used_songs: (Archie huh)
[personal profile] used_songs posting in [community profile] milk_and_orchids
"Cordially Invited to Meet Death"

My edition:
Stout, Rex. Black Orchids. 12th ed. New York City: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. 190. Print.

I'll admit up front that this is not one of my favorite Wolfe stories. Between the menagerie at Bess Huddleston's place, the frankly unlikeable characters, and the fantastical notion that Wolfe and Fritz would tolerate the Southern belle sashay into the kitchen and take over like Maryella does.I prefer my Wolfe stories to be a bit more hard-boiled and this one is definitely not. I also don't like the frame; it just feels tacked on, especially at the end. When Archie speculates that Wolfe might've known Bess in his youth and that's why he gave her the orchids ... I'm sorry, but that's just silly. However, all of that said, the story has its moments.

At the end of chapter 1 when Archie suggests possible terms to describe his relationship with Wolfe, he mentions right hand, prime minister, and pal. Wolfe demurs and Archie continues, "Accomplice, flunkey, Secretary of War, hireling, comrade ..." (112) I love Archie's irreverence as well as his firm belief in his own value. Archie also has a lot of word play (as usual). He riffs on Wolfe's use of the word bulwark on page 183, saying, "I bulwarked." I know the conceit is that he's telling us the story, but sometimes it feels like a character just amusing himself.

Archie's interactions with Cramer are always enjoyable. When Cramer wants into the brownstone before Wolfe has unmasked the killer, Archie fobs him off with some "brute force." (173) I actually feel kind of bad for Cramer, having to deal with Archie and Wolfe on a regular basis.

Wolfe is very difficult to please in this story. First of all, he seems more disinterested than usual in the case, even after it becomes a case of murder. He's also quite gruff with Archie. He tells him, "You made the usual quantity of mistakes" (133), informs him that he needs to pay for the tools he used to get the sample himself, and, at the end, says, "If you've finished your nap"(187) when Archie misses Janet's lunge. Archie might've missed that lunge, but he's as sharp as ever otherwise. He does some detecting on his own and, as usual, keeps a keen eye on Wolfe. "[B]y the way Wolfe's eyes stayed with her an instant, I saw that he knew she was lying." (182)

I think Archie gets a little bit personally involved with Janet and that's one reason he can't watch her at the end and thus misses her lunge. As Bess Huddleston is succumbing to tetanus, Wolfe has Archie keep Janet busy. "I was wrapping my tentacles about Janet, coaxing her into mt deadly embrace." (134) He certainly doesn't fall in love with her, but he does seem to enjoy her company and to prefer her to Maryella.

The entire story revolves around tetanus and its use as a murder weapon. Aside from making me wonder when my last vaccination was, it also made me think about how diseases and infectious agents come and go as popular threats. It also makes me think about the cures that I take for granted.

As a criminal, Janet is remarkably stupid. Of course, it's been a long time since I first read this story, but it's so obvious when she cuts herself and puts the iodine on the wound that something's up. No one could be stupid enough to do that knowing there's a iodine poisoner around. It detracts from Wolfe's performance at the end that even I could've solved this one!

The other thing that rubs me the wrong way is Archie's lapse into surrealism at the end. It seems to come out of nowhere, unless he really is seriously broken up about Janet ... which doesn't seem to be the case.


What's up with Archie's freak out at the end?

Why on earth is Wolfe so surly in this one?

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-04 04:41 am (UTC)
dorinda: A nudibranch (a type of sea slug) with markings that make it look like it is smiling and wearing a hat. (nudibranch)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
This one doesn't bother me the way it does you... For one thing, I think I'm never bothered by Wolfe being gruff or stroppy or otherwise difficult. Like the way they fence and spar, it's just something that waxes and wanes, and I expect it and enjoy it, so it doesn't grate. (Plus, I think some of his irascibility after Bess Huddleston dies is actually from him feeling bad about it--the black orchid blossoms seem a significant indication of the depth of his reaction--and because he feels bad he'd therefore feel angry, angry and put-upon as well as responsible and vengeful.)

And I suppose another part of it is that I don't really care about the strength of the plot, since, as I've mentioned, I don't read these books for the plots. :D So, yanno, the murderer can be as dumb as she wants. What I find particularly interesting about her as the murderer, actually, is Archie's high opinion of her (up to the reveal, of course)--the way he decides early on that she's innocent, the way he doesn't really seem to be able to suspect her. As you say, it's not that he's in love with her, but I think he gets too blithe about thinking she's fundamentally okay. He lets his guard down. And I totally agree with this: I think Archie gets a little bit personally involved with Janet and that's one reason he can't watch her at the end and thus misses her lunge.

On the opposite end of Archie's spectrum we have Maryella. She unfortunately gets off on the wrong foot without even knowing it, given Archie's Allergy To Accents:

Besides, there was her accent. Cawned beef ha-a-sh. I am not still fighting the Civil War, and anyway my side won, but these Southern belles--if it sounds like a deliberate come-on to me then it does.

It sounds like here we have the perfect intersection of 1) Archie's aversion to accents not his own, and 2) Archie's aversion to women he deems predatory.

She seals her fate, of course, when she invades Wolfe's kitchen, gets all up in his business, and HE DOESN'T OBJECT. Not only does he not object, but he LISTENS TO HER ADVICE. And he LETS HER TOUCH HIM. It drives Archie utterly bananas.

It's why I don't find the end surreal or out of nowhere in any way. It's the tail-end of a long period of Archie growing increasingly distressed about Maryella's presence--he's possessive of Wolfe, for one thing, and for another thing, we know that he and his psyche depend very strongly on Wolfe being predictable. When Wolfe goes off his established rails, Archie doesn't just get irritated (which is a common form of interaction between them), he also gets very anxious (which isn't). As when Wolfe goes off without Archie, like in Black Orchids--but here, it's the reverse, where Wolfe is welcoming Maryella (a woman who Archie already doesn't like on several fronts) into his inner sanctum in a completely unprecedented way. Archie hates it, and is distressed by it, and sulks/frets/anguishes in completely unproductive ways.

So at the end, when the girl he thought was the good one has been shown to be the killer, and the girl he didn't like is still around (and basically in Wolfe's pocket), Archie is working hard at Obviously Ignoring her and Wolfe--but Wolfe doesn't even seem to notice. Instead, Archie finds her in the kitchen being thoroughly respected and involved in Wolfe's cooking--not to mention that the male-love-interest of the book starts in to smooching her and Wolfe doesn't mind the display!--I think Archie has just Had It. His Obvious Ignoring didn't work, nor his other forms of snittery, so now he actually stomps from the house and slams the door.

I feel for him, I do. He plays himself as so calm and centered and secure, but man, underneath, he is so prone to panicking about Wolfe's life and his place in it.

At the end of chapter 1 when Archie suggests possible terms to describe his relationship with Wolfe, he mentions right hand, prime minister, and pal. Wolfe demurs and Archie continues, "Accomplice, flunkey, Secretary of War, hireling, comrade ..."

I LOVE that bit! When he's in his right mind, Archie knows full well how inextricable and ineffable his role is.

Re: the's a horrible, horrible murder. The length of time it took, the steady build of symptoms, the way Bess Huddleston would have to know it was hopeless. Aaaaaaagh. I'm just grateful we heard it second-hand from Cramer instead of having to be right there. And thank goodness for medical advances! Makes me want to run right out and get a tetanus booster.


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