DiscussãoThe Black Orchid (A Nero Wolfe Group)

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Nov 25, 2006, 3:57 pm

I'm currently reading The Second Confession, after starting the Zeck trilogy (and the Nero Wolfe corpus) with In the Best Families, and following with And Be a Villain a couple of months later (completely out of order, but I'm actually glad I started with the best of the bunch!) I'm finding Zeck rather lacklustre, as Wolfe's Moriarty. I really enjoyed Best Families - Wolfe's 'hat out of the rabbit' surprised me, I should probably be ashamed to say, and I loved the character interaction, but the confrontation was still a bit of an anti-climax. Stout built up Wolfe's game plan 'off screen', as it were, leaving Archie to potter around and consider his feelings - but I was expecting so much more from the final showdown, perhaps even a direct risk to Archie, as hinted at by Wolfe's concern in Villain and (so far) Confession. On second consideration, perhaps Zeck's departure was about as dramatic as his other appearances? Villain was a neat story, but I didn't find for myself the same fear and appreciation of Zeck that Stout suggested via Wolfe (a case of be told, not shown) - why was Zeck concerned about Wolfe, bar the obvious veneration due to the central character? If, as 'X', he is the mastermind that Wolfe describes in the first two books, then there should have been no connection to be found between the guilty party hunted down by Wolfe and Zeck himself. And Confession is proving to be rather dull - easily put downable, which is rare in my experience of the corpus. What is the general opinion regarding Wolfe's master foe, and am I alone in my indifference?

Fev 18, 2007, 7:56 pm

Hm. Perhaps what I should do, in starting my re-reading, is go for the Zeck trio? In the first reading, I loved Zeck-as-villain, but perhaps a second run would enable me to answer these questions with a fresh sense of my opinion, and the bloom of newness off.

Fev 18, 2007, 9:18 pm

Eurydice - Shall we set a date and schedule and read it together? I've been wanting to reread so that I would have more to contribute to this group, but have procrastinated, being in the middle of a Sayers reread with a group. If you would rather read at your own pace and alone, I understand.

Fev 18, 2007, 9:31 pm

No, no, MrsLee, I'd be happy to! Let me know when you'd like to start. (Preferably after the 20th.) The Sayers read sounded really appealing. :)

Fev 18, 2007, 9:58 pm

You tell me the day and I'll start, I have no other complications, other than RL :)

Fev 19, 2007, 1:01 am

Well, then, what about Wednesday, the 21st? I have a couple of books arriving tomorrow, and need to get started on at least one of them, first. I'll look forward to it! I'm sure I'll enjoy the company.

Anyone else want to join us? :)

Fev 19, 2007, 3:18 am

Sounds good to me, do we have a goal of how much to read in a certain time? A chapter a day, more?

Fev 19, 2007, 3:31 am

Well, preferably a bit more. They run 20-odd chapters, and I don't think I can stretch a Nero Wolfe read close to that, however much discussion time we give it. Two weeks a book? Is that too short? I'll be busy during a few days of the third week we'd be reading - the first for And Be A Villain, one I always particularly liked, if we do them in two weeks - but I can make it up, easily. It's discussion, more than reading, where I'd be spotty, and there'd be time to spare. Let me know if that sounds good, or no.

Fev 19, 2007, 5:19 am

I'll join you if I may. I have been struggling through Life and Fate (Vasilii Grossman) of late; which, while worthy, has become something of a burthen. I am in need of a diversion. What could be better!

Fev 19, 2007, 1:24 pm

Of course you may. It will be a pleasure. :)

Fev 19, 2007, 6:03 pm

I can manage that schedule Eurydice. What better excuse to my family for reading, "but I have to get this read on time, someone's counting on me." :) There was a time when it was a Stout a day for me. I need more than that now.

cogitno: The more the merrier!

Fev 19, 2007, 6:13 pm

Perfect. Yes, I used to read them at that rate, depending on the day. This, anyway, sounds enough to be a touch flexible and accomodate conversation. Or so I hope. :)

Fev 20, 2007, 10:51 pm

Panic, Panic ..... And Be A Villain was published as "More Deaths Than One" in UK editions, which is the one I have (of course). Now to clean up the mess.

This is not the first time I have made this mistake. I will not admit to more that 3 such mistakes: three is the limit before I would have to admit to stupidity.

And I'm not stoopid.

Fev 20, 2007, 10:58 pm

Indeed, not! No one is responsible for publisher's messes but publishers... but this is one case where I have to say I prefer the U.S. title. :) On the other hand, I said we'd be reading And Be A Villain in three weeks, instead of tomorrow. Ah, well. No one's perfect. Still, I'm looking forward to it!

Fev 21, 2007, 2:42 pm

I've read the first 2 chapters so far, some thoughts here, by the way, shall we try not to give away spoilers, or just assume we've all read it before and any new readers can beware of that fact before they read our comments? Any way, there aren't any spoilers in these comments.

I googled Mark Van Doren, as I had never heard of him before. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner for his poetry. Has anyone read any of his poems?

Archie must be supremely confident in his position to speak to Wolfe in the manner he does. I wish Rex Stout had written their first meeting/case.

Do you suppose the reference in Hamlet refers to more than the title of this book? We don't have to answer that now (mostly because I don't remember enough of the details to do so), due to spoilage, but it's something to think about.

Fev 21, 2007, 7:26 pm

Do either of you have The Nero Wolfe Cookbook? I found a recipe for vitello tonnato in it. It sounds frightening to me. Pureed tuna over a veal roast?

Fev 21, 2007, 7:43 pm

I've often wondered how Archie and Wolfe ever got together myself.

Editado: Fev 21, 2007, 8:05 pm

I haven't yet started the night's reading, but I will soon. To answer what I can so far:

Yes, MrsLee, I have the cookbook. Glad you brought that up. :) I was hoping to give a good look to the recipes as we went by. Vitello tonnato sounds strange, to begin with, but Italians usually know what they're doing. I imagine it has a savory piquancy that could be very pleasing: the capers, lemon, white wine, anchovies and tuna may become - like Vietnamese fish sauce over pork - something I'd enjoy with an unexpected meat. I might not be willing to make it, unless my guests were up for a lark, but I'd like to try it, sometime. :)

If anyone else has had it and can confirm, please do!

Stout's beginning in midstream, much as I regretted the cases we missed, was one thing which always pleased me about Fer-de-lance. Do either of you remember where it's said that after Archie dropped out of school in Ohio, and came to New York, he got himself into minor trouble (?), and came to the notice of someone who thought Wolfe would find him useful? (Then being hired for a contract job, as with Johnny Keems or Orrie, and proving his desirability?) I do wish we knew the details, but I was grateful for just the sketchy crumb. :) Only I've forgotten where it comes from!

Fev 21, 2007, 8:12 pm

Hmm, I might try that recipe yet, but I've never eaten veal. I'll let you know if I get my nerve up.

I don't have any recollection of that history sketch. Would it have been in one of the Goldsborough add ons? It sounds reasonable to me that Archie could drop out of school and get into minor trouble, with that mouth of his and his brains, I can just see him getting bored in class, and we know how he goes over with policemen. How would you have liked to be his teacher?

Fev 21, 2007, 8:22 pm

"That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain": Hamlet, Act I. Scene V. Thank you MrsLee. I had never before made the connection. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that I am not capable of making the connection: I find Shakespeare more of a responsibility than a pleasure.

I have a copy of 10 of Mark Van Doren's poems (as a computer file) : probably copied from poethunter.com after seeing the movie "Quiz Show". I have just had a look over them and suggest that they are deeply spiritual and perhaps pastoral in nature. The selection I have shows a 19th century rather than modern sensibility. While I cannot say whether this selection is truly representative, their worth is undeniable ... and worthy of a place in Wolfe's library.

By the way, I am a little suspicious of the poethunter website, and only ever reference it with extreme security measures (through a Virtual PC). I'm probably being paranoid, but would feel guilty if I did not mention my concerns.

Fev 21, 2007, 8:34 pm

Thank you, cogitno.

No, MrsLee, it was a Stout book. I read a teaser chapter in the back of one of my 1980s reprints, and that was enough of Goldsborough for me.

Editado: Fev 21, 2007, 10:18 pm

Now, having read the first two chapters, I can't add much. What I will note is how neatly Stout uses the issue of income tax to triple effect: to press the necessity of work on Wolfe, to introduce the story at an unexpected point, and as an in for some of his (and Wolfe's) political opinions.

To quote:

"A man condemning the income tax because of the annoyance it gives him to or the expense it puts him to is merely a dog baring its teeth, and he forfeits the privileges of civilized discourse. But it is permissible to criticize it on other and impersonal grounds. A government, like an individual, spends money for any or all of three reasons: because it needs to, because it wants to, or simply because it has it to spend. The last is much the shabbiest. It is arguable, if not manifest, that a substantial part of this great spring flood of billions pouring into the Treasury will in effect get spent for that last shabby reason." - All neatly fitted into a humorous exchange, replete with of stubbornness, disinclination to work, Archie's wry tone and mild dishonesty.

Also mentioned: Wolfe's donation to the early United Nations, which Stout apparently worked toward as part of the Writers' War Board (according to Wikipedia) - and, as ever, his reading. I do appreciate the details from you both, on that! I'm always curious about the books mentioned, but usually too comfortably settled with the one I'm reading to go find out. :) Thank you!

Anyone have a rough count on how many stories include Wolfe chasing down a job? It doesn't happen terribly often, but I know there are at least a handful.

Already, I'm enjoying the slower pace. As tempting as it was to go on to chapter three, a glance said things would heat up and I am actually pleased to be savoring it slowly - a couple-chapter morsel between other things. Any thoughts on spoilers? I don't have much reaction, myself; hence no answer. But I was glad MrsLee asked. Hopefully, I have not offended, as yet. We have not even hit the crime.

Fev 22, 2007, 4:16 pm

#20 cogitno - I will confess, my copy of the book included the quote and source for me :) I love it though. Very descriptive of some people.

A question. Is Archie's attitude and description of women offensive to anyone here? Not to me. I see it as part of his wisecracking, but not his underlying attitude.

Fev 22, 2007, 9:13 pm

Eurydice: It is a wonderfully elegant and sparse soliloquy. I might add a fourth barb to Stout's pitchfork: the neat (attempted) deflection of Archie's strategy in overcoming Wolfe's inertia. Wolfe does not want Archie to believe that he has succeeded.

I agree with your assessment on the handful of stories in which Wolfe chases down a job. But I'll be d...d if I can think of other examples. I had thought that Some Buried Caesar might fit, but it doesn't.

MrsLee: Plato's Republic is offensive. Archie Goodwin is not. But I am the wrong sex to judge fairly. I suspect that a 21st century Archie would be little changed, other than the specifics of the language. Archie is a respectful individual, and that counts for a great deal.

Fev 22, 2007, 11:41 pm

Cogitno, I think you've turned in a fair judgment, regardless of 'wrong' gender. Like MrsLee, I quite agree: Archie is respectful, with an innate decency, much though he cherishes his right to wisecrack and criticize, and see clearly. In extending to everyone, regardless of age or gender, his style loses the sting of personal or gender devaluation. When he's just told off Wolfe as too idiosyncratic and fat to work for, describing a woman as short and fat - but also shrewd, with appealing qualities - you realize she may be off his list of date material, but she's not dismissed. Just as Madeline Fraser, despite being well over thirty, is not. They still matter. The stricture against women over thirty as eye-candy may be unfortunate, but I suspect many men leave off at about the same point of interest, if not - now - at the same age. Perhaps part of my liking him is the exceptions: he recognizes women's good points, even as he criticizes; and he's been known to take up seriously with women who fall short of his ideal (I'm thinking of The Mother Hunt's Lucy Valdon, for instance). No doubt, there's more to be said, but even as he would, say, slap a woman to stop her hysterics, he would not actually feel her valueless and worth beating. Most hardboiled detectives, whose tradition he's spun off of, are bleakly misogynistic, despite saying much less. Archie likes women, even if he's clear on his preferences. :)

I've read And Be a Villain three times or more, I think; but I notice again how neatly Stout slips in hints and how loaded they are with other associations and meanings. We have our villain set up (and disguised) at the very beginning.

One of the things I so enjoyed was the satire on advertising, and the setting in radio. I actually love listening to old radio shows. Any thoughts on the advertising, which in my mind always connects to Sayers' Murder Must Advertise? What do you all make of that horrible jumble in Madeline Fraser's apartment? It would drive me mad. :)

Reverting to the subject of food: I just may make the recipe in chapter four, fried shrimp and Cape Cod clam cakes, with a sour, mushroom-laden sauce. It seems the clam cakes are herbed mashed potatoes, egg, and clams; the sauce is one of sour cream, horseradish, capers, red wine vinegar, and sauteed mushrooms; and the shrimp are utter simplicity. Perhaps one of Fritz's beet salads and/or a sweet would complete it?

Fev 23, 2007, 2:32 am

What time shall we arrive for dinner Eurydice? :) Actually, I met with a nutritionist today (struggling with marginal high blood pressure), and I'm sure she would have a fit if I ate that. Which doesn't mean I won't! I'll just have a nibble. The mushroom sauce is what caught my eye.

Have you ever noticed how Wolfe rarely lies outright to Cramer? Mostly he doesn't volunteer anything, or he tells a misleading truth.

I was also struck by his love and respect of the English language. It isn't even his native tongue. Isn't it amazing how much Stout can tell us about the main characters and their environment, over and over in every book, yet it's never boring. I wonder if Wolfe's high standard of hospitality is one of the reasons it's so hard to get into his house.

Wolfe's idea of women doesn't offend me either. He's very honest. They are either dangerous or stupid. Actually, that is Archie's interpretation of Wolfe's idea. Through the stories, there were many women Wolfe was obliged to respect. Of course those women may be the most dangerous to a confirmed bachelor.

I'm not a great fan of the hard-boiled detective stories. I find this a perfect medium though. There is nothing soft about Archie, Saul or Wolfe, etc., but they haven't lost their hope in humanity. Good men.

That quote about income taxes sums up my feelings very well. Taxes wouldn't bother me so much if I just knew they were being used purposefully and well.

Fev 23, 2007, 2:54 pm

I want to know about this drawing horses analysis. My daughter says one might possibly tell how often someone draws horses from their drawing. :) Me, not a lot.

Fev 24, 2007, 7:27 am


I dimly recall from a past "brush" with Learning some speculation on the significance of animal cave art and rock or bone sculpture - which were often bison and horses. The reasoning running something along the lines that as such art could not have been drawn from life, it represented evidence of a cognitive symbolic activity. To me that reads as evidence of imagination, but it probably means a lot more to experts in the field.

This is likely a few degrees of separation from Archie's reference, but is the only Horse / Mind connection I have.

Editado: Fev 24, 2007, 5:42 pm

>18 Eurydice: Eurydice, wow, I think I asked if anyone knew about the way that Wolfe and Archie first got together somewhere in one of these threads. If it's in one of the books, it must be one I haven't gotten to yet. But I am progressing. I've exhausted the local bookstores - new and used. I guess I'll try one of the book swapping services here to get those I don't have - or Abebooks. I've browsed them, but never purchased through the service.

Later . . . Duh! It was several messages back I wondered about the subject.

Fev 25, 2007, 3:12 am

Etrainer: yes, I was answering, after my fashion. :) It's frustrating when you've cleaned out all the usual sources, which makes it potentially slow and/or expensive to get the rest. A number of mine were then bought as gifts, ordered through brick-and-mortar bookstores, while we weren't connected to the web. (Long story.) Buying through Amazon was a great improvement, in availability and price; swapping, when possible, is even better. I see 29 English-language copies of Rex Stout titles - a couple non-Wolfe - just on BookMooch, right now. Though whether any are ones you don't have is another matter... :)

Cogitno: Thank you. Yes, I imagine it could be something along the lines of how one conceptualizes horses or what was prominent in what you noticed about them, when not drawing from life. But, as for analysing those issues... I'd be at a loss. :)

MrsLee: I confess to being two days behind, so I've not even gotten to Cramer. But you're quite right, and I know that the lack (or minimal number) of outright lies is one of the bases of their mutual working respect - much as Wolfe might want to qualify that phrase! Don't worry, I will catch up.

You're right about the respect for language, though Wolfe's nationality, unless I misremember, varies. And I agree about his attitude to women. There's no question he's split between scorn and fear and yet, again, there are exceptions. The brilliant thing about this is, it not only makes both characters human, women reading can always hope they would number among the rare few. Further, Wolfe admits to not understanding women; and with fear at bottom, we can always (mis?)attribute his scorn to that double cause. His apparent lack of susceptibility does give him clearer sight, often.

As for being good men: yes, they are.

Let me know when you are coming and I'll arrange to have dinner ready. How's that? :) In the meantime, best wishes with the nutritionist, and delectable healthy meals.

Fev 25, 2007, 2:35 pm

Chapter 8: Anyone a math whiz? Like Archie, I tune out when someone starts speaking in formulas and numbers. Well, maybe Archie didn't tune out, I certainly would have. I meant to ask my husband about this problem, but he was a good boy and went to church today. Is it a real problem? Does it have meaning?

I like the way Wolfe dealt with the professor. He observed him as a specimen even as the professor wanted to observe Wolfe.

Chapter 9: The way Archie arranged the cabs shocked me on this reread. Would that even be possible today? What if he had been an abusive husband or a stalker? I would hope it wouldn't be that easy.

Again with the food on the train. I had forgotten just how food-full these stories are. It really stands out to me right now. :{ Whole wheat pancakes anyone?

Fev 26, 2007, 9:08 am

Slow reading is a new experience. And a pleasurable one. Passages that had previously passed only as stepping stones through the plot, present new delights when walked rather than raced through. The passage near the end of chapter 6 in which Miss Frazer's colleagues argue over which of them will drive her home is a case in point. It has a rhythm rooted in real world arguments and is almost nostalgic as a consequence.

Chapter 8: I can't say that the formula is familiar; but the term "second approximation of the normal law" is. I would be surprised if Stout was not perfectly accurate.

Chapter 9: MrsLee, by the right individuals, I am afraid so. There is even a term for it: "Social Engineering". Popularised as a technique by hackers such as Kevin Mitnick. The art of getting someone to unwittingly provide information, or do something questionable for your personal benefit. Archie and Saul are masters.

On food: I was surprised that the reference to Autumn Honey was not accompanied by a varietal description. I would never consider any but yellow box honey for my tea; or leatherwood honey for walnut cakes

Fev 26, 2007, 4:13 pm

cognito - Am I right in thinking that Stout was a mathematician? Have you read his biography? I've not found it yet. Perhaps he was an economist?

Social Engineering sounds very scary. I know I would be susceptible to it, because I generally trust most people to have good motives. I once got my cat impounded by volunteering too much information. He had scratched me when I picked him up to get him away from a dog (stupid of me on all accounts), the officer kept trying to give me hints to shut up, but oh no, not me. :{

I wonder if varietal honey would make me like honey better. I used to love honey from my friends which was still in the comb. Walnut cakes? What are walnut cakes? A cake made with walnuts? Do you put the honey in it, or on it?

Fev 26, 2007, 8:39 pm


As a youngster Stout was a prodigy in arithmetic, and is reputed to have had an 185 IQ. With one of his brothers he devised and implemented the first school banking system in the USA. So in a sense he was both a mathematician and an economist. I have heard a recording of Stout on a radio quiz panel. Quite amazing. A true polymath. The Internet has diluted my desire for the biography, but if I come across it at a reasonable price, I'll definitely grab it.

Social Engineering is a new name for an old phenomenon, and the Internet just the latest route for tricksters to take advantage of naivety. The difference between trust and cynicism is the difference between Fritz and Cramer. Both are admirable, but I know whose company would be more comfortable. I hope they let you retrieve your cat? Wolfe of course, was a dog person .... and properly so.

The only reason I mentioned the honey was surprise that Stout was less than absolutely specific; and he usually is regarding food. The explanation may be that it was mentioned through Archie rather than Wolfe? My yellow box honey supply requires a 300 mile round trip, but it is so so much better than the supply I can obtain locally. I am indifferent to Supermarket honey.

The walnut cake I referred to is really a roll and uses ground walnuts sweetened and bound with honey. The fact that it is baked necessitates (personal opinion only) a stronger variety of honey than that which I sweeten tea with. It is Austro-Hungarian in origin, and goes by the almost unpronounceable name of "Orehnjaca". It is still popular in Istria, Slovenia and Slovakia, especially at Easter and Christmas. My mother bakes it..... and won't give me her version of the recipe. I have considered Social Engineering.

Fev 26, 2007, 11:47 pm

My own favorite honey (at present) is still Greek thyme. Sincere thanks to Wolfe on this one - I tried it after reading one of the books. It's far less sweet and more herbaceous, complex and rich than any supermarket honey, or even the local wildflower honey sold here. However, Cogitno, I've not had yellow box honey or leatherwood. What are they like? And where can you get them? On the counter, right now, I do have a decent forest honey and a very nice Scottish heather honey blended with malt whiskey; but that's all.

MrsLee: I tend to like honey that is distinctive and not too sweet. If the bland intense sweetness of standardized honey is not to your taste, something varietal well may be. :) Also, make the pancakes buckwheat, or multi-grain, instead of mere whole-wheat, and I will buy up some good honey and be there!

The walnut cake recipe sounds worth any social engineering or other tactics are necessary. If you DO ever come into possession, cogitno, please share! I promise to give credit where it's due.

All this talk of food might strike some people as off the subject, but I don't think Wolfe or Fritz or Stout, himself, would be anything but pleased.

Agreed with cogitno on that argument and the pleasure of slow reading. I've been caught up in an Elizabeth Bowen novel and so scrimping time on everything; but I will continue to make up the difference. Just wanted to poke my head in, meanwhile.

Fev 27, 2007, 12:09 am

Yes, the cat came back, and, funny enough, so did the dog that had been sent to the pound as a stray. Did I hear the word sucker anyone? They are both worth the trouble.

I now see a good reason for social engineering. Fortunately, my mother and grandmothers were happy to share their recipes, they just never measured anything, so that made it tricky. Buckwheat! I had forgotten about buckwheat pancakes. Mmmm Mmm. All those honeys sound wonderful.

Sometimes when I'm feeling unappreciated in the kitchen, I imagine I am serving Wolfe and it will get a "satisfactory" from him.

Fev 27, 2007, 6:28 am

The so-called monofloral honeys are typically the most difficult to obtain as they tend to be regional. Yellow Box (a Eucalyptus) is grown on the West Coast so I would be surprised if California and enterprise did not wed to produce a high quality honey. It is a lighter style with only a modest aroma, and is less overtly sweet than blended floral honeys typical of supermarkets. It is a great honey to blend with other foods as it won't overpower. Which is why I like it for tea; and presumably the reason, along with its particularly low GI, that it is used (locally) in Chinese cooking.

As far as I am aware, Leatherwood only exists in the Tarkine Wilderness, situated in the remote North Western Tasmania, Australia. As it is particularly slow growing, there would seem little incentive to transplant it on another continent. It also takes over 70 years for the tree to produce a commercially viable volume of blooms. The honey is "in your face" aromatic, and has a somewhat smoky flavour, limiting practical usage for those other than connoisseurs. Great for the Wallnut Roll I mentioned, but I would substitute it tomorrow for Greek thyme honey if I could find some! Greek deserts and honey are synonymous.

MrsLee, you lost a cat AND a dog! One loss could construed as an accident, but both ... tch tch tch tch. I don't suppose you named the cat Felix?

Fev 27, 2007, 1:43 pm

#37 - See, what happened is, two stray dogs, one a puppy, the other a monster, chased my cat up a tree. I thought the dogs had left, so I went to get the cat out of the tree. Never do that. As I was taking him down, the puppy charged under the fence, happily barking. My cat went ballistic. Shredded my arm. I still have scars. The monster dog seemed to have dumped the puppy, so we called the dog catcher to take the puppy. When asked if the dog bit me, I said, "No, my cat scratched me." The officer said, "Just say yes or no, madam." Well, I didn't want the dog put down for biting, it was a cute, sweet terrier cross. So I explained about the cat. Apparently, it's a law that if any animal breaks the skin on a human, they must be impounded for ten days to make sure they are not rabid. My cat was able to stay at the vets. The dog went to the pound. Then, my big hearted hubby and my little girl decided we needed a dog, as well as a cat, so we took both animals home. All that to say that we actually gained a dog out of the deal.

I think I'm up to chapter 12. I'm really loving it, because I've totally forgotten how the book ends. I like the way Stout makes even secondary characters, like the teenager, so real. Archie repeating "simply utterly" throughout.

Do you see anything else Wolfe could have done, other than empty the bag out to the police? Feel free not to answer until your up to this chapter.

I like geraniums, but I suppose orchids have more variety and scope for experimentation. They might smell better too, though I've never tried smelling them. My grandfather used to poke fun at my grandmother (an avid gardener) by calling every flower he saw a geranium.

Mar 1, 2007, 1:35 pm

I wrote a post last night, and lost my internet connection while typing: apologies. Later today, perhaps I can paraphrase.

Mar 1, 2007, 3:53 pm

#39 - Ugh. I hate that. Ruins all the momentum, and I never remember to type it offline and then copy and paste. Seems like too much trouble.

Mar 2, 2007, 6:42 am

MrsLee: There's either a short story or children's book in your cat and dog escapades. It is simply utterly.

We have all agreed with Stout's eloquence and erudition when he has Wolfe expounding. I would guess that reflects on the author himself, so it may not that much of a stretch for him. But I think you have correctly identified where his genius (?) as an author really lies: economically drawing minor characters through gestures and language. I think he is at his best with younger and middle aged women, which strikes me a s odd.

I came upon a curious statistic recently: 22 of the murders in his 60 odd stories are women. Much higher than the national average, and most especially if one considers that Wolfe never touches domestic murders.

Emptying the bag surprised me - again. I expected Saul to follow the Michigan trail.

Mar 3, 2007, 4:07 am

#39 - Come on Eurydice, you can do it, don't give up!

Chapter 17

"Solemn word of honor" Has swearing on anything ever helped anyone to tell the truth? Even in a court of law, if a person intends to lie, will they change their mind because they swore an oath? In my book, our word is our oath. If we speak it we had better do it.

Of course the clincher which makes us have no sympathy for the wife is the dirty neck. That, along with her vitriol. Ugh. Shudders.

Archie is right. Wolfe is a big old softy.

Mar 4, 2007, 2:30 am

MrsLee, my apologies. I would not like to let you down. :) Or cogitno. And I have, in fact, been enjoying it very much.

My lost post, among other things, expressed a desire to eat at cogitno's table, barring the availability of Wolfe's. :) Excellent detail on the honey; thank you. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and may one day do so more.... tastefully (as it were).

I think it's interesting, the women, and have to agree: Stout seeming much more in line with Archie, there. Only one of the men in the book, besides the regulars, really coheres into a character for me. Many of the women (and the girl) do.

The dinner interlude in Chapters 17 - 18 is one of my favorites: mellow with the sense of hospitality and converse and the benefits of a fine meal stretched across the hours. Yes, Wolfe is a softy, but I loved his line to Archie: Bosh. You would sentimentalize the multiplication table. And the writing of the interview with Dr. Michaels, post-dinner, is masterly. The sense of reality, of natural conversation unspooling and the man's dignity, so worn by tiredness, the request with which even I sympathize: it's one of those perfect inset pieces Stout sometimes has. Yes, MrsLee, I quite agree: those details, and the snapping like a turtle at everything, destroy 90% of one's sympathy with Mrs. Michaels (though I still have some). It's hard not to be loved, even when you have yourself to blame.

I've finished Chapter 21. No comment on 21 until I know you've read there, this time.

Prior to that: I love Archie's gambit with the editorial. Also, we again encounter Zeck. I still find the description of the set-up with Track Almanac and What To Expect original, intelligent - the systematized villainy very neat. If it becomes silly in later books, it is still, here, mildly chilling. As is the second murder, of Beula Poole, whom we know so little about.

The only other comment I can think to make, being more than mildly sleepy, is: the pork in mildly spiced brown sauce, the apple pie and brandy, has always specially appealed to me, of the meals in the books. (But then, I'm partial to pork.) Perhaps later I'll read the recipe. And how I'd enjoy the home-made sausage (if not Darst's), corn fritters, and bowl of salad which formed one of Wolfe's lunches. The details of their life (including Archie's $20 new grey spring hat) make pleasurable reading.

The last five or six chapters, I've especially enjoyed. Again, the feeling that made this one of my favorites has enveloped me, and I am fighting the much-shared and much-read pages in a vain desire to have them actually stay in the book while I finish. I hope you're both well and continuing to enjoy it! Glad you joined me...

Editado: Mar 4, 2007, 10:15 pm

I had to look up the word, "dysgenic", though now that I look at it again, it seems obvious...why used referring to Zeck? Does Wolfe know his heritage, or is it just an educated dig?

I miss men wearing suits and hats, but if that's the price we pay for women to wear jeans, then so be it. They just look so snazzy in those great hats.

Anyone remember which story the ciphogene episode was in? Black Orchids, apropos for our discussion group. I looked that up by the way, my memory can't keep the murderers straight, let alone the details.

I'm past Chapter 21, and I probably won't be able to resist reading to the end pretty soon here.

In 21 "He will not admit that a morning is bearable, let alone nice, until, having a second cup of coffee..."

I am cheerful in the morning, though I prefer my morning to begin at 11:00am, I am a night owl, even if I wake up early, I start out bubbly. I have learned to contain my cheerfulness because my husband and three children view mornings as Wolfe does. It's probably a good thing for my marriage that my husband is gone to work before I get up. He can go grump there.

Now I'm dying to know what you had to say about this chapter Eurydice.

cognito, I had to explain message #41 to my husband because I guffawed. The simply utterly caught me off guard.

Mar 4, 2007, 10:55 pm

Re: 41 -

It was simply utterly great.

Editado: Mar 4, 2007, 11:05 pm

MrsLee, I love the hats, I love some of the women's clothes, and a well-tailored suit is a thing of beauty. BUT - I agree, it's a blessed thing for all of us, not just mechanics and cowboys and hoodlums, to be able to wear jeans!

Will come back to comment on 21. I could not resist reading to the end, and finished late last night.

On mornings: I can wake up either way, though for me they are nearly always better after the first cup of tea. I'm a night owl, but truly enjoy waking up 'in the morning' - say eight? - if I can. Ten or eleven is more likely. :) If I had Fritz to cook me breakfast, very nearly any morning would be good. (But I am probably better off a trifle Spartan. ;) )

More later...

Mar 4, 2007, 11:42 pm

Ah, my dining table. Where epicurean theory and practice meet …… and exchange blows! Wolfe’s table may be a fantasy, but at least it is not an assault.

I am very rarely shocked by what I read. Disappointed: often. Disheartened: occasionally. Fowles shocked me in the The French Lieutenant's Woman, (to the point where I let out a yelp during a flight); and Stout shocked with his dirty neck remark. My immediate reaction was “low blow”. What little sympathy I had for Mrs. Michaels was magnified, rather than reduced, by that comment. It was impolite. Had Archie made the remark while she was being seated, I may feel differently.

I read the dysgenic passage as a reference to the probable quality of Z’s offspring, rather to his antecedents. It is, on reflection, a nasty little insult. But I am not offended by this one.

Suits are wonderful in anticipation but a dreadful nuisance in reality. I am not sorry that practicality has finally taken precedence over elegance. Hats are another matter. They should never have been abandoned: an eminently practical accoutrement. They only require the addition of a draw string to fit under the chin, so that they can be properly secured.

Wolfe’s proposed tactic of dropping a bombshell to scare up a response was redolent of the traditional Hard-Boiled approach (but without the violence), particularly of Hammett’s The Continental Op stories. I wonder if it was a conscious nod to history?

I can readily attest to the delights of brandy and apple pie. It is best if the brandy is an armagnac, and the pie just a little spicy and certainly not a la mode.

I will probably finish the remaining chapters to-night. It has been a struggle not to read through to the end. I had to resort to re-reading the The Doorbell Rang as a defense

Editado: Mar 6, 2007, 3:15 pm

I've finished now. Not too many bright ideas about chapters 22-26. I guess my mind slips into "finish" mode and I don't stop to think much. Archie is my hero for never being intimidated though.

So my opinion about Zeck at this point is that he is just as believable as a Mafia Don or "Godfather", only without the pretense to family. A cold-blooded user. I certainly hope there are not many like him. I do see him, if not an arch-villain of the world, at least as a problem for Wolfe. He has already had to deal with him, is it three times? Annoying if nothing else, and he seems to be very worried about what might happen to those around him if Zeck really is at odds with him someday.

Are we going to read right through the trilogy? I'm game, I don't want to quit now and I've really enjoyed hearing your thoughts Eurydice and cogitno.

*edited to say I'm sorry to cogitno for misspelling your name in several above posts. My eyes often see only what they think they see.*

Mar 7, 2007, 1:20 am

The office denouncement scene (Chapters 25 and 26) is about the best Stout had written. If there are equals or better, they don’t come readily to mind. Professor Savarese’s exclamation of ”so simple” was apt. Every one of Wolfe’s words was beautifully weighted to the moment: Stout’s hand disappeared. And it isn’t always so.

I have upgraded my rating. I can’t think what originally possessed me to depreciate this books worth:

- It is well plotted - not always Stout’s strongest suite;
- A particularly fine cast of characters, not withstanding a couple drawn as caricatures;
- The usual fine display of wit and wisdom from the voices of Wolfe and Archie; and
- Offstage action to advance the plot and intensify the mood.

Zeck’s ominous presence also add colour. Stout’s restraint in underplaying the Menace shows a writer, rather than a hack, at work. I wonder whether Zeck is a subtle social or political statement?

Read on? I certainly will. Like peanuts, one or two is not enough! I need 1/7th of a ton.

Editado: Mar 9, 2007, 1:34 am

I agree with cogitno on all points, in message 49, and apologize for my distraction. While I will certainly read on with you, as I mentioned when we began, the next few days I've the good fortune of a friend in from out of town, and will not be particularly inclined to think about anything else. Come Monday evening, I promise my due attention. :) Thank you both for making the re-read of And Be a Villain so much more pleasant than a solitary perusal would have been.

Mar 9, 2007, 1:33 am

I'm going away for the weekend with a friend, so starting Monday works well for me. See you then!

Editado: Mar 9, 2007, 1:35 am

Great! Glad not to hinder anyone, and still get to read along together. Until Monday, then.

Mar 13, 2007, 2:14 am

I'm up to chapter 4 in The Second Confession.

I thought Wolfe's sense of honor was interesting. It is O.K. to do everything you can to avoid Zeck, but if you stumble across him in the process of your work, you don't back down.

What do you think of Wolfe's strategy up to this point (Archie the rake)? Is he serious? Is Archie taking him seriously, or humoring him? Are they both joking and know they need to insinuate themselves into the family to find anything?

Here is a site to see a picture of dendrobium bensoniae. The flower is on the bottom right of the page. Sorry, I lost my instructions for making it a link for you.


Mar 13, 2007, 2:49 am

MrsLee, I hope you had a pleasant trip. I'm glad we deferred until today, as I had far too pleasant company to read a word. I think I managed twenty pages in five days, which must be some kind of a (low) record. Most shocking: I didn't even mind.

Will read to that point and return to post. Thank you for the orchid link! A very good 'extra' the internet provides. I doubt I would have looked it up for myself; so, it's a true plus of reading in common.

Editado: Mar 13, 2007, 8:12 am

Archie a rake? Certainly not! At least not as formally defined - "dissolute", "wastrel" etc. My immediate reaction was of Wolfe looking for a toehold without expending any personal energy. My secondary reaction was of a Zeck induced panic, to the extent that Wolfe can be panicked.

Their is an curious correlation between the original publication date (1949) and, the accusations made against Rex Stout (June 6, 1950) to the Investigative Lobbying Activities Committee of the House of Representatives, that he was ".. formerly a member of the board of editors of the Communist magazine magazine, The New Masses". Stout wrote an explanatory letter to the committee and then subsequently simply ignored subpoenas from the House of Un-American Activities Committee. His letter shows some annoyance; and ignoring the subpoenas either courage or arrogance: both of which are evocative of Wolfe.

The first few chapters have not provided me with a rational link between the publication of The Second Confession and the accusations. I'd be interested to read of other interpretations. Is it just a coincidence? or is this the beginning of H's interest in Stout?

Mar 13, 2007, 2:04 pm

#55 - I know nothing of that history, thank you. Do you know what the result of his resistance was?

It sure doesn't seem to me that Stout is supportive of Communism in this book, but I do get the impression, through his body of works, that he doesn't approve of busy-body governmental interference in the private lives and views of citizens.

I love Archie's response to the client's daughter's evaluation of Communism. That's me all over. Meaning not being able to think up an educated response on the spur of the moment.

That whole era of our history is a little fuzzy for me. I mostly know of it from watching specials on Hollywood personalities who wouldn't cave in.

Mar 13, 2007, 2:07 pm

#54 - Eurydice, yes, my weekend was very productive. I was able to catch up on my reading yesterday at my son's baseball scrimmage. I told my other son to tell me when his brother was up to bat, or if the ball was hit his way. The rest of the game didn't matter to me. :)

Editado: Mar 13, 2007, 10:10 pm

#54 - To my knowledge, Rex Stout was never forced to front any committee, nor defend himself publicly. His innocence was manifest. The fact that he was on Hoover's hate list is indicative of nothing, so many were. My personal (unsupported) opinion is that his interest in World Government and his support for the anti-atomic bomb movement probably brought him to the attention of certain Washington institutions. His work during WWll seemed to count for naught during the confused post war decades. Couple this with the fact that his depiction of corporate types was rarely flattering - they are almost always angry, arrogant and loud - may have confused his support for personal enterprise as an attack on corporate free enterprise. I could probably rattle on for pages on this topic, but it would be to no ones interest but mine.

I agree that it is a "fuzzy" and confused era. Hard to interpret from so short a distance. So many novels set in that era never touch on the undercurrent of undefined fear. Stout occasionally does, which gives those novels an extra dimension. His evenhanded and rational, and probably as valuable as a history text.

Mar 13, 2007, 10:00 pm

#58 - Thank you cogitno. I found that very interesting. I agree with you about Stout as a historian. He seems fairly level headed and even handed to me.

Mar 15, 2007, 4:27 pm

Chapter 6

I like the way Stout builds up the menace of Zeck. First an uncomfortable mention, then a threatening phone call, which Wolfe and Archie take very seriously, and finally the climax. Wham. I almost felt physically ill at this attack. Not only to the plants and finances, but to the heart of Wolfe. Kind of reminds me of Pearl Harbor. I think Zeck underestimated his foe.

Searches for images of orchids on Flickr is very productive if you are interested, to my mind, Wolfe's current babies, the Odontoglossum Harryanum, are not as attractive as those previously mentioned, however, I just read another book which helps me appreciate his loss and his affection.

Seven Grass Huts is a memoir written in the 30's of one woman's trek in South America, where she encounters orchid hunters, falls in love with orchids and captures their images through paintings. That is one aspect of the book. The rest of it convinces me that I never want to go anywhere near the jungle. The following are interesting anecdotes about orchids, so if orchids don't interest you, don't worry about reading it. :)

Among natives in the Amazon are many superstitions about orchids: ghost, spirits, blood, disaster. Crimson Epindendrum= blood from victims of Cortez. Sort of seems appropriate for a detective of murders to collect them.

One orchid may produce 180,000 minute seeds, only one of which may live. In a greenhouse it may take as many as seen years, after the seed has sprouted, to produce a blooming plant. And it may be a long time after fertilization before a seed takes hold and sprouts. This makes the time and devotion Wolfe has for them more real for me.

Vanilla is an orchid.

In the back of the above book, from which these tidbits are gleaned, in the recipe section, is a reference to Nero Wolfe! Sort of made my day to read that. :)

Mar 15, 2007, 5:49 pm

MrsLee, interesting about the orchids. Makes me want to do a little Internet searching for myself.

Mar 16, 2007, 12:38 am

#60. Wow! Stunning photography. Don't go to Flickr unless you have some spare time lose.

The reactions to the machine-gun attack struck an odd note. The determination to continue the investigation I understand: Wolfe's attitude has been well explained, notably in terms of his (and Archie's) personal "Conceit". But to not consider an operation against Z, and either rejecting or deferring it, doesn't ring true. Certainly Wolfe's consideration could, and probably would, have been private - but Archie remaining silent!

Maybe I just don't like bullies getting their way.

Another odd note was the drugging of Rony. The subsequent car-jacking attack is more in-line with my view of Archie: direct rather than sneaky.

I suppose it is to early to determine whether the spectre haunting W. 35th Street is affecting behavior as an authorial device, or whether Rex Stout was a little off his game. Time will tell.

MrsLee, I like your description of how the tension is progressively built up. Stout is almost cinematic: A couple of fleeting glances and then, as you say, Wham.

Mar 16, 2007, 5:45 pm

cognito - I'm going to have to read further and think some more on your points. I'm not sure whether it didn't bother me because I've already read the trilogy, or whether I just didn't think about it. Interesting point.

For me, I don't think the drugging of Rony was odd, so much as startling, to realize that Archie would have that in his bag of tricks. After all, he's my knight in shining armor! It does seem a bit dishonorable. However, I loved the way it backfired and the mood it put Archie in. Sort of paid back in a way for trying to take the easy way out?

Mar 16, 2007, 11:03 pm

MrsLee - The Second Confession is not amongst my favourites, based on previous readings, and I suppose I'm trying to rationalise. I should have added in my earlier post that despite my minor reservation, the machine gunning season is amongst Stouts' finest writing. It conveys a mood of desolation and the subsequent industry and efficiency of the household better than I would have thought possible in so compact a chapter.

Thanks for reminding me that the mickey backfired. Archie's actions makes more sense with that in mind. I take back what I said. By the way, my immediate reaction was that Rony did a double switch.

Mar 20, 2007, 3:06 pm

Chapter 8

Where does Theodore eat? With Fritz?

Here is an interesting site for the author, Laura Z. Hobson.


I was wondering if Wolfe brought the book with him or found it there, after reading this, I'm inclined to think he brought it with him, unless it belonged to Gwenn. I can't see Mr. Sperling reading her works.

"I had a silly damn feeling that my whole future depended on the verdict of a fine freckled girl."

How many times do our lives, liberty and happiness turn on such a small event? "For the want of a nail, the war was lost?"

Anyone know what a lemon coke would have been? Lemon syrup in Coca-Cola? The "c" in coke isn't capitalized, so it probably isn't the brand, right?

I like how bumbley Archie is in the country, but didn't he come from Ohio? Maybe it was a city in Ohio.

This regards the scene where Archie tells Wolfe of the body, and how Wolfe takes it. To my mind's eye, this was the one failing of the A&E Nero Wolfe productions, they made Wolfe more bombastic than he need be. Through Archie's eyes, we see this as a tantrum, but if we had been observers, there would have been very little "tantrum" to see. To be fair, I think the A&E shows got better about it as they went along, only the first two or three struck me as over done.

Mar 21, 2007, 1:25 am

MrsLee: Your guess is correct. "He (Theodore) eats in the kitchen with Fritz" - Archie's statement, Chapter 3 Plot it Yourself. But I can't recall any scene with Theodore in the kitchen, not even breakfast. I thought I had an inkling of one, but it proved to be the "Plot it Yourself" statement?

I'm inclined to agree with you. Laura Z. Hobson is not an author who naturally be found in the public spaces of the Sperling home, and I don't think Gwenn's room would arouse Wolfe's curiosity.

Thanks for the article link. She seems to have been an extraordinary person. I see that 34 LT'ers have works of hers catalogued.

A lemon coke is traditionally a glass of Coke (or any other cola) garnished with a slice of lemon. I'm told that if imbibing indoors, an old fashioned glass should be used (about 10 fluid ounces), whereas outdoors, a high ball glass with ice is appropriate (13 fl. ounces). I have also been advised that my favourite, the old peanut butter glass, might be acceptable in the suburbs ... if serving indiscriminate children. There have been explicit lemon cola drinks manufactured for over a 100 years: 2 examples are LemCola and Topsy Lemon-Cola. I've temporarily uploaded a copy of the Topsy bottle cap as my profile picture (I lost the original link some time ago). My guess is that Archie has the traditional drink.

Archie, b. Chillicothe, Ohio. As of the 2000 census, there were 21,796 people, 9,481 households, and 5,754 families residing in the city. Which has a land area of 9.5 sq. miles, and is surrounded by farms at the foothills of the Appalachians. Thankyou Wikipedia! Archie is NOT listed in the "Famous People From Cillicothe" directory on Wikipedia, but is noted in the cultural references to the main entry. I don't suppose that farming folk and woodcraft are synonymous. A lovely picture of the main street:


I have to agree that the A&E series Wolfe was exaggerated. At the same time, only knowing fans would have appreciated Wolfe's fury had they filmed his finger tracing little circles on the arm of his chair. I got used to it.

Mar 21, 2007, 2:14 pm

Thank you cogitno, for the Topsy cap picture. List of ingredients and everything! In CA, I have not seen a "lemon-coke" for sale. We do have lime Coke now, which I enjoy. If I had not forsaken soda pop altogether, I would try a Lemon Coke as you described, and I still might, once this summer. :)

I was raised in a much smaller area than Chillicothe, so most of us knew woodcraft, whether we wanted to or not. Though I know a lot, I prefer to stay in town now. Thanks for the link.

Have you seen the movie "Gentleman's Agreement", with Gregory Peck? It is an excellent and moving film.

Mar 21, 2007, 9:25 pm

I should probably have mentioned that the bottle cap is circa 1905. I know of no modern substitutes other than from that trademarked Cola company - and I don't know if it is marketed in the US. I would only be tempted to try a fizzy drink if some of old favourites were returned to the market (favourites by name only, they pre-date me considerably): KiKapoo Joy Juice, WINE-O or Myopia Club Root Beer.

It has been many years (read decades) since I first watched "Gentlemen's Agreement". I agree, very moving, and I would add in retrospect, depressing. Civilisation moves forward very, very slowly.

I have warmed a little to Sperling. Wolfe's depiction of the him has a little more depth than is usual for a Corporation Head. While it is not a naturally sympathetic description, occasionally the parent sneaks out from behind the bluster.

Mar 22, 2007, 4:36 pm

I agree with you on Sperling. He may not be a great guy, but I think he is becoming human. Though his attitude towards his wife leaves a bit to be desired in my opinion. :)

Chapter 9

Why do you think Wolfe choose for Archie to have seen the body? What would have been the ramifications of ignoring it?

I don't think Wolfe had a fee in mind at this point. I think he may have even taken the cost of the plant rooms as a loss. Perhaps he was afraid Archie's prints may have been left behind, however careful he was? They probably would have been hauled back anyway, once it was discovered, but it would have been harder for the police to get them there.

Mar 29, 2007, 1:56 pm

cogitno - did you leave too? Guess I'll leave my observations for posterity. :)

Ch. 11

It occurs to me that Madeline not telling Archie her idea may be a death sentence. Usually in a murder mystery, if someone wants to think before they give the observation they have, they will be the next ones killed.

Why can't all sex in books be the way Stout does it here by the pool? Enough innuendos to get the idea without the crassness.

Ch. 13

Is Wolfe justified in his conscience to pursue this? Is he being overly righteous? I don't believe so. Someone killed Rony. That means they may have no compunction about killing again if they are not caught.

Ch. 14

Archie seems pretty cavalier about his treatment of this package. Especially after the roof incident. I remember in other stories he is a lot more careful of packages.

What do you think about Wolfe keeping the money? Now he essentially works for Zeck.

Ch. 15

Do we know about this locksmith from another story? It sounds vaguely familiar, but I might be confusing my mystery writers.

Mar 29, 2007, 3:16 pm

MrsLee, I just read the Zeck books a few months ago. It's amazing that I can't remember much of the detail (old age!). I will go back and look at Ch 11 - I didn't think Stout got very close to actual SEX in these books. Maybe I'm too used to the crassness.

Mar 30, 2007, 1:49 am

#71 - Or possibly I have a vivid imagination? :D There is just a lot of suggestive talk actually, but I can certainly figure out what Archie and Madeline are thinking about.

Mar 30, 2007, 5:23 am

MrsLee: I have been forced (with gritted teeth but no straps) to travel. At this moment, I am taking advantage of free airport wireless connectivity to tender my apologies. I am at the half-way refueling point, and will -- infernal machinery permitting -- rejoin the conversation tomorrow.

Thirty hour flights have the single (and only) advantage of providing an adequate reading environment. I can report the conversion of a fellow passenger; who disgusted with his own airport novel accepted my offer of Death of a Doxy with some scepticism, then The League of Frightened Men with great delight. He is determined to read the remaining 40 odd books in publication date order, even though I assured him that it was not necessary.

Mar 30, 2007, 2:20 pm

#73 - Hurray for you! You made a convert. :) Did you tell him to join LT and talk with us about them as he read? My prayers are with you for a safe finish to your journey.

Mar 31, 2007, 12:44 am

Cogitno, admirable work on both conversion and communications! You deserve - and shall have - a 'Satisfactory,' be it only from me. :)

What I will tender, in my own place, is apologies. I have enjoyed reading together with you both, and am only too happy to rejoin. I followed days absorbed in out-of-town company with great distraction and a certain tiredness - all feeding a disconnect with Archie and my usual online endeavors, which it was hard to get out of. Not that that, of course, is an excuse. I will rejoin you at chapter 15 - or just beyond - no later than tomorrow evening. I'm delighted to see the reading and conversation has kept up, in spite of my desertion. :)

Mar 31, 2007, 11:54 am

Eurydice & MrsLee: Thankyou. I may have overstated my efforts: the conversion was essentially "try this ... your welcome". I dislike being badgered by strangers on long-haul flights, and assume it an universal attitude, so LT was not mentioned.

Ch. 11 (Ch12. in my edition)

I was similarly taken by the sensuality at the end of this chapter. I can only think of one other of Stout's novels that is similarly endowed; and that is Some Buried Caesar where we are first introduced to (a quite different) Lily Rowan. MrsLee, I have no specific objection to the crassness you criticise, but like you, prefer an environment relatively free of it. I have an imagination and need to occasionally exercise it. Lest it atrophy.

Ch 14:

Cavalier is the right word. It also struck a false note for me.

Wolfe was already committed: the receipt of the money did not alter this fact. Mind you, I could well imagine Wolfe accepting a client such as Z, provided the problem was legitimate. I recall a novella where Wolfe took a gangster as a client (Dazy Perrit from Trouble in Triplicate) were payment was access to black market meat - it was 1945'ish. Our heroes are virtuous, they are not paragons.


I read your question before reading the chapter, and I thought I could summon an answer - it was buzzing around in the back of my mind. And I found it, in Chapter 15.

She should have stayed in bed.

Abr 1, 2007, 3:01 am

Welcome back Eurydice! Cogitno too. Assuming you arrived home safely.

I finished the story tonight, but I'm going to refrain from posting until you are up to date Eurydice. I had to push on through so I could start a book with the Green Dragon group. When we are done with The Second Confession, I would like to read In the Best Families with you too. I can do it. Who cares about a clean house....I usually read several books at the same time, so no problem.

So far this year I'm averaging eleven books a month, a record for me, I think it's because I'm so excited to have people to talk to them about on this site. I was afraid it would decrease my reading time, but the opposite has happened. I had slumped on reading for a few years, so I hope this isn't just a phase.

Abr 1, 2007, 5:33 am

Thank you, MrsLee. :) Cogitno, welcome home!

Hopefully you are both lenient about what constitutes 'late night'. That's what it is, here, however thinly separated from morning. I confess to reading more of Edmund Crispin's Frequent Hearses, in my spare time, Friday night - Saturday, than The Second Confession. It had just arrived. :/ After the first few pages, it's very engaging, and more adult in sensibility (by which I do not mean more sensual or vulgar - but more grieved by certain realities of life, more sombre, without losing humor). Indeed, it's a bit of a departure from the tone of some other Edmund Crispin. - Comforting company, when the reader is mildly ill. Because of this default, and minimal time on more serious books, I've progressed to a part of The Second Confession I always admired and am now more 'hooked'; but gotten no farther. Tomorrow, further progress and more comment may both be expected. :)

Yes, MrsLee, I'd love to read In the Best Families with you both. I'll be out of town later in the month - from the 18th to the first couple of days in May. While I will have an internet connection, I'll also be pretty focused on the trip. So perhaps we can aim to finish by the 17th? Or, at least, I can - just checking in now and again afterward, in case conversation is still going. How does that sound?

Abr 1, 2007, 4:53 pm

#78 - I'm pretty sure I can finish by the 17th. Sokay with me.

Editado: Abr 2, 2007, 9:07 am

I would appreciate a post letting me know when to start In the Best Families. Time for reading is generally not an issue for me, so I am under somewhat of a self-imposed leash.

In the "down-time" I've been re-re-re-reading some of the other stories. And I'd like to know Why? While I happily acknowledge that Rex Stout is erudite, he is certainly not a literary writer. His plots are often thin, and occasionally absurd. Secondary characters are often drawn as caricatures, and we never really gain any more insight into Wolfe and Archie than that which was gleaned from the first couple of books read. Yet I enjoy them again and again. Other "greater" writers whom I have enjoyed will probably only be read the once: John Dos Passos, Thomas Mann, or Patrick White, have informed and moved me more, and they sit proudly on my best bookshelf, but their books have only ever been opened the once. I don't understand it?

Ch. 16

A really great chapter. I am so glad to have left the Sperling mansion. Wolfe struck me as a two-dimensional character there, whereas at home, and again afflicted by sitiyotis, he is back to being larger than life. I gave consideration to the notion of Stout intentionally muting the mansion scenes to reflect Wolfe's discomfiture, and have rejected it as being either beyond his talents as a writer, or beyond the scope of what he was willing to undertake as genre writer.

Abr 2, 2007, 3:04 pm

#80 cogitno - *Why*
This made me laugh. I know what you mean, but Stout's books are like easy going friends. No judgments, now expectations, just lots of laughs. The comfort food of reading. I wouldn't want them to be my exclusive diet, but they sure are nice to fall back on now and then.

I never really thought about Wolfe at the Sperlings, but now that you mention it, I see it. I'm also re-thinking the other episodes when he is out of his home. Are they the same? One of my favorites is The Black Mountain, I'm thinking he is pretty magnificent in that one, we just don't expect him to be. Too Many Cooks also seems to keep his aura for me, but not Death of a Dude.

Weird. Too Many Cooks came up with the wrong author and no other choices for the touchstone.

Abr 3, 2007, 11:14 am

MrsLee: Comfort food equivalence may be acceptable were the quantities modest. Once I start however, I find it damnably difficult to stop. At least it's harmless! psychoanalysis notwithstanding.

Is their a discernible pattern in the mood, or the style of writing between the occasions when Wolfe is forced to conduct his investigations outside of his controlled environment, as against those where he voluntarily ventures into the "wilderness."? I agree that The Black Mountain and "Too Many Cooks" are vintage Wolfe; and I would add Some Buried Caesar to this mix. In each of these he ventures forth at his own initiative and for his own ends: respectively, to avenge Marko Vukic; to obtain the recipe for saucisse minuit; and lastly, to confront and embarrass a fellow orchard grower ... a bulb splitter! I also agree that Death of a Dude doesn't have the same edge, and at least to my taste, neither does The Second Confession. Both of these see Wolfe forced out doors by circumstances not of his making. A couple of the Novellas are similarly dulled.

To paraphrase Wolfe in a universe ruled by chance, any coincidence is suspect .

Abr 5, 2007, 3:28 pm

Chapter 18 Did Archie ever get beat up more than in this book?

I looked up Wallace and The Committee of Progressive Businessmen. I'm not sure why Sperling Jr. wanted to hide his contribution unless the party or candidate seemed too liberal for his father? I thought there would be some scandal or Red connection, but there wasn't in the very superficial research I did.

Does it seem to anyone else that Archie works incredibly long hours? I think we call that a workaholic nowadays. He must love it.

Chapter 19

Reading about that steak is pure torture. I want one NOW!!!

Chapter 21

Regarding our earlier conversation about Communism, did Stout give them an even hand, or do they come off with a bad flavor?


Chapter 23

Kane=Cain? Any allusions here, do you think?

Two annoying radio personalities in a row. Was Stout on a vendetta? Making a statement? Or was it simply common? T.V. was fairly uncommon at this time, wasn't it?

The answer is in the title all along, if you only knew it.

Abr 5, 2007, 3:29 pm

I'm ready to start In the Best Families any time now. Eurydice, I think it depends on you.

Abr 6, 2007, 11:21 am

Ch. 18 - Archie getting beaten up.
If he did, I can't think of it.

Ch. 21 - Stout & Communism
I thought Stout was reasonably even-handed given he was writing during the early phases of the cold war, and just before the start of the Korean war. I suspect he enjoyed making fun of just about any clandestine organisation.

Ch. 23 - Cain and Kane
I suspect any coincidence.

Stout was active in the anti atomic bomb movement following the war; and he was certainly the subject of a press campaign from one or two (Chicago) papers. I would be surprised if some radio commentators didn't jump on the bandwagon. But that's a guess. I'd venture a follow up guess that Stout would not have meekly accepted being lampooned.

Abr 16, 2007, 3:34 pm

I always felt (maybe wrongly) that Emerson was modeled on Paul Harvey.

Abr 16, 2007, 5:59 pm

The same thought occurred to me, but I'm only familiar with Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story," and that never seemed to be caustic, or was it? I know he (Harvey) has been around forever, but how long exactly? Are you familiar with his earlier broadcasts?

Editado: Abr 16, 2007, 6:58 pm

Oh, yeah. Harvey's regular five-minute commentary (not "The Rest of the Story") is or was pretty conservative (not to say right-wing loony, but there are/were times...). I don't know if he's still doing those; once I found public radio I stopped listening to the all-news station which carried him out here, but the man seemed to want to live in the pre-civil rights, pre-women's lib, pre-everything I believe in era. He also was of the "My country right or wrong" school, whereas I'm of the "My country's wrong here; how do I go about fixing it" school.

I regularly found myself grinding my teeth after hearing it.

Abr 16, 2007, 9:56 pm

When I read the radio broadcast that Wolfe was listening to, I heard it with Harvey's voice, so I'm just betting....

Abr 17, 2007, 10:30 pm

Not quite sure what happened to my reading buddies, but I am going to be able to start on In the Best Families tonight. I'm looking forward to finally being able to address some of AdonisGuilfoyle's thoughts and questions. Guess I'll keep posting any thoughts that occur to me as I read and hope you join in. :)

Abr 18, 2007, 1:53 am

Ive been looking forward to ending this (virtual) trilogy. My memory of In the Best Families is reasonably clear. As always however, the joys will be in the detail.

Abr 20, 2007, 3:27 pm

Ch. 2 - As regards the menace of Zeck. I think he is very menacing, just because we haven't seen much of him. A shadowy background figure of unknown dimensions. Here is an annoying and possibly very dangerous crime boss who has proven able to penetrate Wolfe's domain. He is presuming to dictate which crimes are investigated and which are not, intimidating by threats, violence and bribes. How could Wolfe live like that?

Ch. 3 - As Archie proves, the unknown quality of the menace preys on the mind. One starts to see bogeys, if a few of them turn out to be real, it makes the menace seem larger.

Democratic: Believing in or practicing social equality. I like democratic dogs too! I like this word usage.

Ch. 4 - Doberman Pincers have to be trained to be fierce don't they? Is Stout making a cliche of them?

90 minutes of video??? Is this what they used to call TV? I had never heard television referred to as video before. As far as TV ruining detecting, it also ruined card and board games, etc.

Ch. 5 - "Dawn had come and was going; it was getting close to sunrise. The breeze was down and the birds were up, telling about it."
What a great scene. In Archie's non-flowery, city loving speech, I feel and hear this clearly. I can see just as he is seeing and feeling it.

Ch. 6 - Did you notice the difference in the "regards" at the end of each note? I didn't until Archie pointed it out.

I wonder about the age comparison between Archie, Fritz and Theodore. I've always assumed Archie was youngest. Funny, yet fitting how the others look to him in a crisis.

I guess Archie was too emotional at this point, but the words "confidential instructions" and "private instructions" set my alarm bells off in regards to the sale of the house.

"You are to act in the light of experience as guided by intelligence." Some of the best advice ever, and of course, delightful how Archie interprets it in the rest of the book.

Abr 22, 2007, 11:54 am

Chapter 1: I took an immediate liking to Mrs Rackham: a curious mixture of modesty and confidence.

Chapter 2: I agree MrsLee, but it is an old fashioned menace, a sort of horror story menace. Our villains today, both fictional and real world, are so vivid that they are horrible rather than menacing.

Chapter 4: I found that TV watching scene vaguely disturbing!

Chapter 5: We are singing from the same hymn book MrsLee, that passage made me feel good. I suppose that translates to very effective writing. I also found his description of Mrs Rackham in chapter 1 a little gem. Archie is a great "describer". With Archie and Wolfe Stout had a very broad palette to define his world.

Abr 23, 2007, 12:31 am

I couldn't read it slow anymore, sorry! I finished the book yesterday.

Ch. 12 Any doubt this friend is Lily Rowan? I thought this meeting of Wolfe and Archie very Holmesish.

Ch. 13 Is it physically possible to loose 117lbs.? In a month? Or did he loose a lot, then more later?

"temporary abandonment of scruple" Easier said than done, I would imagine. I would find it hard to cheat innocent folks out of money. Perhaps he thought if they were looking for an easy way to get rich they were not that innocent.

I love the dialog between Wolfe and Archie about finding a woman. W: "You know all kinds." A: "Not all kinds, I do draw the line."

"Fairly young, attractive, a little wanton in appearance, utterly devoted to you and utterly trustworthy, and not a fool." (For someone who made fun of the word "utterly" a couple of books back, he sure is liberal with it here.)

Now we know Archie's ideal woman. About Lily knowing it was Nero Wolfe: not so far-fetched. Archie would NOT have asked her to do such a thing with just any old man. (I wrote this before Lily said it a couple of chapters later :))

Can you get a picture in your head of what Wolfe looks like? I cannot. Archie is not to be trusted for his opinion, though his description is probably accurate, but I catch myself thinking of a short, shriveled old man, and that is probably off.

Ch. 14 - Lily Rowan: Jane Russell, Bette Grable or Lauren Bacall. Any other nominations? How about modern actresses?

Abr 23, 2007, 12:47 am

Ch. 15 - I looked up the perfume, but couldn't find anything, probably made up.

Ch. 16 - This pinkish gray room is repulsive to me, but possibly not to others. I dislike both pink and gray. For me it brings to mind the underbelly of a reptile, or a shark. Do you think this was intended?

Zeck's description. Why do I keep seeing Truman Capote?

Ch. 19 & 20 - In 19, I was a bit upset at them setting up Rackham to do the murder, after reading 20, I understood their motivation. It all seems part of that "temporary abandonment of scruple" mentioned above. I can't really think of a better solution. I wouldn't want Archie to do it, or Wolfe.

I can't remember if the 1st time I read this I knew it was Leeds all along or not. This time it seemed patently obvious, but that may be my memory.

Wolfe's letter seems more chatty than we are used to. Perhaps this is a glimpse of him in non-detecting mode.

This is one of my favorite Wolfe stories because of the depth of affection between Archie and Wolfe is shown.

So. Where does that leave us in addressing the original posters questions on Zeck? I don't think I'm a critical enough observer to answer all of the questions. I read Stout more for the pleasure of Archie and Wolfe.

Abr 23, 2007, 1:16 am

MrsLee, you say "I was a bit upset at them setting up Rackham to do the murder"

Have you read the last book? A Family Affair has a similar tactic.

I get a kick out of Archie's ego in this book, particularly when he makes it a point to earn more than Wolfe paid him.

Editado: Abr 23, 2007, 1:38 am

I have read A Family Affair, awhile ago, I remember it leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe that's why.

I also like Wolfe's reaction to Archie earning more than Wolfe paid him. :)

*edited to fix touchstone.*

Abr 23, 2007, 8:40 am

Chapter 14: Lily = Ava Gardner

Abr 23, 2007, 2:44 pm

#98 Good one!

Abr 24, 2007, 9:33 am

Wolfes Appearance:
Wolfe described his appearance as similar to Philbert, the Price of Savoy. The only portrait I could find can be seen at:


It doesn't really accord with Archie's "folding face" description. I had envisaged the human equivalent of a British Bulldog or Pug (the breed) face. Did I detect an echo of Mrs. Rackham in Wolfe's appearance?

If Houris de Perse is a fictional brand (and I couldn't find it either - I looked amongst the perfume collectibles), I'd have to accuse Rex Stout of "sensualism". It is quite a brand name!

Pink & Grey:
I had a similar reaction. Namely, the correlation with reptiles, and I suspected Stout of purpose. The difference is that I rather like lizards, and don't really object to the colour combination. Don't like snakes though.

It was not a "temporary abandonment of scruple"; it was a the the complete abandonment of morality. And the book is the worse for it. I would have preferred a set up forcing Archie to shoot Zeck in self or Wolfe's defence. Stout has had Wolfe acting with a similar lack of scruple on other occasions, but always criticised him through either Archie's or Cramer's voice.

When I started reading this trilogy, I fully expected to refute AdonisGuilfoyle's November post. I can't, because I agree with both the sentiment and detail. The Second Confession is put down-able, and the Zeck confrontation in In the Best Families is limp. While Zeck was effective as a background threat, as a physical menace ..... so so. Fortunately, the value of Stout is in Archie and Wolfe, and Zeck is not that important.

Perhaps my favourite scene in the corpus is Cramer's reaction to Archie's vague intimation of possible corruption.

Abr 24, 2007, 1:51 pm

cogitno - Thanks for that link. It helped. I hadn't thought of the comparison to Mrs. Rackham...

Perfume: Sensualism, yes, I would say so! I also think a nice allusion for what Lily's role is supposed to be.

I liked Cramer's reaction. I wanted to punch Archie too after that comment.

Maio 2, 2007, 8:47 pm

Mrs. Lee, we were discussing Paul Harvey a while back. Here's a link to something Paul Harvey said today (link to his broadcast provided within that item). Think Progress is the blog of the Center for American Progress, a think tank in DC started by former Clinton adviser John Podesta. They try to watchdog the media at the blog.

Maio 3, 2007, 2:07 am

Yowza! Talk about a misuse of words. Creepy. Yet again, Stout proves oddly relevant to our times.

Maio 3, 2007, 4:27 pm

Re 102: Hmmm, there's some truth there, but I wouldn't go that far.

On another subject, I reread all the Nero Wolf's on my shelf, plus a few I easily found at local new and used bookstores. Now I have to really search for the remaining books. I think I'll double check the inventory at my favorite used bookstore one more time . . . BRB.

Maio 3, 2007, 4:32 pm

etrainer, what do you find misleading in what I said in #102? I'm puzzled.

Maio 3, 2007, 6:34 pm

Sorry for the confusion - I meant to refer to Paul Harvey's statement about no civilians. I meant that I can see some truth in his comment, but it seem to go a little too far - NO civilians? Justification to kill women and children? On the other hand, the Blog's statement, "In other words, innocent people who are killed in war are military combatants because they are victims of a military attack." doesn't seem to follow from his statement either.

I guess this isn't what we're supposed to be talking about here anyway. Sorry.

By the way, I found Gambit at the book store. One more of the unread down!

Maio 3, 2007, 7:13 pm

Oh, okay. I thought you might have objected to my characterization of Think Progress's leanings.

Gambit may have been the first Wolfe book I ever read. It has a special place in my heart for that reason. I think I read chapter one in the back seat of the family car, enthralled at the idea of burning a dictionary. ;)

Maio 5, 2007, 7:15 pm

I've been toying with the idea of starting a thread for each book. Then when people read them, they could make comments. Guess I'll check with our founder of Black Orchid to see if there would be any problems. Anyone else think of any?

I want to reread them, but I'm reading Lord Peter right now with a group, one a month, and I don't want to read them both at the same time.

Maio 6, 2007, 3:28 pm

I think MrsLee's idea is great, but there are a bunch of books . . .

Maio 6, 2007, 7:45 pm

I thought about that after I made the suggestion.... So, anyone who wants to start or help is welcome! Maybe we could start them in order? By the way, Eurydice gave her blessing too. :)

Maio 20, 2007, 9:14 am

A fab idea.