Saturday, July 25, 2020

Completing the Circle: The Evolution of Jonathan Stagge's The Scarlet Circle from Pulp Magazine to Hardcover Novel

Jonathan Stagge's mystery The Scarlet Circle originally appeared in the January 1936 edition of Detective Story Magazine as a short novel of some 50,000 words.  It was the third adventure of country doctor and amateur sleuth Dr. Hugh Westlake to appear in DSM, following fast on the heels of The Dogs Do Bark, another novel, and The Frightened Landlady, a novella of under 30,000 words.  Next came Murder or Mercy?, published in DSM in June 1936.  Then there was a three year lull in Dr. Westlake mysteries, until 1939, when The Stars Spell Death appeared in serial form in Argosy.

The first Dr. Westlake murder case, The Dogs Do Bark, also became the first published in book form, in late 1936 (the title changed to Murder Gone to Earth in the United Kingdom).  The next Hugh Westlake tale to be published in book form was not The Frightened Landlady or The Scarlet Circle, however, but rather Murder or Mercy?, in late 1937 (the title changed to Murder by Prescription in the US).  Why were both The Frightened Landlady and The Scarlet Circle, Hugh Westlake's second and third adventures respectively, skipped over in favor of Murder or Mercy? 

The Frightened Landlady
would have needed to have been at least doubled in length to be published as novel and, quite frankly, I'm not sure there is enough story for that, with its talking place entirely at an atmospherically shabby boarding house in Grovestown, twenty miles from from Dr. Westlake's home in Kenmore.  (TFL is being published this year, however, in a Crippen & Landru collection.)

front cover of my copy of the January 1936 issue of DSM with
The Scarlet Circle as lead story
note the prominent scarlet circle on the first murder victim's cheek
and also that someone outlined a circle in pencil
above her right eye on the red paper lantern--who done it?
As for The Scarlet Circle, which in serial form was nearly twice as long as TFL, we have a different explanation, I suspect. As I've discussed before, the real life scarlet or red circle slayings, which occurred on Long Island in October 1937, when a teenage boy and his girlfriend were shot and killed in a parked car and red circles bizarrely painted in lipstick on their foreheads, may have dissuaded Jonathan Stagge from publishing this story in novel form for several years  The 1937 murders creepily have all the markings of  a copycat crime and, in any event, for anyone after the murders to have published a novel called The Scarlet Circle, about a serial killer who painted red circles on his victims in lipstick, might have struck some as egregiously opportunistic and in very poor taste indeed.

Rather than publish The Scarlet Circle in book form as the next Jonathan Stagge after Murder or Mercy?, Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler, the men behind Jonathan Stagge (and Q. Patrick and Patrick Quentin), as mentioned wrote an original Stagge story, The Stars Spell Death, serialized in Argosy and published as a novel in 1939.  It is, in my opinion, the poorest of all the Stagge, a rather noveletttish spy story which fizzles out in sheer silliness after a good beginning.  Still, even after that The Scarlet Circle remained set aside for several years, with the new Stagge novels appearing in print being Turn of the Table (1940) and The Yellow Taxi (1942).  But by then the Unites States had entered World War Two (with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941), and Rickie and Hugh, who had finally become American citizens, were both slated to enlist in the US Army.

The two men's incredible productivity as authors lasted throughout the mid to late 1930s and into the 1940s, but with the war it was beginning, finally, to wind down in 1942.  Let me illustrate:

The Grindle Nightmare, Q. Patrick (novel) (August)

Killed by Time (short story) (Detective Story Magazine, October) (to be reprinted in Hunt in the Dark and Other Deadly Pursuits)
The Frightened Landlady (novella) (DSM, December) (to be reprinted in HITD)


The Scarlet Circle (novel) (DSM, January)
The Hated Woman (novelette) (DSM, February) (to be reprinted in HITD)
Death Goes to School, Q. Patrick (novel) (February)

A Puzzle for Fools, Patrick Quentin (novel) (October)
The Dogs Do Bark, Jonathan Stagge (novel) (December) (serialized November 1935)
The Jack of Diamonds (novelette) (American Magazine, November)

Danger Next Door (novel) (DSM, May)
Exit before Midnight (novelette) (American Magazine, October)
Death for Dear Clara, Q. Patrick  (novel) (October)
File on Fenton and Farr, Q. Patrick (crimefile) (November)
Murder or Mercy?, Jonathan Stagge (novel) (December) (serialized June 1936)

File on Claudia Cragge, Q. Patrick (crimefile) (October)
Puzzle for Puppets, Patrick Quentin (December)

Death and the Maiden, Q. Patrick (February)
The Stars Spell Death, Jonathan Stagge (November)

Another Man's Poison (novelette) (American Magazine, January)
Turn of the Table, Jonathan Stagge  (November)

Death Rides the Ski-Tow (novelette) (April) (published in The Puzzles of Peter Duluth)
Murder with Flowers (novelette) (December) (published in The Puzzles of Peter Duluth)
Return to the Scene, Q. Patrick (September)

Portrait of a Murderer (short story) (Harper's, April)
The Yellow Taxi, Jonathan Stagge (May)
Hunt in the Dark (novelette) (Short Stories, October) (to be reprinted in HITD)

So in the eight year period from 1935 to 1942, Rickie and Hugh produced:

12 book form novels (5 Q. Patricks, 5 Stagges and 2 Patrick Quentins)
2 Q. Patrick Crimefiles, which might be termed documented novels
2 serial novels not at that time published in book form (The Scarlet Circle and Danger Next Door)
1 novella
7 novelettes
2 short stories

February 1938 True Detective article
on the October 1937 Red Circle Slayings
By the summer of '42, however, Rickie and Hugh, looking ahead to enlisting in the army in the fall, were trying to get another novel ready for fall publication, not knowing what precisely the wicked, warring world held in store for them.  Noting the two authors' predicament, one newspaper columnist expressed the hope that "the Stagge books will continue whatever else their authors are doing for Uncle Sam.  A good book can do as much for the country's morale as all the public relation work."  That pleasant thought notwithstanding, Rickie entered the US Army in September without him and Hugh having finished revising their new book project: an expansion of The Scarlet Circle.

Yes, after more than six years Rickie and Hugh, eager to get another book out, in 1942 reached back to an old pulp publication from 1936.  In the event, it was left to Hugh to complete the expansion before he entered the army in December, three months after Rickie (though they did complete a Peter and Iris Duluth mystery novelette, "Hunt in the Dark," which was published in October).  Over the three months between their respective enlistments, Hugh, Rickie's onetime protege, added some 30,000 words to The Scarlet Circle, heavily revising the text and making of it a much improved book--in my view one of the best of the Stagges.

The Scarlet Circle finally appeared in book form in May 1943, along with, later that year, a Q. Patrick spy novelette entitled "The Gypsy Warned Him."  These would be the only products of the Stagge-Patrick-Quentin consortium that year.  The next year Hugh, stationed in a cushy post at Fort Dix, New Jersey, would revise, with some limited epistolary input from Rickie, who was on his way out to the Southwest Pacific, the novelette "Murder with Flowers" into a full Patrick Quentin novel: Puzzle for Puppets, which marked the return in book form, after six years, of series characters Peter and Iris Duluth. 

This would be the Rickie and Hugh's only crime fiction publication in 1944.  As I said, the boys' output was slowing down over these war years, but, significantly for the future, Hugh, forced to go it mostly alone, was finding he was quite cable of going it mostly--or even entirely--alone.  When Rickie returned to the US in the summer of '45, he would find that his relationship with Hugh had changed in more ways than one.  Consider Rickie and Hugh's partnership yet another war casualty.

Coming soon: I take a closer look at the two Scarlet Circles, the original pulp text and the later published novel.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Oh, That This Too Too Solid Flesh Would Melt: The Dogs Do Bark (1936), by Jonathan Stagge

And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her.--2 Kings 09:10

Richard Webb's and Hugh Wheeler's debut "Jonathan Stagge" detective novel, The Dogs Do Bark, the first adventure pf physician and amateur sleuth Dr. Hugh Westlake, was published in the US and UK (in the latter country under the title Murder Gone to Earth) in late 1936; yet the story originally appeared a year earlier in November 1935 in Detective Story Magazine, where it was the first of four serializations over an eight month period of Jonathan Stagge mysteries in DSM, all of which were credited to "Q. Patrick," Richard Webb's original pseudonym.  "Jonathan Stagge" would not come into existence until Dogs was published in book form in 1936.

In December 1935 came the novella Q. Patrick "The Frightened Landlady," soon followed in January 1936 by the novel The Scarlet Circle and rather later, in June 1936, by Murder or Mercy?  The Scarlet Circle was belatedly published as a novel in 1943 (the lag being caused, in my belief, by the real life Scarlet Circle slaying) and Murder or Mercy? in 1937.  "The Frightened Landlady" was never published in book form, but it will be later this year, in the Q. Patrick short fiction collection Hunt in the Dark and Other Fatal Pursuits.  It will be the tenth, and presumably final, Hugh Westlake murder case to see book form.

The accepted chronology of the Hugh Westlake cases is as follows (with the original pulp title given as the main title, alternative titles following--Stagge's British publisher, Michael Joseph, had a perverse mania for changing these titles):

The Dogs Do Bark/Murder Gone to Earth (1936)
Murder or Mercy?/Murder by Prescription (1937)
The Stars Spell Death/Murder in the Stars (1939)
Turn of the Table/Funeral for Five (1940)
The Yellow Taxi/Call a Hearse (1942)
The Scarlet Circle/Light from a Lantern (1943)
Death, My Darling Daughters/Death and the Dear Girls (1945) (actually, the British finally got it right this time in my view, with the latter title)
Death's Old Sweet Song (1946)
The Three Fears (1949)

But the order of the first six books actually is quite different, if one goes by the original pulp publications. (Plus there's an additional case.)

The Dogs Do Bark (1935)
The Frightened Landlady (1935)
The Scarlet Circle (1936)
Murder or Mercy? (1936)
The Stars Spell Death (1939)
Turn of the Table (1940)
The Yellow Taxi (1942)
Death and the Dear Girls (1945) 
Death's Old Sweet Song (1946)
The Three Fears (1949)

Hugh Wheeler substantially revised The Scarlet Circle when he was at Fort Dix during World War Two and needing to get a book out. (During the war years 1942-44, Rickie and Hugh only published three novels, only one of them an entirely original work.)  Among other things, Hugh removed references to earlier cases in the original manuscript of The Scarlet Circle, because The Scarlet Circle was now officially the sixth Hugh Westlake case rather than the third.  Hugh's revision of the pulp source is definitely an improvement, but it makes for a certain amount of confusion.

Fox hunters find more than a fox
has gone to earth in Jonathan Stagge's
first tale, originally attributed to Q. Patrick
On the other hand, Hugh spent only a week on revisions to The Dogs Do Bark (even though the novel was published a year after its pulp appearance), meaning that the pulp version and the novel are very similar.  All four of Hugh Westlake's initial cases strongly reflect their pulpish origins, being full of weird and outre, even horrific, elements, all of them indicative of the grisly hand of Rickie Webb.  At the same time, there's this cozy, often comedic, relationship between the middle-aged country doctor and amateur sleuth, Hugh Westlake, and his willful young daughter, Dawn (whose age varies over the series--sometimes in the early ones she's ten, sometimes eight). 

Somehow the authors make this cozy and creepy combo mesh, thus making a hugely enjoyable mystery series out of the Hugh Westlake novels.

The Dogs Do Bark set the template for the rest of the Hugh Westlake series in this regard.  Certainly the novel has its share of horror, mainly centering on the murderer's grotesque disposal of the first victim.  The body of the first victim--a portion of it anyway--is discovered crushed down in a fox's den, where the fox, pursued by hounds and human riders during a hunt, had "gone to earth."  Only the legs and trunk of the dead woman are found in the den, however.  The arms were deposited in the kennel of the pack of hounds, which, voraciously hungry on the night before the hunt, promptly chowed down on them.  As for the head--well, it won't turn up for quite a while in the story, but it makes a memorable appearance.

All this grisly stuff is poured into a detective novel written in the classic English village mystery vein.  ("Cozy" English mysteries themselves often could be quite horridly cavalier in the matter of the disposal of inconvenient human bodies--just think of the books of ghoulishly jolly Gladys Mitchell.)  Indeed, some American reviewers deemed Dogs more an English mystery than an American one.  One reviewer even suggested that the author was an Englishman who simply transplanted an English mystery to American shores.  This notion was fostered by the fact that the novel is about foxhunting, an activity one tends to associate in the US with the Mother Country.

In fact, however, foxes were ritually pursued on the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, where wealthy country elites aped their British forebears across the pond.  On the jacket flap the American publishers of Dogs gave the book's setting as the state of Pennsylvania, but the text of the book itself never mentions a state; and later books in the series make clear that the books take place in New England.  Certainly, Dogs could have taken place in Pennsylvania, where foxhunting was long practiced in the southeastern part of the state and Rickie and Hugh themselves for most of the Thirties maintained a residence together in Philadelphia.  On the other hand, they often summered in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, finally moving there in 1939, and they were familiar with Connecticut as well. 

My theory is The Dogs Do Bark takes place in the state of Connecticut, though the series appears later to have slightly migrated to Massachusetts.  There was a prominent Hunt Club, the Norfolk County Hunt Club, at Medfield in southeastern Massachusetts, as well as the Millbrook Hunt in Dutchess County, New York, in the southern part of that state, but I plump for the Nutmeg State.  Ritualized foxhunting had a tradition dating back to the nineteenth century in Pennsylvania, but in Connecticut it began in the 1920s, when wealthy inhabitants of Fairfield County, located in extreme southwestern Connecticut, began forming hunt clubs. 

Some of what one may make of The Dogs Do Bark may depend on what one thinks of foxhunting.  Bill Pronzini, who was repelled by the foxhunting in Dogs (not to mention the fox hunters themselves), gave the novel a resoundingly negative review in his 1986 book 1001 Midnights.  I agreed with him the first time I read the novel, but now I think it offers readers an enjoyable slice of American social history. 

There's an episode in Dogs which Bill found risible, where the fox hunters stage an elaborate funeral for a horse, Sir Basil, who was deliberately gassed in his stables.  Bill witheringly comments that the hunters are

far more upset at the carbon monoxide poisoning of Sir Basil...than they are at the mutilation murder of the young woman.  In fact, the Hunt Club holds an elaborate funeral for the horse, in which all of them dress royally in their riding habits and stand around solemnly while Sir Basil is buried in the owners' front lawn.

Foxhunting appealed to a certain segment
of American society even before
the advent of Downton Abbey
Ludicrous?  Perhaps not.  I haven't found a real life case of such an equine funeral, but I wouldn't be surprised if one had taken place.  Certainly wealthy and privileged fox hunters took seriously such formal ceremonies as symbolic spectacle and occasions, consciously or not, to "lord it over" others. 

When in 1929 socially prominent Margaret W. Bulkeley, divorced wife of Houghton Bulkeley, son of the late former Connecticut governor and senator Morgan Gardner Bulkeley, married similarly divorced Donald G. Perkins, master of the hounds of the Fairfield County Hunt Club, on the grounds of Margaret's newly constructed country mansion, Peacehigh, there were in attendance fifty Hunt Club members, all of them splendidly attired in full hunting regalia. 

The men wore scarlet coats, trimmed with collars in the Club colors of blue and gold, and yellow breeches, while the bride wore black: black silk hat, black coat trimmed with blue and gold and black breeches.  During the ceremony impatient steeds and hounds were kept quartered nearby, for a foxhunt was to commence immediately upon the Congregationalist minister's pronouncement that the happy pair were now man and wife.  Away the newly united spouses rode, the bride atop her favorite chestnut gelding, "Cuba." the groom astride a handsome bay named "Clinker." 

This was deemed front page news in Hartford, Connecticut, only six years before Rickie and Hugh wrote The Dogs Do Bark.  Honestly, Margaret Bulkeley might well have been the inspiration for the book's Clara Faulkner, for all I know.  (See below.)

Is this kind of nauseating?  Sure!  But to me it's  rather fascinating too.  And this facet of elite American life is well captured indeed in The Dogs Do Bark.  But how is the mystery, you may ask?  That's a good question.

Well, it's a nice fair play mystery that you can solve for yourself, and the story races along at an enjoyable clip with lots of variety and incident.  However, there is one definite weakness, which Bill Pronzini pointed out years ago, and he wasn't the only one to do so.  (See this review at Mystery*File by William F. Deeck, though it has major spoilers.)  The plot hinges, complains Bill, "on a false assumption that everyone, including Westlake and a county cop, Inspector Cobb, makes without once considering a glaringly obvious alternative possibility."  And, indeed, Bill is right.  Even John Norris, who gave the book a great review on his blog, had to admit, in a comment on Deeck's review, that this aspect of the mystery was "stretching credibility very thin."

It is indeed and it makes Inspector Cobb and Westlake look rather like dunderheads, I must admit, but on the whole I am in agreement with John that this is a tremendously enjoyable mystery, if you can get past that one matter and can abide the characters, which include a wealthy, gossipy hypochondriac named Mrs. Howell (Lulu, not Lovey, is her first name; an imperious rich woman, Clara Faulkner, who is on her second, much younger, husband and thinks is the proper thing to do to strike a grieving tenant farmer with her riding crop at Sir Basil's funeral, leaving purple welts on his face; and a puritanically religious farmer, Elias Grimshawe, who compares his wayward daughter, Anne, who may be the owner of the dismembered corpse if you will, to that notorious Biblical wanton Jezebel, even quoting the bible verse at the top of this piece in reference to her.  Thanks, pop!

Jezebel meets her awful fate
For grisliness, Golden age detective fiction has nothing on the Old Testament!

That's quite a nasty group of characters.  You may not like them, but you will remember them.  What a relief is Hugh Westlake's little daughter Dawn, with her utter obliviousness to the murders and mayhem going on all around her.  All she wants is some rabbits as pets.  Does she get them?  You'll have to read The Dogs Do Bark to find out!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Archie Goodwin and That Bottle of Dom Perignon: Some Thoughts on Masculinity in Mid-Century Mystery

WARNING: In the following post there are SPOILERS to the Rex Stout detective novel Too Many Clients (1960).  Not to the identity of the murderer but to other aspects of the mystery concerning two of the characters.  Read ahead at your own peril.

Rex Stout's Too Many Clients, reviewed by me in my last post, concerns the murder, in his secret "love nest," of satyric plastics company executive Thomas G. Yeager.  Archie gets pulled into the case by a man claiming to be Yeager, who tells Archie that he thinks he is being followed to a certain location (said love nest) and asks Archie to trail him to that location to determine whether this is indeed true.  It turns out that this man is impersonating Thomas Yeager, the real Thomas Yeager having been murdered, though only after the impersonation was carried by out by this man.

Over the course of the case we learn that said impersonator is really Austin Hough, an assistant professor of English literature at New York University (Those professors!), and that his wife, Dinah ("Di"), was one of Thomas Yeager's many lady friends.  Archie had been dubious about Hough from the start, as Hough had come to visit Nero Wolfe's brownstone wearing a $39.95 suit that "didn't fit and needed pressing" and a $3.00 shirt "on its second or third day."  But it's more than that too: "There was nothing wrong with his long bony face and broad forehead, but he simply didn't have the air of a man who might make a sizable contribution to Nero Wolfe's bank balance."  Sad Sack Hough does not have the confidence of the rich and entitled.

And that's indeed true, since Hough is actually a downtrodden college assistant professor (not even a full one), wearing gray socks with little red dots, the tops of which fall down "nearly to his shoes."  Later on, Archie encounters Dinah Hough at the Yeager love nest, where she had come to retrieve an umbrella; and though she claims her visit to the love nest had been purely innocent, Archie can tell that she's a hot to trot filly, as it were.  Later, when Archie meets up with Austin Hough again, at Nero Wolfe's office (Hough plaintively demanding all the while, "Where's my wife?"--he never seems to refer to her any other way), Archie tells us:

I seldom feel sorry for people Wolfe has got in a corner....but I had to move my eyes away from Austin Hough.  His long bony face was distorted he looked more like a gargoyle than a man. 

Hough admits that he perpetrated the imposture with Archie because he wanted the real Thomas Yeager to know that someone knew about his affair with his wife, so that his wife would know too.  "I couldn't tell her," he explains, "but I wanted her to know I knew."  A self-flagellating Hough reflects:

Of course my wife shouldn't have married me....I was a fool to think that I might still save our marriage, but I did.  She wanted things that I couldn't supply, and she wanted to do things that I am not inclined to and not equipped for.  She couldn't do them with me, so she did them without me. ...About a year ago she suddenly had a watch that must have cost a thousand dollars or more.  Then other things--jewelry, clothes, a fur coat....occasionally she came home after dawn....I descended to snooping....

Archie wonders what this pathetic cuckolded man will do when he sees his wife again, knowing that his fears were true and that she definitely was having it off with Thomas G. Yeager.  (Archie tells him he knows Di lied when she told that she had only been there once and had not stayed long.)  "[W]hat was he going to say?" Archie thinks: "Was he going to explain that he was responsible for her finding a reception committee when she went to get her umbrella?  Was he going to admit--I turned that switch off.  He had married her, I hadn't."

Some college professors are manlier than others.

Later, when Archie sees the Houghs at their apartment, he finds a now assertive Hough, who vulgarly says things like "Balls," rather than moonily quote prose and poetry.  Archie finds Hough has beaten his wife up, very badly.  "I have seen better-looking corpses," he pronounces after getting a looks at Di.  "I was afraid of what would happen if I told her [that I knew about her]" Hough explains.  "Now it has happened."

The couple answers Archie's questions and Hough tells Archie that he can go now.  "She's your wife, not mine," Archie reiterates (out loud this time), "but has a doctor seen her?"  "No," responds Hough.  "I was filling the ice bags when you rang the bell."  Archie makes his eyes go to the stricken woman (just like he had to make his eyes go to the pathetic, gargoyle like Hough on his early visit) and he asks her if she wants to see a doctor, to which she simply says, "No."

"Send her a bottle of champagne," Hough says snidely as Archie leaves.  Di had been drinking champagne and flirting with Archie when he met her at the love nest.

Archie does order champagne--not for Di, however, but for Hough.  He specifically asks for a bottle of Dom Perignon, which was the champagne that Yeager had stocked at the love nest.  He signs the card to Hough, "with the compliments of Archie Goodwin."  He adds to the reader: "I have often wondered whether he dumped it in the garbage, or drank it himself, or shared it with her."

Exit the Houghs, but they leave questions in their wake, like what Archie was doing when he sent Hough that bottle of Dom Perignon?  For some people the episode is a clear cut matter of Archie congratulating a fellow male for asserting his masculinity against an errant wife who had undercut it.  You beat your naughty wife until she looked worse than a corpse, here's to you!  

At the Thrilling Detective website Marcia Kiser writes that "Archie is always the White Knight [in relation to women]....which makes Archie's actions in Too Many Clients (1960) surprising when, after he learns Arthur Hough has beaten his wife, Archie sends Mr. Hough a bottle of Dom Perignon, with his compliments and paid for by him personally--tacit approval of the beating."  And at the LibraryThing message board, a disgusted commenter, AdonisGuilfoyle, writes: "Archie's celebration of the cuckolded husband's cowardly attack on his wife--yeah, your a real man now, Professor!--went too far for me."

This simply can't be right, in my estimation.  Such behavior seems utterly at odds with the Archie we know and love from Stout's series of tales.  (Archie must be one of the most beloved characters in series detective fiction.)  Not only that, but Stout goes out of his way to describe how badly beaten up Di is and how Archie is appalled to have even to look at her bruised face.  In the television series, a clearly angry Archie bellows at Hough, when he answers for Di, "I was talking to her!"  However, this is an invention, the episode remaining more ambiguous in the book, especially for modern readers.  The past, as someone like Austin Hough might remind us, is a foreign country.

A real man?  James Cagney and Mae Clark in The Public Enemy (1931)

Certainly vintage mystery is full of retrograde and reprehensible attitudes about women, representative of their times.  So is older fiction in general, and cinema as well.  In the Thirties there was a lot of talk, including from women themselves, about women wanting "cavemen" for husbands, assertive he-men who will take charge and take no prisoners.  Actor James Cagney made a big splash when he shoved a grapefruit into a woman's face on the big screen, Clark Gable when he, playing a wicked chauffeur, viciously decked Barbara Stanwyck's night nurse.  Why, these were men with red blood in their veins!  Or so the thinking ran.

After World War Two, when many women under patriotic impetus had ventured out into the workplace and ran households all by themselves, men, home from the war, wanted to reassert themselves; and emblematic of this is the hugely popular detective fiction of Mickey Spillane, whose series sleuth Mike Hammer knew how to put women back in their places.  He even shoots one in the stomach.  In Spillane, not only is feminism stillborn, it seems, but chivalry is dead.

Archie Goodwin, however, is nothing if not chivalrous.  I will say again, it's inconceivable to me that he cold have been back slapping Hough for so viciously beating a woman.   To be sure, a point is made that Hough is a milquetoast in the beginning of the novel, perhaps even impotent.  (She wanted to do things he is not equipped to do.)  He's not much of a man, by Fifties mid-century standards, or even, one might argue, today's.

Hough goes from one extreme to the other, from cuckold to beating his wife to a pulp, in order to assert his masculinity.  That's not real manhood either, however.  One state signifies the loss of control over one's wife, the other the loss of control over one's self.  A real man maintains control over himself.  At least in the world of Nero Wolfe.

Archie is no knuckle-dragging neanderthal, a brute man like Spillane's Mike Hammer.  Rather he's a charming roguish trickster, or a joker as the perpetually fuming Inspector Cramer calls him.  How would Archie respond, in an era where it was still widely believed that a husband had the right to chastise his wife for her misbehavior ("She's your wife, not mine," Archie says), when a husband snidely tells Archie to send his wife champagne to make her feel better.  Why, sarcastically of course, by ironically sending to the husband the same champagne his wife drank with another man, who gave her the kind of relationship she wanted.  Here you are, big man, you beat up a woman, congratulations!  Now what? 

What would Hough do with that champagne, Archie wondered: Dump it, drink it, or share it with his wife (possible reconciliation?).  Archie, and we the readers, never find out.

Subtlety can be frustrating but it can be mentally stimulating too.  I put my bean to work on this problem and this is the answer I came up with.  I hope I'm right!  Readers, what say you?