Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Silent Speaker: Rex Stout

I have been reading the Nero Wolfe series roughly in order recently and finally I have arrived at one of my favorite books in the series, The Silent Speaker.

This summary from the back of the paperback edition I read gives a decent overview without revealing too much:
When a powerful government official, scheduled to speak to a group of millionaires, turns up dead, it is an event worthy of the notice of the great Nero Wolfe. Balancing on the edge of financial ruin, the orchid-loving detective grudgingly accepts the case. Soon a second victim is found bludgeoned to death, a missing stenographer's tape causes an uproar, and the dead man speaks, after a fashion. While the business world clamors for a solution, Nero Wolfe patiently lays a trap that will net him a killer worth his weight in gold.
The dead man, Cheney Boone, was the Director of the Bureau of Price Regulation (BPR). He was scheduled to speak to the members of the National Industrial Association (NIA). The two organizations are at odds. When the murderer is not apprehended quickly, the public is of the opinion that the NIA is responsible, and their reputation is damaged by the continued publicity.

In actuality, Nero Wolfe actively seeks the case, trying to get someone interested in hiring him. Or, he instructs Archie Goodwin, private detective and Wolfe's assistant, to do this. Of course, when Wolfe has snagged a client (the NIA), the representatives are demanding, obstreperous, and irritating, and he regrets getting involved.

This is overall a very entertaining and well-plotted book in the Nero Wolfe series. My favorite part, however, is the character of Phoebe Gunther, confidential secretary to Cheney Boone, and capable of running the BPR herself. She is a fantastic character, strong, confident, a career woman who believes in her job. Archie is immediately besotted by her, but she is much more than just a pretty face. It seems to me that from the sixth novel in the series, the female characters are more interesting and stronger, more defined.

I also liked that this was the first novel published after World War II and we sees the effects of the war. Archie is back from his military assignment. And manufacturers in the US want the price regulations put into place during the war eased so they can make more money.

Walter Mosley's introduction to the Bantam Crime Line edition to this book is full of gems.
I love Nero Wolfe. I love his house, his orchids, his sour disposition, and his shrouded past. I love his reading habits, his unabashed fear of women, and his incredible appetite; that is to say, I love his love of food.
Wolfe was never a hero in the American sense. No gunslinger or karate master he. He never subdued the bad guy or ran a merry chase. As a matter of fact, Nero Wolfe was a coward when it came to things physical.
He was afraid of traffic.
Archie is the leg man. He’s the one who carries out Wolfe’s plans and errands. He drives the car, romances the ladies, and applies the pike to Nero’s rear end when the rent is due and there’s a paying client downstairs.
Archie has no dark moods, no real fears, and no concerns beyond what it takes to keep three hundred and fifty pounds of genius going. He loves women (Lily Rowan especially), but he’s married to his work.
All the years I read the Nero Wolfe mysteries it was because of Archie. Archie talking about walking up Madison; Archie cracking wise with Cramer; Archie amazed by the detecting abilities of Saul Panzer (the second or third greatest detective in New York- and, therefore, the world).
Archie Goodwin was the real gumshoe. He was willing to get out there and work. He wasn’t daunted by traffic or sunlight or possibility of death.


Publisher:  Bantam, 1994. Orig. pub. 1946.
Length:     271 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Nero Wolfe, #11
Setting:     New York
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.


Anonymous said...

I give you credit, Tracy, for going back over the Nero Wolfe novels in order. I think that's such a great way to experience a series (or re-experience it). And, of course, I'm glad you enjoyed the re-read. Interesting how often we re-read something, only to find we don't like it as well as we remembered.

TracyK said...

Margot, I have been look for particular things, like where Lily Rowan shows up, and the structure, so in order works best. It is fun but will go slowly of course.

Unknown said...

This is one of my favorites as well. It features one of the only times we see Wolfe and his longtime foil, Inspector Cramer showing that they actually respect each other. I also liked the introductions that were featured in the Bantam paperbacks, Mosely's was one of the best along with the ones by Lena Horne and Robert B. Parker.

Yvette said...

My second favorite Nero Wolfe book, Tracy. It grew on me. I had two or three other books higher up on my Wolfe list, but after a couple of re-readings, I finally realized just how good THE SILENT SPEAKER is. Hence it is now second on my list. I place it higher now than THE DOORBELL RANG.

Mathew Paust said...

Love those Mosley quotes, Tracy. This story is familiar enuf that I'm wondering if it's one of the TV series episodes (I have the set). I shall go back and check it out!

TracyK said...

I agree, Rob, that the part Inspector Cramer plays in this book is very good, and different from some of their more adversarial adventures. I have a lot of the Bantam editions with the introductions and am trying to make sure I have all of them. I also liked the Lena Horne introduction especially.

TracyK said...

Now I am wondering what your #1 Nero Wolfe book is, Yvette? My favorite is Fer-de-lance, and partly because it was the first one and it just seemed like the two had been working together forever. Some Buried Caesar might be #3 on my list but I would have to think more about it.

TracyK said...

I know, Mathew, I wanted to include the whole introduction by Mosley... it was so good. Yes, this book was included in the TV series starring Timothy Hutton / Maury Chaykin. I probably will be re-watching it again soon.

Graham Powell said...

This is my favorite Wolfe book (Some Buried Caesar is #2). In addition I recently watched the A&E series from (ulp) 15 years ago, and that episode was my favorite.

TracyK said...

We watched the A&E series when it was on TV, and then later bought the DVD set and watched all of them again. We are planning to rewatch them all again too. I also bought the older TV series with Lee Horsley and William Conrad and I am enjoying those... because I always thought that Lee Horsley was a decent Archie. And the Italian series, but we have not watched any of those yet.

Rick Robinson said...

This is very good, but in thinking what my favorite might be, I'm stumped. I just read THE THREE DOORS TO DEATH and THE FINAL DEDUCTION and they were good too. It's hard to choose.

TracyK said...

Well, really I love all the Nero Wolfe mysteries, Rick. I read Three Doors to Death two years ago and loved the stories, but I have forgotten a lot about The Final Deduction. That makes it a good candidate to read soon.

Yvette said...

My number one favorite Nero Wolfe book is - TA-DA!!! - MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD.

Clothes In Books said...

I read quite a few of them a year or so ago, so it's about the time I picked up some more. I am not trying to read them in order, so maybe I should pick this one - you make a good job of making it sound like a winner.

TracyK said...

I do think it is a winner, Moira, but then that partially depends on my love of Phoebe Gunther. I have a few I want to jump ahead and reread, but I do want to read in order up to the end of the Zeck trilogy, which ends with In the Best Families... so another four at least.

TracyK said...

I remember that one, and it is a good one. It has the bonus of dealing with strained family relationships.