When are you guaranteed that an after-dinner speaker won’t be dull? Why, when he drops dead, of course, having gotten himself murdered! It’s what happens to Cheney Boone, head of a federal agency called the Bureau of Price Regulation (BPR). And while its opponents, such as the National Industrial Association (NIA) are rejoicing, Nero Wolfe sets out to find the killer.
This is for the excellent reason that Nero Wolfe’s bank is not particularly pleased to have him as a client at the moment... With the funds stretched to their limits, Archie pesters his boss until Wolfe accepts a high retainer from the NIA to discover the killer. How nice of the NIA— but the real motive for the hiring is that the NIA wishes to find the killer ASAP and stop the discrediting rumours about the organization.
These men are “big fish” who do not tolerate being badgered or anything of the sort. Even Inspector Cramer seems powerless against them, and when a second murder occurs right outside of Nero Wolfe’s brownstone, a new cop is brought onto the case with a vision for “disciplining” Wolfe. He even forces the great man to leave his brownstone!
But this book actually contains more of an actual investigation, and the puzzle has got to be one of the finest in the Stout canon. Wolfe and Archie do banter occasionally, and they interact with the police in a very different way, but these for once seem to take a backseat to the plot. It’s a good one. All the clues are there and the killer is well-hidden.
But let’s bring the focus back to Nero Wolfe. The Silent Speaker has got some of Wolfe’s finest moments. When the final page rolls along, Wolfe graciously accepts a fee far higher than the one originally offered to him and manages to look like the humblest person on God’s Good Green Earth. You can feel his fury at being forced to leave his brownstone and you know he’s up to something near the end of the novel when he—oh, but perhaps I won’t say what he does. But suffice to say that it’s a wonderful treat you should discover for yourself. I look forward to seeing the late Maury Chaykin act it out in A&E’s adaptation of The Silent Speaker as part of their brilliant Nero Wolfe TV series.
Overall, what more can be said? Stout is always a delight and in The Silent Speaker the plot is one of his best. Wolfe and Archie’s interactions are worth their weights in gold— and those who’ve read these books know just how large a man Wolfe is! All in all, I’d consider The Silent Speaker one of the series’ small masterpieces. The well-constructed plot gains a lot from the characters and their interactions and I can honestly say I loved it from cover to cover.