With The Silent Speaker, we've returned to novels in our tour through the Corpus, the War is over and our heroes, like the rest of the country, are adjusting to that fact. In the U.S., part of that has to do with price regulation and battles between governmental agencies and private businesses. In this case we have the Bureau of Price Regulation (BPR) and the National Industrial Association (NIA).
Now, I'll be honest (and I realize this makes me a horrid person), this part of U.S. History makes my eyes glaze over, so I can't say for certain how much the relationships depicted between the two entities are accurate. But this feels real (names of agencies/groups/companies being changed, naturally), and a little bit of reading that I've done about The Silent Speaker seems to support that. In years to come, Stout will not tweak details like that (The Doorbell Rang), but it's more than understandable when he and other authors take that tack.
The head of the BPR (Cheney Boone) was scheduled to speak before a gathering of the NIA--a hostile audience, to be sure. And it does not appear that his address was going in anyway to endear him or the rest of his McCoys to the NIA Hatfields. But a funny thing happened on the way to the podium--well, not funny at all really, but that's the phrase. Someone took a monkey wrench to his cranium while he was backstage rehearsing. The BPR people and the Boones begin accusing someone--anyone--with ties to the NIA, the NIA are certain that it's all a front designed to bring public sentiment against him.
The police are soon stymied and have to deal with enough political pressure to prevent them from doing any real work. Wolfe's patience is tried (and then some) by the bickering between and within the various camps. In addition to the vitriol flying all over, there are enough red herrings to keep things too confusing for the case to progress much.
In this book, at last, our cast of regulars is completed with the introduction of newspaperman extraordinaire, Lon Cohen. He doesn't get a lot of space in this appearance, but that's remedied in the next couple of books (and many future ones).
This is really one of the gems in the series, and one I return to more often than many others. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but all cylinders are firing this time out, and not a false or ill-advised step is made (by the author anyway). This is a great novel to serve as an entry (or re-entry) point to the series for someone not sure where to start.
And now, for our regularly scheduled collection of witticisms and other notable quotes:
As usual, he didn't life an eye when I entered. Also as usual, I paid no attention to whether he was paying attention.
"Satisfactory, Archie," [Wolfe] muttered.
Frankly, I wish I could make my heart quit doing an extra thump when Wolfe says satisfactory, Archie. It's childish.
[Wolfe] pushed the button, savagely, for beer. He was as close to being in a panic as I remembered seeing him.
I looked at the wall clock. It said two minutes to four. I looked at my wrist watch. It said one minute to four. In spite of the discrepancy it seemed safe to conclude that it would soon be four o'clock.
I had made a close and prolonged study of Wolfe's attitude toward women. The basic fact about a woman that seemed to irritate him was that she was a woman; the long record showed not a single exception; but form there on the documentation was cockeyed. If woman as woman grated on him you would suppose that the most womany details would be the worst for him, but time and again I have known him to have a chair placed for a female so that his desk would not obstruct his view of her legs, and the answer can't be that his interest is professional and he reads character from legs, because the older and dumpier she is the less he cares where she sits. It is a very complex question and some day I'm going to take a whole chapter for it. Another little detail: he is much more sensitive to women's noses than he is to men's. I have never been able to detect that extremes or unorthodoxies in men's noses have any effect on him, but in women's they do. Above all he doesn't like a pug, or in fact a pronounced incurve anywhere along the bridge.
Mrs. Boone had a bug, and it was much too small for the surroundings. I saw him looking at it as he leaned back in his chair. So he told her in a gruff and inhospitable tone, barely not boorish...