Mystery author Rex Stout was, by all reports, a flirt. He loved beautiful women, and to him, most women were beautiful. According to his daughter, shortly before he died at age 87, Mr. Stout engaged in some charming repartee with his hospital nurse—he flirted with her and she flirted back. How lovely, and to me, a devotee of Mr. Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories, not a surprise. Only a man who adores women could have created Nero Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin.
Archie is every woman’s dream man. He’s tall. He’s dark. He’s handsome. He loves to dance. And he’s one heck of a detective, determined to protect any woman who needs protecting. By looking at him through female characters’ eyes, it’s easy to see why women, me included, consider him a hero.
According to the Random House dictionary, a hero is “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” Check. Archie’s behavior defines heroism. Especially when it comes to women.
Archie’s girlfriend is a rich, blonde beauty named Lily Rowan. Their mutual attraction was instantaneous and irresistible—think steel and magnets. It took me years to realize that part of why I don’t like Lily is that I’m jealous. (That I’m jealous of a fictional character’s fictional girlfriend is another can of worms all together.) Archie and Lily banter. They flirt. They share the values of ethical fair play and loyalty, yet they’re all business when they need to be. As an example of their rapport, consider these brief excerpts. After Archie escapes from a bull by flinging himself over a fence, Lily calls him Escamillo (a reference, no doubt, to the irresistible toreador in Georges Bizet’s famous opera, Carmen). Later in Some Buried Caesar, Archie says:
I glanced at my wrist and saw it was 10 minutes to 5, which reminded me that Lily Rowan was coming for orchids at 5 o’clock and gave me something to do, namely, devise a remark that would shatter her into bits. She had the appearance of never having been shattered to speak of, and it seemed to me that she was asking for it. To call a guy Escamillo in a spirit of fun is okay, but if you do so immediately after he has half-killed himself hurdling a fence on account of a bull chasing him, you have a right to expect whatever he may be capable of in return…
Later in the same book, Archie reports:
Her eyes moved up me and over me, up from my chest over my face to the top of my head, and then slowly traveled down again… I wanted to slap her, because her tone, and the look in her eyes going over me, made me feel like a potato she was peeling.
Yes, they’re kindred spirits, all right, but they differ, too, of course, in at least one essential way. In Death of a Dude, Archie backs into a parking space and remarks that Lily always drives in forward; this, Archie says, is one of the chief differences between them. Isn’t that lovely? Sigh. What a guy!
Archie is completely trustworthy, too. In The Father Hunt, Lily hires Amy Denova to research her father for a book she plans on commissioning about him. Amy is in trouble and confides in Archie. Archie doesn’t say a word, even to Lily. How many men do you know who are that circumspect?
With Lucy Valdon, a client we meet in The Mother Hunt, Archie is supportive and kind, even driving out to the beach to deliver some bad news because he thought it would be easier for her to hear it in person than on the phone. How many men do you know who are that thoughtful?
Luckily, women appreciate him. For instance, Sarah Jaffee (Prisoner’s Base) says:
“Have I ever met you before?”
“Not that I remember, and I think I would. Why?”
“You seem to know exactly the right things to say, as if you knew all about me.”
I feel the same as Sarah, as if Archie knows me well, and further, that he cares about me deeply. I know, I know, I’ve never actually met him. I understand that he’s a fictional character. I get it. Sort of. But the reality is that to me, he’s real. I used him as the model for Ty, my protagonist Josie’s boyfriend.
Ty and Archie share many qualities, but of course, there’s only one Archie. Archie is sexy, substantive, smart, fun-loving, honest, and flexible. He’s caring and faithful. He’s funny and charming. And he’s a tough guy with a helluva kidney punch. Sigh. Writing this, I feel myself growing lightheaded. Read some of Rex Stout’s wonderful Nero Wolfe stories, starting with the ones he wrote in the 1950s or 1960s, and you, too, will swoon over Archie. Without question, he’s the mystery genre’s quintessential hunk.
Jane K. Cleland writes the Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series (St. Martin’s Minotaur). Fun Wolfean trivia is integrated into her novels. For more information about Archie Goodwin, please visit the Wolfe Pack at www.nerowolfe.org.