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?
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