up!

So have no fear I won't comment. Because OH I HAVE A FEW THINGS TO SAY. Even if someone beats me to them, I will still come and say them, because I neeeeeed to shaaaaare.

However, I can at least drop in this little squee before I go. I kick my feet in glee at the bit where Mrs. Rackham says to Wolfe, "You're big and handsome and successful", and the NEXT DAY Archie makes a giant dealio about being absorbed in the dictionary, and when Wolfe is finally like "Whatcha doin" Archie says he was looking up "handsome" and by gum it DOES apply to Wolfe because it can also mean "moderately large".

That is a good long time to stew over Mrs. Rackham calling Wolfe handsome, and thinking up a way to try to change it. And he is so much looking forward to that ploy poking Wolfe into a nice bit of banter, but Wolfe is too distracted by the prospect of the eventual sausages to play with Archie right now. Heh. OH ARCHIE.

Okay, more later for sure!

Oh-- P.S.-- maybe at some point someone would like to discuss Parhelion's In the Best Families slash story, "Hunger", with me? If you're cool with a slash version of ITBF, I recommend it!:

Hunger (10210 words) by Parhelion
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Nero Wolfe - Stout
Rating: Mature
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Archie Goodwin/Nero Wolfe
Characters: Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe, Saul Panzer, Arnold Zeck
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon, noir, Blackmail, Criminals Made Them Do It, Undercover

I had an argument with another fan who claimed Archie's report of how Wolfe defeated his nemesis Zeck was ridiculous. I lost. This is one suggestion of how else it might have happened.

Edited (department of redundancy department) Date: 2015-09-02 04:51 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-06 02:52 pm (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
Oh, man, I forgot there was a dog murdered by one of his people in this book. I'm not sure I can reread it now. (Murdered clients? Whatever. Murdered dog with two lines of description? NOOOOOOES.)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-06 06:01 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Vintage orange crate label, "Dorinda" brand (Dorinda_label)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Poor Nobby. So loyal, and so brave!

Nobby's death leads to one of the great scenes of the climax, though, when Wolfe gives like a three-page speech hammering home just why Leeds is guilty, and how his guilt is worse than just murder. It's kind of amazing. Wolfe doesn't often get emotionally involved in the crime or the comeuppance, but here he really does seem affected:

"I'm accusing you of that [i.e. murdering Mrs. Rackham], yes, sir, but also I'm accusing you of something much worse than that." Wolfe spat it at him. "I'm accusing you of deliberately and ruthlessly, to protect yourself from the consequences of your murder of your cousin for the money you would inherit from her, thrusting that knife into the belly of a dog that loved you and trusted you!"

He ranks the murder of Nobby above the murder of Mrs. Rackham, and he seems to feel very deeply about it. And it's because of the love and trust the dog felt, and the cold and calculated betrayal of that love and trust.

The speech goes on for like two and a half pages in my copy of the book, and just spirals upward in intensity and passion. And by the end, Leeds is completely wrecked, and makes no more effort to deny it or defend himself.

It reminds me a bit of the speech we don't get to hear most of in Booby Trap, when Wolfe talks the killer into blowing himself up with a grenade, except here we get to see the whole thing.

And on the one hand, yes, Wolfe knows that this really is a vulnerable spot for Leeds, so he jabs at it and keeps jabbing. But on the other hand, I still can't help but feel that Wolfe is also truly affected to some degree. I'd argue that there's something about deep love and loyalty, and the specter of the betrayal thereof, that is close to his heart.

And then I'd think about Archie. And all the promises that he'd be coming along to the eventual anti-Zeck hideout, and the note NW left him, and Marko unable to tell him anything and calling him "My poor young friend", and how no one believes him when he says he has no idea where Wolfe went.

That's the sort of stuff I'd think about.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-07 01:26 am (UTC)
saraht: "...legwork" (Default)
From: [personal profile] saraht
For all that Wolfe is a supersubtle, hypercivilized New Yorker, you can often see that he has certain notions of manly responsibility that reflect his Montenegrin upbringing. Like not abandoning the people who rely on you. Sniff.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-07 03:50 pm (UTC)
dorinda: In "Brideshead Revisited" (1981), Sebastian and Charles, arms around each other, look out to sea. (Brideshead_sea)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
That makes me think about how Wolfe specifically arranged for new employers for both Theodore and Fritz--as his dependents, they were left well provided for, paid more and taken good care of.

But Archie gets no new employer, not even a suggestion. I'm sure Wolfe knows that Archie would accept no new employer--but also, Archie is so much more than his dependent/employee, that there is no possible replacement. But it also means that Archie alone is truly abandoned.

He acts like it, too--the first days after Wolfe leaves, Archie seems practically dazed:

* The first time he goes into the office, he finds himself sitting in Wolfe's chair without realizing he's done it.

* After seeing Marko, he drives around for two hours for no reason, and "I now believe that the reason I never drove farther north than One Hundred and Tenth Street, nor farther south than Fourteenth Street during those two hours, was that I thought Wolfe was probably somewhere within those limits and I didn't want to leave them."

* His first night alone in the house (after he comes home from jail), he sees the empty orchid rooms, and then walks through every room in the house. He gets into his pajamas and sits in the office, pajamaed. Then "When I heard the front door open I made for the hall as if I had been expecting another package of sausage" and it turns out only to be Fritz. I am struck by the image of Archie, in his pjs, helplessly rushing to the front door hoping that it's Wolfe.

Maybe he was wearing the nice dressing gown Wolfe gave him.


(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-06 07:36 pm (UTC)
dorinda: In "Brideshead Revisited" (1981), Sebastian and Charles, arms around each other, look out to sea. (Brideshead_sea)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I have SO MANY FEELINGS about this book that it is hard to grapple them into words. So I am posting a bunch of little comments zeroing in on this or that.

Just now, I've been thinking about the recognition scene. Another extremely Holmesian parallel, where the disguised guy gets into the other guy's office under false pretenses, then other guy looks away, and the disguised guy unmasks in some sense.

In Holmes, Watson seems to have absolutely no idea, until he turns around and Holmes has whipped off his disguise. And we have the very emotionally satisfactory fainting, with Holmes ministering to him with brandy.

With Archie, it's interesting, more prolonged. At first he's in the same boat as Watson, no recognition, though Archie has more of an excuse because their first meeting is side-by-side in a car late at night. Then Archie takes him up to his office, and there's more light in the elevator so he can see more details, but perhaps tellingly, "Roeder" slumps against the wall with his eyes closed for the whole ride.

But in the office, there's something in Archie that instinctively knows Wolfe even before the reveal, although he tells us he didn't consciously understand this yet:

I put it [the phone] back on the cradle, looked at him, got a straight clear view of his eyes for the first time, and felt a tingle in the small of my back. But I didn't know why.

Someone--I think it might've been Parhelion?--made some observations back in the day (was it on the Yahoogroups list? I cannot remember) about the interesting import of Archie's nervous system recognizing Wolfe via a tingling specifically in the small of the back. It's a very primitive, intimate spot, and it bypasses the conscious mind entirely.

Wolfe, like Holmes, gets his partner to turn his back, but then in Wolfe's case he reveals himself with his voice, dropping his nasal Roederishness, and that tells Archie instantly.

Archie, true to form, tries to pretend that he knew all along, but of course Wolfe knows he didn't; what's interesting is that we know it too, we were explicitly told. This isn't a case of the unreliable narrator trying to convince us that he didn't cry or wasn't scared, so we get an inside look at him bluffing to Wolfe (and how Wolfe is actually correct).

There is no demonstrative-Victorian fainting spell, alas, but I am nevertheless moved by the scene. Archie starts in with sarcasm, about how "What I really enjoyed was the suspense. Were you dead or alive or what? A perfect picnic."

And Wolfe replies with an open (as open as these two usually get, anyway) appeal for...what? It's hard for me to put a name to. Detente, rapprochement, forgiveness, welcome?:

"I expected this, of course. It is you, and since I decided long ago to put up with you, I even welcome it. But you, also long ago, decided to put up with me. Are we going to shake hands or not?"

I don't know, that just gives me feelings, despite being so restrained compared to Watson pitching headlong to the floor and Holmes loosening his collar. Wolfe is reminding Archie of their bond, that Wolfe knows him and welcomes even his venting-via-snark. And he reminds Archie that Archie in turn knows him. And, he makes it a question rather than a command, asking whether Archie will take him back--he leaves it up to Archie.

Not even to mention the handshaking, which is not something Wolfe does if he can avoid it.

I got up and went halfway. He got up and came halfway. As we shook, our eyes met, and I deliberately focused on his eyes, because otherwise I would have been shaking with a stranger, and a hell of a specimen to boot. We returned to our chairs.

There's something so ritualized and intense about this moment. They meet halfway, in a literalization of the idiom of compromise. It's silent, this physical contact, with Archie staring into Wolfe's eyes.

*hand waving* I don't know, you guys! I just get kind of feelingsy over this stuff!

"I was."

Date: 2015-09-07 03:55 pm (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
Another of the many feelings I am having about this book!:

When Archie is in jail and meets his chatty cellmate Max Christy, I find this exchange very striking indeed:

He was regarding me with a new expression, not particularly matey. "So you're Nero Wolfe's little Archie."

"I was." I gestured. "Read the paper. Apparently I am now my own little Archie."

YOU GUYS. "I was." Archie Goodwin, touchy owner of Masculinity, doesn't get his back up over being called Nero Wolfe's Little Archie, the way he reliably has before over being called Nero Wolfe's punk or boy or little anything.

Instead he just owns it, and says, "I was."


(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-25 02:56 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Cutter and Skywise, believing they're about to part for good, share an intense hug. (Cutter-Skywise-angstyhug)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Today I was thumbing through the book one more time, and find myself dwelling on the scene where Archie first goes to see Marko.

It's another heartbreaker--Archie is convinced that he's secretly being summoned to see Wolfe, he's sure of it at every turn, and at every turn it's still not true. It's like he's stuck in the Denial Stage of Grief.

And Marko is so tender and solicitous of Archie, like Archie has been bereaved, or has just been wounded. (Both true.) He spends the entire first part of their meeting trying to soothe Archie's feelings in one particular way: trying to keep Archie from being upset that Wolfe has now relied on someone else more than on Archie himself:

"My friend Archie," he said sympathetically. "It is my part to tell you exactly certain things. But before I do that I wish you tell you a thing of my own. I wish to remind you that I have known Nero a much longer time than you have. We knew each other as boys in another country--much younger than you were that day many years ago when you first saw him and went to work for him. He is my old and dear friend, and I am his. So it was natural that he should come to me last night."

Everyone in the world assumes that no one is closer in Wolfe's inner circle than Archie, including Archie. And now that Wolfe has left Archie out for real, it requires a lot of explanation and justification.

Poor Marko, though. "I told him, Archie, that his conduct was inexcusable," he says, and he's obviously so upset and sympathetic on Archie's behalf, but that doesn't help Archie's broken heart. And Archie still can't help but ask, after the entire explanation, "No word for me at all?" Arrrrrrgh.
Edited (capital letters are a thing) Date: 2015-09-25 02:56 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-25 03:06 pm (UTC)
dorinda: From a French postcard of 1902: a woman in hat, coat, cravat, and walking stick writes on a pad of paper. (writer)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Oh, also, this most recent skim reminded me--due to their slipping out of sync with the forward flow of time, the books have now stopped linking Wolfe specifically with his WWI-era backstory.

But, there's one potential reference to it, and to the Wolfe who, as he put it in Over My Dead Body, "starved to death in 1916". When Wolfe is telling Archie where he went, he says "When I left here, on April ninth, I went to southern Texas, on the Gulf, and spent there the most painful month of my life--except one, long ago."

(That also makes me wonder, why the Gulf?)

There's so much to connect there, and in a very angsty way, too...Wolfe remade himself after the war into someone who would never, could never starve. And now he finds himself inflicting that on himself of his own will. Without anyone to lean on, even. Talk about a recipe for post-traumatic stress flareups!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-25 03:37 pm (UTC)
dorinda: From a French postcard of 1902: a woman in hat, coat, cravat, and walking stick writes on a pad of paper. (writer)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I thought I'd split this off into its own comment, topic-wise: I remain delighted by the many discomforts of Archie having to recruit Lily to make out with Wolfe. It's just all so distressing to Wolfe and Archie, but not to Lily, who has a great time and praises Wolfe's technique.

Archie is possessive for a tout, disparaging everything about Roeder's appearance, ending with, "You will have to fight down the feeling that you're having a nightmare". And Wolfe seems personally piqued:

"You overdid it a little, perhaps? Nightmare, for instance?"

"Yes, sir," I agreed. "I get too enthusiastic."

I glared at him, and he glared back.

And Lily, besides having a good time, demonstrates not only just how well she understands Archie, but how perfectly she understands his relationship with Wolfe. She guessed right away that it was Wolfe, and Archie tries to brush that off and still pretend it isn't, but Lily says to Wolfe:

"Don't be upset, Pete. I wouldn't have known you from Adam, no one would; that wasn't it. It's my hero here. Archie's an awful prude. He has been up against some tough ones, lots of them, and not once has he ever called on me to help. Never! A proud prude. Suddenly he calls me away from revelry--I might have been reveling for all he knew--to get into a car and be intimate with a stranger. There's only one person on earth he would do that for: you."

Her high spirits, and her glee at being "The only woman in America who has necked with Nero Wolfe--my God, I'll treasure it forever," leaves Wolfe sitting with silently gritted teeth. And Archie tries to joke him out of it, but immediately gets Serious Warning Signs and stops:

"Marry her. She wouldn't betray her own husband. And apparently in that one short ride uptown with her--"

I stopped abruptly. The face as a whole was no longer his, but the eyes alone were enough to tell me when I had gone far enough."

It's like the bit when Archie starts to call Wolfe greedy--there are serious minefields all around these issues, and no room for flippancy (and Archie, as we've seen so often before, does stop when he realizes it's hitting a wound).

Edited To Add: I forgot about the even later bit, actually, where Wolfe goes to Lily's in the guise of Roeder going to get laid, and meets Archie there. And for the sake of disguise, Archie has to spray Wolfe with Lily's perfume (why Wolfe doesn't do it himself I don't know, but it's a striking image). And then:

"Now the other side," I said gently. "What's worth doing--"

But he opened his eyes, and their expression was enough.

I am struck by the "gently" here--but even Archie being gentle with his humor is too much for Wolfe in this situation, and Archie gets the message and stops instantly.

Edited Date: 2015-09-25 03:42 pm (UTC)


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