To Lily and Sally and all Rex Stout’s Gals who try to do the right thing.
This is the 75th anniversary of the publication of Rex Stout’s Some Buried Caesar, the first time we meet Lily Rowan, one of the great hottie-totties in crime fiction literature. Lily is Archie’s main squeeze. You know Archie, right? Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s amanuensis, whom I’ve described in another entry for this blog, as crime fiction’s quintessential hunk. Lily is tough and gorgeous and as honest as the day is long.
About a year ago, when rereading one or another of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories for the umteenth time, I became aware of a theme in the opus that I had never before noticed: gals who try to do the right thing.
Some series spoilers throughout, but if you haven’t read these yet, don’t wait another seventy-five years!
Archie admires them. Mr. Wolfe respects them. Fritz (Mr. Wolfe’s chef and housekeeper) frets over their presence—he’s afraid they’ll weasel their way into Mr. Wolfe’s esteem and take over his kitchen. Those of us who know Mr. Wolfe’s misogynist soul could reassure Fritz, but you know how it is with fearfulness; if you’re afraid, you’re afraid, and that’s the end of it. And I think these gals who take the high ground, their grasp tight on their moral compasses, are undervalued and underappreciated.
There’s Amy Jackson, for instance, better known as Julie Jacquette, who can say the alphabet backwards and who puts her life on the line in Death of a Doxy to help catch her friend’s killer.
There’s Madeline Sperling who, in The Second Confession, helps Archie learn facts about her family and her father’s guests. She invites him to visit when he was pretty much persona non grata, telling him that he was welcome … that if she can’t let him in openly, she’d just as soon he stay out. She was helpful and supportive and she didn’t push. As an aside, Archie said he was going to follow up with her, and I’ve always been sorry that he didn’t. I like Madeline Sperling.
There are others, of course: Annabel Frey, who, in In the Best Families, tried to hire Archie to find a killer; Mr. Wolfe’s daughter, Carla Britton, who in Black Mountain, goes to Montenegro to protect the cause she and Mr. Wolfe’s best friend, Marko, cared so much about, and who died for her efforts; and let’s not forget Phoebe Gunther from The Silent Speaker who, Mr. Wolfe said, “…displayed remarkable tenacity, audacity, and even imagination in using the murder of Mr. Boone for a purpose he would have desired, approved, and applauded.” Phoebe also died trying to do the right thing. And how about Sally Blount from Gambit? Sally sells her jewelry to raise $22,000—a fitting amount, she thinks, because she’s 22 years old. She hires Mr. Wolfe to save her father from being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit in the face of extraordinary opposition. Her mother, as well as Dan Kalmus, her father’s lawyer, even her father himself tell her, beg her, even order her to stop. But she sticks with it, because as she explains to Archie and Mr. Wolfe, this is the first good thing she’s ever done.
But to me, the ultimate gal who does the right thing in Mr. Stout’s world is Lily Rowan. If the best the timid can expect is to go unnoticed, it’s fitting that we celebrate Lily 75 years after she was first introduced to the world. Timid, she’s not. Lily is bold and fearless. Some might even call her brazen. There was the time, for example, during World War II, that she used her pull and pierced the military wall of silence to find out which flight Archie was on.—can you imagine the chutzpah that took? (By the way, Lily is also the only woman in the United States who ever necked with Mr. Wolfe, but that’s a tale for another time.) Lily personifies commitment and passion. She’s generous and kind, the sort of person you want in your corner when push comes to shove. That’s the kind of character I love rooting for, and that’s why I’m such a fan of Lily.
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Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Blood Rubies by Jane K. Cleland, the latest in a series featuring another Lily, Lily Prescott of the world of antiques, that is. To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below. TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In! Blood Rubies Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2014/12/some-buried-caesar-75-years-of-rex-stouts-high-ground-gal-lily-rowan-jane-k-cleland beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) December 4, 2014. Sweepstakes ends 110:59 a.m. ET December 11, 2014. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Jane K. Cleland once owned an antiques and rare books business in New Hampshire, and now lives in New York City. Her first novel, Consigned to Death, was an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association bestseller and was nominated for the Macavity, Agatha, and David book awards. The second in the series, Deadly Appraisal, won the David Award for Best Novel, as did the seventh, Dolled Up for Murder.