Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Goodwin.

Illustration of Archie Goodwin by Austin Briggs for the Saturday Evening Post, June 21, 1958

You all know (if you're a regular reader of this blog) what a big fan I am of the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout. You know I reread them, at whim, every now and then, in between my reading of other fine and worthy books. You know that lately I am fixated on finishing up the short stories which, truth to tell, I haven't reread in years - having concentrated more on my favorite full length Wolfe novels. But you might not know (unless you've read them) that the Wolfe short stories are every bit as good as the full length novels. In fact, I hadn't remembered them as being quite this good. Is there nothing that Rex Stout couldn't do right? Apparently not. (Is that a triple negative?)

Anyway, today I'm sharing some wit and wisdom from the clever 'pen' of Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe's right hand man. Bits and pieces culled from several short story collections which I've been indulging in over the past few weeks. Just things plucked from Archie's entertaining narration as he goes about his day to day duties working for that mighty sloth of a genius, Nero Wolfe. Things that made me smile or shake my head or just laugh outright. The oh-so-cynical Archie has a wry way with words.


Excerpt from AND FOUR TO GO (1956, 1957) A story entitled, CHRISTMAS PARTY, in which, Wolfe dons an improbable disguise and a young woman named Cherry Quon shows up at the brownstone with knowledge of the incident, attempting a spot of blackmail.

"But you haven't told the police? Then it's a good thing I haven't told them either, isn't it?"

"This is interesting," Wolfe said coldly. "What to you expect to accomplish with this fantastic folderol?"...

"...You must see that it's no use. If I tell them, even if they don't like to believe me, they will investigate..."

He shut his eyes, tightened his lips and leaned back in his chair. I kept mine open, on her. She weighed about a hundred and two. I could carry her under one arm with my other hand clamped on her mouth. Putting her in the spare room upstairs wouldn't do, since she could open a window and scream, but there was a cubbyhole in the basement, next to Fritz's room, with an old couch in it. Or, as an alternative I could get a gun from my desk drawer and shoot her. Probably no one knew she had come here.


Excerpts from CURTAINS FOR THREE (1950), a story entitled BULLET FOR ONE in which Wolfe is hired to find the killer of a man riding horseback early in the morning in Central Park. As usual, people show up at the brownstone to be questioned by Wolfe.

It always riled him that anybody in the world didn't know that he never left the house on business, and rarely for anything whatever. "I work only at home..."


It was her complexion that made it hard to believe that she was as scared as she said she was.
"Maybe I haven't made it clear," she persisted, twisting her fingers some more though I had asked her to stop. "I'm not making anything up, really I'm not..."

If her cheek color had been from a drugstore, with the patches showing because the fear in her heart was using extra blood for internal needs, I would probably been affected more. But at first sight of her I had been reminded of a picture on a calendar hanging on the wall of Sam's Diner on Eleventh Avenue, a picture of round-faced girl with one hand holding a pail and the other hand resting on the flank of a cow she had just milked or was going to milk. It was her to a T, in skin tint, build, and innocence.


[Frank] Broadyke gestured with a hand. More than his baritone was cultivated; he was cultivated all over. He was somewhat younger than Pohl, and ten times as elegant. His manner gave the impression that he was finding it difficult to be himself because (a) he was in the office of a private detective, which was vulgar, (b) he had come there with persons with whom one doesn't ordinarily associate, which was embarrassing, and (c) the subject for discussion was his connection to a murder, which was preposterous.


Like millions of my fellow citizens, I had done some sizing up of Victor Talbot from pictures of him in the papers, and within ten seconds after he had joined us in the office I had decided the label I had tied on him could stay. He was the guy who, at a cocktail party or before dinner, grabs the tray of appetizers and passes it around, looking into eyes and making cracks.

Not counting me, he was easily the best looking male in the room.


Since I had cottoned to Audrey Rooney and would have married her any second if it wasn't that I wouldn't want my wife to be a public figure and there was her picture on the calendar on the wall of Sam's Diner, it was a setback to learn that her parents in Vermont had actually named her Annie, and she had changed it herself. Okay if she didn't care for Annie with Rooney, but good God, why Audrey? Audrey. It showed a lack in her.


Excerpts from TROUBLE IN TRIPLICATE (1945), a story entitled INSTEAD OF EVIDENCE in which Wolfe is hired to find the killer of a novelties manufacturer.

Among the kinds of men I have a prejudice against are the ones named Eugene. There's no use asking me why, because I admit it's a prejudice. It may be that when I was a in kindergarten out in Ohio a man named Eugene stole candy from me, but if so I have forgotten all about it. For all practical purposes, it is merely one face of my complex character that I do not like men named Eugene.


"That's ridiculous. You sound to me like a clown."

"Good. It is a well known fact that clowns have the biggest and warmest hearts on record except mothers and three characters in books by Dickens."


Excerpt from THREE FOR THE CHAIR (1955) from a story entitled, A WINDOW FOR DEATH in which Wolfe is hired to find out if a so-called natural death of an uranium millionaire was actually murder.

The trouble with mornings is that they come when you're not awake.

Excerpt from the same collection, from a story entitled TOO MANY DETECTIVES in which Wolfe and Archie, while up in Albany on an official errand having to do with their licenses, are suspected of murder and arrested. We are also introduced to  Theodolinda (Dol) Bonner for the first time.

I am against female detectives on principle. It's not always and everywhere a tough game, but most of the time it is, with no room for the friendly feelings and the nice little impulses. So a she-dick must have a good thick hide, which is not a skin I'd love to touch; if she hasn't, she is apt to melt just when a cold eye and hard nerves are called for, and in that case she doesn't belong.

However, there are times when a principle should take a nap, and that was one of them.


I ran across this terrific essay on Wolfe over at Thrilling Detective and I've included it here for further edification. It's title alone is intriguing: Nero Wolfe - A Social Commentary on the U.S. by Marcia Kiser. Lots of Wolfe quotes included, more from his point of view and Kiser mentions, along with some of the novels, a couple of the short stories I've been lately reading. Interesting stuff considering how long Rex Stout continued to write the Wolfe stories and how long Wolfe and Archie were ensconced in that brownstone as the city, state, and country changed around them.


Illustration by Carl Mueller for American Magazine, November, 1948


  1. I LOVE these quotes. I'm planning on putting up one from Archie about this weather!

  2. He was bothered about the weather in one of the short stories, Nan. He actually had to remove his jacket and carry it. It was THAT hot. Can't remember where I saw it though.

    Hasn't this weather been ghastly?

    I'm hibernating. :)

  3. Yeah, Archie Goodwin's narrative voice is great (as are his wisecracks). There were a couple of lines I remembered from The League of Frightened Men that I went and looked up to be sure of:

    I can stand a real tough baby, but a bird that fancies himself a hot mixture of John D. Rockefeller and Lord Chesterfield, being all the time innocent of both ingredients, gives me a severe pain in the sitter.


    Bowen shook the round thing he used to grow his hair on.

    It's really Archie's voice and his relationship with Nero Wolfe that makes the books so much fun to read.

  4. Yvette: You have some excellent quotes. I have equally enjoyed Nero Wolfe stories and books. The cleverness of Wolfe and Archie became clearer after I read McAleer's biography of Stout setting out his remarkable intellect.

  5. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

    I cannot read any quotes from these books without laughing out loud, or at least having a huge grin on my face.

    These quotes are wonderful. (As far as the first one, kidnapping thoughts? I'm shocked and appalled! Ha!)

    I have, thanks to this blog, revisited Rex Stout's treasury: I say this as they are treasures that stand the test of time, classics. They are timeless!

    I am ensconced with The League of Frightened Men. I bought it for my 91-year-old uncle -- who only reads Peter Lovesey, Ruth Rendell (Inspector Wexford only) and Rex Stout. However, I absconded with it to a local park and now I'm reading it, then I'll send it on.

    And, I, too, am hibernating. Archie and the gang are here with me, hating the heat.

    I'll write down these titles, too.

    And, no, there isn't anything Rex Stout couldn't write. Absolutely not! (another triple negative!)

    He wrote anti-Nazi propaganda during WWII. I bet it was fantastic.

  6. Ellie: Thanks! And thanks too for dropping by.

  7. Mythical M: You said it. When I first began reading the Wolfe books I didn't like Archie much. But then he grew on me. :(

    "...pain in the sitter." HA!

    Love the second quote too. Both are great.

    The more I read these books the more I love them.

  8. Bill: Thanks! I will definitely be reading a Rex Stout bio one of these days. Do you recommend the McAleer one best?

    In my view, only a brilliant mind could have created the world of Wolfe and Archie and maintained it so well for so many years.

  9. Kathy: I know! I laugh all the time when re-reading these books. This was a very funny man (Rex Stout).

    These are classics, no question.

    I'm glad you're enjoying them, Kathy. :)

  10. I love, love, love Archie! He's the main reason I love the Nero Wolfe books. I've got to steal the one about mornings....

  11. FYI: Did you see Kittling Books' interview (and video) of Jeffrey Cohen? It's funny.

  12. Bev: Me too!! And to think that at first I didn't like him. Where were my wits??!!

    The 'morning' one is a great one - isn't it?

  13. Kathy: Yes, I did see it. I left a comment. You know how much I like Jeff's books. :)

  14. Just so you know, Archie is my boyfriend, but I'm willing to share.

    I can't recall which story, but I recall during the WW2 era Archie commenting that he'd been saving up some wisecracks for Nazis and wanted the opportunity to use them. What a guy!

  15. Thank you, Caftan Woman. Your willingness to share does you credit. :)

    Yeah, Archie was, I think a Major. But he could never get away from stateside because he was anchored to Wolfe and Army Intelligence needed him.

  16. Yvette: I only know about McAleer's biography. It is very readable. Stout's intelligence especially with numbers was amazing. I consider him at the genius level.

  17. Thanks, Bill. I'll look for it.

    Oh, Stout was definitely a genius. No question in my mind.

  18. As Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout's alter-ego said to Archie, "Archie, I am a genius, not a god." Need we say more?

  19. I just can't resist putting in a few lines here. As I was reading The League of Frightened Men, I was gliding along with no big verbal treats, and then I came to this page, which contained at minimum, three of them -- all by Wolfe.

    "It was Mr. Goodwin's acuteness of observation, and my feeling for phenomena, that uncovered you..."

    "If you knew one of his murders, the latest one, to be nothing but rodomontade..."

    "It is a pity. The back-seat driving of the less charitable emotions often makes me wonder that the brain does not desert the wheel entirely, in righteous exasperation."

    I couldn't make this stuff up. Well, Rex Stout could!

  20. Kathy: Sometimes I have to check the dictionary if Archie doesn't explain some of the vocabulary. Ha!

    His last comment on the brain's staying power is particularly wonderful.

    '...feeling for phenomena...' Love it.

  21. Wolfe and Archie are making me toss up in delightful despair my plans to read international crime fiction this summer. This makes me rewrite the popular environmental slogan to:

    I want to read globally, but am reading locally.

    In fact, I can't get out away from West 35th Street, in my own city! No matter where I try to go--Sicily, Venice, Stockholm, Reykavik, and to just about any moderate or cold climate or a seashore, here I am stuck in hot, humid Manhattan.

  22. I told you they were habit forming, Kathy. Now you know what it's like to be in the grip of a Wolfe obsession. Ha1

    Happens to me all the time.

  23. I must find a 12-step program to get rid of my Wolfe/Goodwin obsession. Maybe a gradual decrease in number of books or pages read per week, or a number of books bought (that's the thing, the budget).

    Or I'll be found in the gutter, and instead of with the proverbial rum on my face, I'll be covered with pages of brilliant Wolfe pack witticisms.

  24. Kathy: We can start the Nero Wolfe clinic for obsessed fans. Ha!


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