Saturday, January 26th, 2008
11:34 pm - Speed Reading...  
Wow, I zipped through these two in a hurry.

Picked up the battered, WWII era ("War Edition: Complete text—reduced in size in accordance with paper conservation orders of the War Production Board.") copy of Stout's Not Quite Dead Enough at the library Wednesday night, and finished it last night. It's two novellas set during Archie's service during the war. He's now Major Goodwin of Military Intelligence. Things have changed at the old brownstone, too. Wolfe and Fritz are exercising and dieting so they can get into good enough shape to join the Army so they can "kill Germans." Wolfe has even lost enough weight that he can fit (sort of) into one of Archie's old sweaters. What he hasn't been doing is working at what he's really good at—solving mysteries. The Army is dismayed by this, since they would like his help in a few matters, so they send Archie back to New York to do what he does best—cajoling Wolfe into working again.

I wasn't much thrilled by either of the novellas. I was happy at first to see Lily on hand in the first ("Not Quite Dead Enough"), her first on-stage appearance in one of the books since Archie first met her in Some Buried Caesar, but the joy faded a couple of pages into the second chapter. She's not at all attractive here. She's been stalking Archie since he joined the Army, following him from place to place, sending dozens of telegrams demanding some attention, pestering Wolfe for information to the point that he will no longer take her calls, and even arranging to be a passenger on Archie's flight from D.C. back to New York, having somehow discovered that he's being sent back to New York. Archie has apparently grown tired of her act, which just causes things to escalate. Things escalate so far, in fact, that in trying to get Archie's attention, Lily indirectly instigates the murder that Archie and Wolfe wind up investigating. Very disillusioning. I'm kind of glad I never read this book before some of her other appearances.

Seems like Archie'd had enough for the duration, because Lily's nowhere to be seen in the second novella ("Booby Trap"). Here the mystery relates to Archie's intelligence job, and it's disappointing for couple of reasons. First, there is no evidence of any kind as to whodunnit. Wolfe has no clue. He's forced to smoke the killer out via chicanery. Second, he lets the killer commit suicide, rather than face justice and humiliation, a trope that I hate. Feh.

There are a few things of interest on the Wolfe canon front. Lon Cohen still hasn't arrived. Archie does name check the Gazette, but when he needs to deal with a newspaperman from a fictional New York paper, it's some schmo named Bill Pratt of the Courier. The alcove containing the peephole for spying on the office makes its first appearance in "Booby Trap," although the painting hiding the peephole is not of a waterfall, but rather is a more patriotic one of the Washington Monument. I was also much amused by the two old ladies who spent decades accusing each other of poisoning squirrels and pigeons, respectively, in the park.

Oh, and Wolfe swears at Archie in NQDE.

"Wolfe pronounced a word. It was the first time I had ever heard him pronounce an unprintable word."

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Today I read Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, where Moore seems to be trying to see exactly how many cultural references he can pack into a single graphic novel. There's practically one in every frelling panel. It's like a puzzle. See how many you can find!

It's 1958, the Orwellian regime of Big Brother in England has been overthrown, and Mina Harkness and Allan Quartermain are both young again, having swum in the waters of the fountain of youth. They were declared unpersons by the old regime, and would like to keep it that way, so they break into the headquarters of British Secret Service and steal the black dossier of the title. The dossier contains the remaining records of all the activities of the various groups of extraordinary operatives. M, aka Mother, aka Harry Lime, is not happy about this and sends Bulldog Drummond, James Bond, and young Emma Night (who will one day marry John Peel) off in pursuit. Meanwhile, Mina starts reading the contents of the dossier.

There are so many visual and textual references here that it makes your head spin. Things like Andy Capp and the Sad Sack in the same clipping of a cartoon from the dossier. A lot of the references from British childhood literature went right by me. On the other hand, when the heroes escape capture by stealing the Pancake X-L4 rocket ship, I can see what's coming a mile away. As a rocket spotter at the Birmingham Spaceport explains:

"Take that one over there. That's the Pancake Extra-Large Series 4."
"Pancake?"
"Yes, well, they name new models after how the previous one ended up. There was the Mushroom Cloud X-L2, the Shrapnel X-L3...It's a tradition."


Anyone who ever watched Gerry Anderson's Fireball XL5 as a kid knows that this is not going to end well.