Nero Wolfe’s New York is my favorite literary city. Like all compelling and believable novelistic depictions of real places, it exists somewhere between fiction and fact, reportage and make-believe. The result? A tumultuous, vibrant, and tactile metropolis, at once fashionable and bleak, awash with the stains and glories of both history and contemporary life.
“The Manhattan garment district has got everything from thirty-story marble palaces to holes in the wall. It is no place to go for a stroll, because you are off the sidewalk most of the time, detouring around trucks that are backed in or headed in, but it’s fine as a training ground for jumping and dodging, and as a refresher for reflexes. If you can come out whole from an hour in those cross streets in the Thirties you’ll be safe anywhere in the world. So I felt I had accomplished something when I walked into the entrance of 340 West 37th Street at ten o’clock Wednesday morning.”—The Mother Hunt (1963)
Through this world saunters the irrepressible Archie Goodwin. Nero Wolfe’s second-in-command is always in his element, even when he shouldn’t be. By night and by day, whether flirting with heiresses at penthouse parties or skittering through greasy alleyways in pursuit of murderers or thieves, his composure rarely waivers. He stands his ground through any number of tricky situations, loosening or tightening his morality as needed but never straying too far to either side of the spectrum. Archie’s firmly maintained ambiguity is one of his greatest strengths.
“I always belong wherever I am.”—A Right to Die (1964)
In fact, Archie has lots going for him character crush-wise. Here are some of the reasons why he takes the top spot on my Sexiest Men in Literature List.
ARCHIE GOODWIN, DETECTIVE AND RIGHT-HAND-MAN:
- HE’S SMART. It’s well-known that Nero Wolfe does not get out much. If he deigns to see you, he’ll do so in his brownstone. No matter: even if he traveled to every corner of the city, he’d still be the genius in the room. Most people would quail at the thought of living and working in the shadow of such a formidable intellect. Not Archie. He knows his own value, even if he is outwardly modest as to where it comes from. “I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.”—The Red Box (1937) He possesses finely honed street smarts, a deep trench of logic, a keen eye for detail, and an impressive memory. Archie thinks on his feet without letting it show. He knows when to stay put and when to run. He’s a subtle and highly accurate people-reader who understands exactly which information his boss will find relevant. His brand of intelligence is different from Wolfe’s, but just as vital to the continued success of the business. “I’m fairly good with a billiard cue, and only Saul Panzer can beat me at tailing a man or woman in New York, but what I am best at is reporting a complicated event to Nero Wolfe.”—In the Best Families (1950)
- HE’S WITTY. OH. SO. WITTY. Archie Goodwin is the great smartass in fiction. His quick-thinking sarcasm is his overarching character trait, and the one I find the sexiest. Humor is his natural state of being, and I dig it plenty. He turns it on everyone, even himself. “I have never regarded myself as a feast for the eye, my attractions run more to the spiritual, but on the other hand I am not a toad, and I resented her expression.”—Bitter End (1940)
- HE ENJOYS GOOD FOOD. Living at the gourmand Nero Wolfe’s house means having access to Felix Brenner, one of the best chefs in the world. Although this would turn anyone into a hardcore foodie (and Archie is no exception) he is definitely not a snob. He still appreciates convenience food, and his drink of choice is a glass of cold milk. “But it really pains him (Nero Wolfe) if I am out on a prolonged errand at mealtime because I may insult my palate with a drugstore sandwich or, even worse, I may offend my stomach by leaving it empty.”—The Final Deduction (1961)
- HE’S A COMPETENT, ORGANIZED PROFESSIONAL. I love an organized man, and Archie definitely has his act together in the efficiency department. In addition to doing most of the field work for Nero Wolfe, he maintains the business end of things. He types at a high WPM, does all of the bookkeeping, and makes sure his boss’s orchid records are up-to-date. He also manages to live and work with the demanding, high-handed Nero Wolfe without bumping him off. Talk about self-control. “For what you pay me I do your mail, I make myself obnoxious to people, I tail them when necessary, I shoot when I have to and get shot at, I stick around and take every mood you’ve got, I give you and Theodore a hand in the plant room when required, I lie to Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Stebbins whether required or not, I even help Fritz in the kitchen in emergencies, I answer the phone.”—Easter Parade (1957)
- HE’S BRAVE (BUT NOT FEARLESS). Archie isn’t just an office jockey; he’s a working private detective. Every case puts him in danger, whether from suspects, cops, or a shifting combination of both. His cleverness and experience are usually all the ammunition he needs to get out of trouble; when they aren’t, his fists or gun do the trick. He’s bold, yet rarely reckless. “I will ride my luck on occasion, but I like to pick the occasion.”—Might as Well Be Dead (1956)
- HE’S A GIFTED STORYTELLER. Archie types the end-of-case reports for his boss. This is necessary, as he is the only one who knows all aspects of each job. These are detailed and complex, with every conversation relayed verbatim. Like their narrator, they are witty, charming, and entertaining. You could almost say they read like novels. “I was in custody from 3:42 p.m. Sunday, when Inspector Cramer took me down, to 11:58 a.m. Monday, when Nathaniel Parker, the lawyer Wolfe calls on when only the law will do, arrived at the District Attorney’s office with a paper signed by a judge, who had fixed the bail at $20,000. Since the average bail for material witnesses in murder cases in New York is around eight grand, that put me in an upper bracket and I appreciated the compliment.”—The Mother Hunt (1963)
- HE’S FLAWED AND CONTRADICTORY. Archie has a tendency to be cocky and blunt, two things which, admittedly, come in handy in his line of work. He plays a bit fast-and-loose with the facts of his personal background/childhood (although we know that he is from Ohio). His temper is often short and surly. He’s also charming, loyal, upbeat, fair-minded, flirtatious, fun (he loves baseball, the theatre, and nightclubs),patient, shallow, and full of integrity. He loves dames as much as they love him, is occasionally mildly sexist, but usually falls for women of intelligence, independence, and character. “I had first noticed her in the lobby of the Churchill, because she rated a glance as a matter of principle–the principle that a man owes it to his eyes to let them rest on attractive objects when there are any around.”–Frame-Up for Murder (1958/1985) Archie is, on balance, largely decent and fair-minded, if unpredictable. In other words: he’s deliciously human.
Archie Goodwin is the narrator of the Nero Wolfe series of novels and short stories penned by Rex Stout between 1934 and 1975. He has been portrayed by nearly two dozen actors across different forms of media (films, radio, and television). My favorite portrayal is that of Timothy Hutton from 2000-2002 on A&E, in the television movie The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery and the weekly show A Nero Wolfe Mystery. I think he’s the closest we’ll ever get to a flesh-and-blood Archie Goodwin. And I’m totally okay with that.
This is my (first) contribution to the 2017 Reel Infatuation Blogathon, hosted by yours truly and Ruth of Silver Screenings.
This is superb – I love everything about it.
You introduced me to Rex Stout’s fabulous writing some time ago, and now you’ve inspired me to look for the A&E series with Timothy Hutton.
So many great observations here re: Archie Goodwin, especially how he’s always in his element even when he shouldn’t be. He’s a sharp, witty man who really does tell a good story. A perfect choice for the blogathon!
Thank you so much, Ruth!
The A&E series (which began with a movie) is so much fun. Gorgeous sets and costumes, a great stock group of actors who played different parts on different episodes, and wonderfully cast main characters, Archie foremost among them. Hutton was the ideal choice.
I had so much fun writing this one. It was also really easy for me to do, since I am, as you well know, quite familiar with the books, television show, and characters.
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Love it and love Archie.
Thank you! I love Archie (as if you couldn’t tell from this post). He’s pretty wonderful.
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Each word was perfection!
I think a lot of us return again and again to Stout because Archie is such a superb creation. I agree that the Hutton series may be the closest we’ll get in a screen adaption. I remember getting the A&E magazine and seeing a full page ad for the upcoming movie/series. I audibly gasped. I knew this was it!
I currently have other reading obligations. They will have to step aside.
Oh, thank you so much for your kind words!
Archie is definitely the main reason I keep re-reading the books (along with Stout’s writing, the atmosphere, the regular supporting characters, and, of course, Wolfe). The book series has a lot going for it, and Archie is at the top of the list. On the TV end, Timothy Hutton definitely did the character justice. Plus, the A&E show was beautiful to look at, was well-cast, and had nice production values.
I’m always okay with pushing my current books aside in favor of reading Stout.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read AND comment.
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Timothy Hutton is like his Dad; very watchable 😊 I remember this show. It was hugely popular. I didn’t watch it because it came on at the same time as a other show I loved. No DRVs back then LOL
This was a fun read read … thank you x
Yes, he is. His dad died when I was but a tot, but I’ve since seen him in a bunch of things. Always very enjoyable.
I grew up reading the NW books (thanks, mom!), and we were both really excited when the show debuted. It was soooo good. Timothy Hutton is basically perfect as Archie (and, cue swooning).
You’re welcome. Thanks for reading.
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Archie Goodwin may be the greatest literary invention of all time. Well, even if we confine him to mysteries. He is our Escamillo.
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