The following is a post I just made to the Wolfe Mailing List and thought it would be good to archive here.
Even though I know that today (8/23/09) we are supposed to start (not) discussing “Man Alive” from “Three Doors to Death “, I thought I would post this about the book we just finished (not) discussing. 🙂
Just reread In the Best Families and noted a couple of points that I thought were interesting. I seem to remember at least some of this coming up in discussion before but a quick search in my very limited email archives didn’t show anything so thought I would post this.
The copy I read this time was the Bantam paperback 8th printing printed in Sept 1984, and that’s what the page numbers I am giving are based on.
The first bit I noted was on the first page of the first chapter and is related to Archie’s salary. The person Archie is talking about is Mrs. Barry Rackham, who has called and wants to see Wolfe on business. The relevant text is as follows:
On the main point of interest, could she and did she pay her bills, the news was favorable: she was worth a good four million and maybe five. Calling it four, and assuming that Wolfe’s bill for services rendered would come to only half of it, that would be enough to pay my current salary – as Wolfe’s secretary, trusted assistant and official gnat – for a hundred and sixty-seven years; and in addition to that, living as I did there in Wolfe’s house, I also got food and shelter. So I was fixed for life if it turned out that she needed two million buck’s worth of detective work.
So in a round about way he tells us how much he makes a year. 2 million divided by 167 is $11976.05 if we round up and $11976.04 if rounding down. From that I am assuming he means he makes $12,000.00 a year which breaks down to an even $1,000.00 a month but if taken even further and divided by weeks is not quite so even and comes to $230.77 a week. Any way you figure it, in 1950 dollars that is a nice little pay check.
I used the Consumer Price Index based financial calculator at http://www.minneapolisfed.org/ to do a bit of figuring on what he would be bringing in today. According to the site the following is how they do the calculation.
The CPI for 1950 = 24.1
The CPI for 2009 = 213.2
And they use the following formula to compute the calculation:
2009 Price = 1950 Price x (2009 CPI / 1950 CPI)
So that means his weekly pay now would be $2041.50 = $230.77 x (213.2/24.1)
Which would put his yearly salary at $106,157.68. Not bad for a gum shoe! And that’s NOT figuring in room and board which in New York City would be a hefty sum!
The second bit that jumped out at me this time through the book is that Archie tells his age! Or at least comes as close as any time “I” remember in the Corpus. On page 17 Leeds is talking about the folks they will meet at the Mrs. Rackham’s house, and says:
“You and me,” he said, “and my cousin and her husband, and Mrs. Frey, whom you have met, and Hammond, and the statesman, that’s seven-”
“Who’s the statesman?”
“Oliver A. Pierce.”
“I’m intimate with lots of statesmen, but I never heard of him.”
“Don’t let him know it.” Leeds chuckled. “It’s true that at thirty-four he has only got as far as state assemblyman, but the war made a gap for him the same as for other young men. Give him a chance. One will be enough.”
Then on page 19 Archie tells us:
Pierce was a smooth article. His manner was, of course, based on the law of nature regulating the attitude of an elected person toward everybody old enough to vote, but his timing and variations were so good that it was hard to recognize it, although he was only about my age.
And goes on with Pierce’s description, but the above was the part that interested me. Archie is telling us that he is about 34 years old. Now the first book in the series, Fer-de-Lance, was written in 1933 and this one, In the Best Families, was written in 1950, which gives us 17 year’s between them. Extrapolating from the above statements that he is 34, he would have been 17 when the first story came out and would have been born in 1916, neither of which fit in with other bits from elsewhere in the corpus. So either he is not telling the truth about his age (Not that Archie would EVER prevaricate!) or as has been discussed in far greater depth than I am prepared to go into here, Stout changed their ages to suit his self as the series progressed. As I said just a point I found interesting.
All in all a very good read and I quite enjoyed rereading it.
Comments, corrections, and discussion welcomed.
AKA Albert Freyer