If Death Ever Slept --> Spoilers!

DiscussãoThe Black Orchid (A Nero Wolfe Group)

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If Death Ever Slept --> Spoilers!

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1etrainer
Set 17, 2007, 4:03 am

Ch. 1: Archie and Wolfe are squabbling. Both are annoyed at the other for reasons that are familiar. This time it seems to go a little far.

A potential client wants a job done that involves a "marital affliction". Wolfe indulges the man and attempts to goad Archie into raising objections to the job. Archie refuses the bait and goes along with a scheme to go undercover. He proposes an alias for himself - Adonis Guilfoyle - which has been adopted by one of the posters here! He settles for Alan Green - the initials need to be the same to match his luggage!

No doubt Archie believes Wolfe will then refuse the job since he does not accept divorce work and will have to be without Archie's services if the undercover assignment is carried out. Wolfe, not to be outdone, turns the assignment over to Archie and marches out of the office.

Wolfe and Archie's squabbles are nothing new. Others of them must have resulted in significant developments, but I don't recall any particulars. We will see where this one leads.

2AdonisGuilfoyle
Set 17, 2007, 2:20 pm

That's really all there is to this novel - apart from a trick ending. But I love how Archie is mostly by himself for the duration of this story - he is still technically working for Wolfe, but there is less time spent in the office, and so it had the feel of a Philip Marlowe case for me; this book and In The Best Families show that Archie is a competent detective in his own right - he's not a Sherlockian genius like Wolfe, but he would get the job done in the end, by his own methods. I also like his droll observations and interactions as he goes 'undercover' with yet another wealthy and dyfunctional family! Lois is one of my favourite female characters in the corpus.

3MrsLee
Set 17, 2007, 8:26 pm

What's that phrase? Pride goeth before a fall? Two massive egos......

That Wolfe would accept this client is preposterous. What kind of an arrogant oaf drops an envelope on the floor when he can't find a garbage can? Oh, wait, I think I answered that question in the question. And then offensively implying Wolfe is a tax cheat. It's really piled on how low this man is, yet because of stubbornness, Wolfe takes the case.

4etrainer
Editado: Set 18, 2007, 1:22 pm

Trick ending???

In chapter two Archie is undercover at the Jarrell penthouse - twenty rooms plus or minus two or three. He meets what I assume will be the major characters. One who's bones are buried to deep by the thickening stucco (the wife), and one who confesses to killing a squirrel when she was younger (the daughter). Archie manages several quips per page as he gets us familiar with the family and hangers-on that will undoubtedly include a victim and a villain.

Any thoughts on who will do what to whom at this point?

5AdonisGuilfoyle
Set 18, 2007, 7:55 am

I think etrainer and I are on the same book, but I'm missing the link in MrsLee's post? (It's been a while since I've read this.)

And not so much trick, as tricky, as in not following the usual Stout formula; it works, though!

6MrsLee
Set 18, 2007, 3:43 pm

AdonisGuilfoyle - Jarrell is portrayed as the sort of man that Wolfe normally disdains. An inconsiderate slob, after he removes the cash from the envelope he brought it in, he can't find the garbage can, so drops it on the floor. Wolfe is incredibly tidy. Jarrell presents Wolfe with cash to get him to effect a divorce for his son with the idea that Wolfe won't have to report the cash to the IRS. Wolfe won't take divorce cases and he is a very honest man when it comes to his adoptive government. Normally, Jarrell would be given the cold shoulder, if not the heave-ho, but because neither Wolfe nor Archie wants to admit that either of them could have been out of line the night before, Wolfe welcomes Jarrell and ends up in a pickle. Is that what you meant?

Chapter 2 - Does anyone else get a good idea of this penthouse? I can never visualize these things. I do enjoy the description of the designer wars though. Sounds like some of the reality TV shows we have now.

What would be the difference in the job of a secretary and a stenographer? I suppose the secretary would just schedule appointments?

One thing nice about Archie, he always looks for the good parts of a woman. He doesn't just throw her out because she isn't perfection. Just because the wife has too much "stucco" on her face, doesn't mean he can't enjoy her legs. :)

The end of this chapter almost seems like everyone is one big, happy, overindulged family. Except for the stepson kissing his stepmother on the lips, creepy, and the dramatic ending with the "snake" entering the room.

7etrainer
Editado: Set 18, 2007, 6:24 pm

Phooey! I was in the middle of a post when Firefox suddenly started updating itself and I lost all I had typed.

It was essentially this: I find it hard to visualize places by reading about them. I'm too interested in plowing ahead with the story. It's especially difficult with this penthouse. The variation styles described would seem to be quite a mess!

Was the layout of the floors described clearly enough to get a picture of the scene? Again, I didn't pay enough attention. I'm wondering if the apparent maze-like layout will figure in the plot.

MrsLee, you comments about Jarrell are right on. And it is quite obvious after reading what you have to say. I have no talent for pulling the details together as you have about Jarrell. It would probably help to slow down and think a little more.

On to the 'snake'.

Oh, by the way, I assume the stenographer is primarily limited to taking dictation and typing. The secretary would handle the schedule, make phone calls, and generally act like an assistant, performing any chores that did not require Jarrell's skills.

Unfortunately, I'm old enough to remember when there were quite a few secretaries around - no computer on every desk. Although I can't type for beans now, back then I couldn't type at all. We used to write memos and letters in longhand and give them to a 'pool' secretary to type for us. I suppose prior to that there were more specialized stenographers around.

8AdonisGuilfoyle
Set 19, 2007, 5:27 am

I'd forgotten all about Jarrell's introduction - and certainly didn't read that into it! I'm not sure Wolfe is a 'very honest man' when it comes to the IRS - like his fellow Americans, he's willing to be creative with the books: one early novel opens with Archie filling in the tax returns, and Wolfe asking if he's left anything out (Archie answers that he has, but no more than anyone else - I forget the exact phrasing).

The Jarrells are yet another wealthy but dysfunctional family, and there is tension between various members. Lois the daughter is about as abstract as Archie, the son likes to bet, the father and step-mother have a tense relationship, and of course Jarrell doesn't trust his daughter-in-law. None of them really stood out for me, bar Lois.

Have you reached the chapters with Orrie the impostor yet?

9etrainer
Set 19, 2007, 2:00 pm

Argh, Ive read far enough to get to a murder, but haven't had tome to post anything meaningful. I'm at work now so . . .

10MrsLee
Set 19, 2007, 6:25 pm

*got to get busy reading, not posting...* I'm not to the murder yet, but will be tonight.

Stout is great for picking a metaphor, such as Susan being a snake (I wonder if he enjoyed the sound of that), then milking it for all it's worth. "I had wondered if Susan would go off to her pit."

Now in Chapter 3, Jarrell tries to bribe Archie to frame Susan. If that's what he was doing (does anyone doubt it?), it was a big mistake because now Wolfe and Archie are as one again, both their prides hurt by an outsider. It doesn't seem that Archie is very bothered by Orrie now that he and Wolfe are on the same wavelength.

What is the allure of Susan that she even got Archie? Are there women like that? I don't pay much attention. ;)

11etrainer
Set 24, 2007, 11:54 am

I'm sorry I haven't been posting here lately. I finished the book, reading a few pages here and there, now and then. The job and the wife have kept me busy. As soon as I get time to think (I believe I have that ability), I'll post. Don't be shy about taking up my slack, however.

12MrsLee
Set 24, 2007, 7:40 pm

Shy? Me? :) I finished the book also, but I don't have a lot of comments, so I'll post them all and then see what everyone else has to say. As usual, near the end I am more interested in finishing the book than in thinking about it and dissecting it.

Chapter 4 - I don't care for Nora, Susan, Wyman or Jarrell. The rest of the characters don't bother me much. When I say I don't care for them, I'm not critiquing the author, I'm complementing him. I don't think he meant for me to care much for them.

Chapter 5 - Do you believe that Wolfe needs Archie to tell him why Archie needs to return to Jarrell's? I think this is just another one of Archie's functions, to spell things out so Wolfe can't escape reality.

"hive of predators and parasites" That is a perfect description if I ever heard one.

Chapter 6 - Jarrell saying his operations are based on inside information. Is that legal? Or should I say, was that legal at the time this was written?

Avocado whipped with sugar, lime juice and green chartreuse....what IS that? Maybe I should ask that question in the Cookbookers group I'm in, but it sounds nasty. Is it a sorbet? A drink? A soup? I looked up Green Chartreuse on Wiki and there was a very interesting article there, I think I'd rather just taste the liqueur. If anyone is brave enough to edit Wiki, they don't have the quote from Stout's book there, but then maybe it isn't high enough literature...

About scrapbooks, I don't know if anyone does this anymore. Pasting clippings and photos of celebrities in a book, but my mother-in-law and her sister, teens in the '40s, had one full of Frank Sinatra. They only had one page for Bing, and a few other notes on other celebs.

I would love to see Archie "dealing" with Orrie in a movie. I get the feeling that Wolfe subtly approved. Archie is quite proud of the position he holds and it gratifies Wolfe that he is. Do you agree?

13MrsLee
Set 24, 2007, 7:49 pm

Chapter 9 - Archie wondered about the Giants moving to S.F. They moved in 1958, one year after this book was published. My husband says everyone knew it would happen.

Chapter 10 - "Caption for Wolfe's face: The Gathering Storm. I like that. I don't think I got the reference the first time I read this, because I hadn't read Winston S. Churchill's book yet. I love how you discover more with each read.

Chapter 12 - It strikes me that when Lois quips, "If death ever slept," it could be appropriate to call Wolfe "Death" as he always ferrets out the villain. Of course one could call him "Justice" or some other things as well.

Chapter 17 - For some reason I had it in my head that Roger Foote was the bad guy.

Would you sleep with a loaded gun under your head? Was Dol Bonner just being figurative?

What more would it take to prove that a "murderess, a hellcat and a wretch" is also a snake? What, in your mind defines someone as a snake? I think of devious and sneaky. Deadly. Insinuating. Did Susan fit?

14MrsLee
Set 24, 2007, 7:51 pm

My copy of this book has an article at the end reprinting an article from Life Magazine, April 19, 1963. It is written with Archie's voice, by Stout, telling why Wolfe grows orchids. I must say, it doesn't encourage me to start.

15AdonisGuilfoyle
Set 25, 2007, 4:24 am

Orrie gets a rough deal from Stout after Johnny Keems is no longer around, I think; Orrie was never as bad as Johnny - who *was* after Archie's job (there's a great exchange in one book where Wolfe tells him to stop imitating Archie, as he'll never make it) - but Stout had to transfer Archie's complex to another character. Orrie seems to respect Archie rather than want to be him, or take his job, but I think he also has a sense of humility - he knows Wolfe will never view the two in the same light. In Champagne for One, he is pathetically eager to show Wolfe some evidence he has found, and Archie agrees that the honour should be his - no animosity. If Archie's occasional attacks on Orrie are just for show, Stout should have eased up a little - dragging Orrie around by his ankles is a little severe!

And I have never take to Dol Bonner; Stout was trying too hard. Plus, she has a ridiculous name!

16MrsLee
Set 25, 2007, 8:05 pm

I don't know, guess I just viewed the ankle thing as a "boys will be boys" thing. In our house (I have two teen boys), I call it the "beating the chest" syndrome. Dol never affected me much one way or the other. Her name didn't bother me either because my great-grandmother's name was Dolly. Guess I got used to it.

I agree that Orrie never seemed to be as annoying as Stout had Archie imply. I do think it shows that Orrie had a moral weakness all along, so as to prepare us for later things.

17AdonisGuilfoyle
Set 26, 2007, 4:25 am

Ooh, I've just bought a copy of A Family Affair - nearly finished the corpus! I know the twist in the plot (it's very hard to avoid), but I want to read for myself to see if I believe that of Orrie. I shall then have to read a couple of my favourites - Over My Dead Body or Prisoner's Base (I'm re-reading Too Many Women at the moment) - to cleanse my imagination!

Orrie is never as 'honourable' as Archie (Marlowe, without the chess) or Saul or Fred, but there are degrees of weakness; as I say, I think Orrie got short shrift from Stout (I'd have picked Saul, just to be controversial - what does the reader ever really learn about him? And first of all he had a wife and family, and then he was living in a bachelor flat ...)

18MrsLee
Set 26, 2007, 12:52 pm

Saul is perfect. Nuff said. The mention of wife and family was subterfuge on Archie's part. :)

19AdonisGuilfoyle
Set 26, 2007, 1:58 pm

To cover what? ;)

Saul is *too* perfect, in my opinion - the man has no subtle shading; he's either dazzling brilliance or complete shadow. He's a device to create suspense and move the story along, and the reader never learns *how* he works his wonders for Wolfe. Archie aside, I prefer Fred: affable, dependable, flustered, but trustworthy, and with a wife we know by name!

I suppose, as a backhanded compliment, that I just expect from Stout the same padding with the secondary characters as we get with Wolfe and Archie - and even they can be delightfully vague at times!

20etrainer
Set 26, 2007, 2:48 pm

Ahh, you guys got too far ahead of me. Sorry, new employee at work and lots of chores at home - too little sleep. I still may a comment or two about this novel, but it will have to be later.

I'm within two ro three books of completeing all the Nero Wolfes myself. I have to find and buy them. The last few have come from the Internet, through Abebooks. I started rereading the 8 or 10 books I had on my shelf in about August last year, maybe a little earlier. And now I'm almost done.

Do either of you like Philo Vance in the books by S.S. van Dine? I remember reading The Bishop Murder Case as a teenager. It was late at night and there was a creepy scene in the book that scared me half to death. Mainly because of that I've always favored the three or four van Dine books I read. I've picked up several of his other novels recently - ones I have not read. I plan to reread Bishop and then take on the others.

Which reminds me - remember when many mystery books included a drawing or map of the scene of the drime? I seem to remember quite a few of those from my youth.

21MrsLee
Set 26, 2007, 3:21 pm

To cover what? ;) The summer he spent with me. :D I love a man of mystery.

etrainer: The nice thing is, whenever you post it will still be fun for us to read. I've never read S.S. van Dine. I did read The Saint by Leslie Charteris. A somewhat naughty hero. Very dry humor. I liked it, but I didn't keep it. I couldn't reread it like I can Stout.

22AdonisGuilfoyle
Set 27, 2007, 4:45 am

I tried van Dine - and that book in particular, I believe; it had the 'feel' of Stout, but was too dry, and I didn't finish it (and Vance was even more pompous than Wolfe - the narrator could have done with a personality to balance him out). I did like the clues, though - very Agatha Christie.

I think I shall try Charteris, too, MrsLee, thanks for the suggestion (too many suggestions, not enough time!)

23etrainer
Out 15, 2007, 4:00 pm

OK, it's been a few weeks since I finished this book and my short-term memory died decades ago (funny, I remember that, but not what I had for lunch yesterday). I have managed to remember a couple of points about the story.

"If death ever slept" was line from a poem written by Jarrell's daughter. What is the significance to the plot? Why should this become the title of the book? If there is any reason, it escaped me.

In this story there isn't much of Wolfe's normal clever deduction, IMO. Since the gun used in the murders (there was more than one, wasn't there?) was probably hidden by the murderer, Wolfe employs his normal operatives to do the legwork of looking for the weapon. They retrace the movements of all the suspects, eventually turning up the gun. More like a police procedural than deduction worthy of a genius it seems to me.

24MrsLee
Out 15, 2007, 6:52 pm

etrainer - I agree with you, it doesn't seem Wolfe did a lot of thinking on this except where the culprit might have hidden the gun, and that, to me was in a very unlikely spot. In fact, I thought it was a plant, the place was so obvious, I'm not sure why the police hadn't already searched there.

As to the poem, I'm not very good at subtlety, but at one point, the daughter compares Wolfe to death, so maybe that has something to do with it. Or a play on (Shakespeare's?) "murder shrieks out."

25etrainer
Out 16, 2007, 1:03 am

MrsLee, I've purchased the last three Wolfes I need to complete the series. I've started Death Times Three and have Death of a Dude and The Final Deduction on my desk. Have you read any of these lately?

26MrsLee
Out 16, 2007, 5:01 pm

Great for you! :) I was both elated and deflated when I completed my set. Sigh. No more to be written.

To answer your question, I have read them all, but not lately. If you want to discuss a particular one, start a discussion and I'll grab it off the shelf to read. :) I'm enjoying this.