Monday, 4 July 2016

4th of July Picnic by Rex Stout

 
first published as the short story “The Labor Union Murder" in the July 9, 1957, issue of Look magazine

first published in book form in the short-story collection And Four to Go, 1958

 
 
4th July 2



The tent, on a wooden platform raised three feet above the ground, not much bigger than Wolfe’s office, was crowded with people, and I wormed through to the front entrance and on out, where the platform extended into the open air. There was plenty of air, with a breeze dancing in from the direction of the ocean, and plenty of sunshine. A fine day for the Fourth of July. The platform extension was crammed with chairs, most of them empty. I can’t report on the condition of the meadow’s grass because my view was obstructed by ten thousand restaurant workers and their guests, maybe more. A couple of thousand of them were in a solid mass facing the platform, presumably those who wanted to be up front for the speeches, and the rest were sprayed around all over, clear across to a fringe of trees and a row of sheds.


 
4th July 1

 

HAPPY 4TH OF JULY TO ALL BLOG READERS


commentary: This story is distinctive as showing Nero Wolfe travelling a good way from home – he has left the brownstone on West 35th St NY to travel upstate for a 4th July picnic. He has been asked to make a speech at the Independence Day picnic of the United Restaurant Workers of America.

I don’t think it’s one of Wolfe’s finest moments, but it was enjoyable enough, and I very much liked the description of the union members out for their celebration. In fact, I’d have liked more about the picnic and the rally, but of course a murder is going to intervene, and the investigation must take priority.

Three of the four stories in this collection were keyed to specific celebrations: Christmas, Easter and this one. The fourth one, Murder is No Joke, should have been right up my street – it deals with a small but highly influential fashion house
Gallant was crowding two others for top ranking in the world of high fashion. He thumbed his nose at Paris and sneered at Rome, and was getting away with it. He had refused to finish three dresses for the Duchess of Harwynd because she postponed flying over from London for fittings. He declined to make anything whatever for a certain famous movie actress because he didn’t like the way she handled her hips when she walked. He had been known to charge as little as eight hundred dollars for an afternoon frock, but it had been for a favorite customer so he practically gave it away.

-- there is all kinds of trouble in the workrooms and offices, culminating in death. But the clothes were incidental and the crime too easy to solve. There was a trick that reminded me of one in a Cyril Hare book. Not quite enough to justify its own blogpost.

But And Four to Go was a nice collection – Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery first put me onto it – and I liked the date-themed stories. The Jane Haddam introduction to more recent editions of the book (from 1992) is also well worth reading.

More Rex Stout entries for our recent Tuesday Night Club – click on the author label below.

The pictures are not related to the story but are too good not to use. Marilyn Monroe being patriotic in a bathing suit (and, fair play, warning of danger), and silent star Colleen Moore dressed as Uncle Sam.














12 comments:

  1. Nice choice for the day, Moira! I always have a sort of sneaking liking for times when Wolfe has to travel. Every once in a while it's good to see him just a bit out of his element, so to speak. This may not be Stout's finest hour, but it's a solid story.

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    1. When I first embarked on Stout-reading, I believed this story that he never leaves the brownstone - but actually it seems to happen quite frequently in the ones I have read! Happy 4th to you and yours Margot.

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  2. I have this one and haven't gotten around to reading it yet...I have so many unread books now that I figure I can never die.

    (4th of July update: It is cloudy and unseasonably cold here, 76F. Normally in the Midwest by this time of year the daytime temperatures run between 88 and 90. If it does rain, the dogs will be happy -- no fireworks).

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    1. Happy 4th July to you Shay. I have such fond memories of the holidays when we lived in USA - Seattle so not as warm, and always the possibility of rain. But we had some fabulous days out and picnics, particularly at a place with the impressive name of Rattlesnake Lake. Happy days gone by.

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  3. Great choice for the 4th of July and thanks for the shout out. If I ever knew, and I must have, I had forgotten that it had a different title...“The Labor Union Murder", although it makes perfect sense.

    We just watched the movie 1776 which is wonderful. And on the TCM they were showing Yankee Doodle Dandy, another favorite, that we watched the last few minutes of.

    The 4th is never my favorite holiday but who can argue with a 3 day weekend, especially when I have a horrendous summer cold. And coincidentally today I was working on another Rex Stout post for Some Buried Caesar.

    And very lovely images used for this post.

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    1. thanks Tracy, and Happy 4th to you and yours. As I say above, I am very fond of the holiday, we had such great celebrations with wonderful friends.

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  4. Probably one I'd enjoy, but I'll never know. I will try Stout at some point

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    1. Happy 4th to you, even though you are in the UK. You may get round to Stout some time, but I wouldn't put this collection at the top of your list - ideal for me though..l

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    2. It is a good collection. Part of the genius of Stout is the way that he varies the format just enough for it not to get boring, but not so much that he removes the comfortable feeling of familiarity. If Wolfe were to go out jogging, bungee jumpe from the roof of the brownstone, or build a gymnasium next to the orchid room, we would rightly complain, but it's fun to see him have to shuffle on a thick coat and make his way into the big, bad world. IN THE BEST FAMILIES, which has the fimal showdown between Our Heroes and Arnold Zeck, is genuinely unnerving because of the way it overturns all of the normal routines of series, but it's all the more effective because he only pulls that particular trick once.

      I do tend to like the novellas slightly more than some of the novels, which sometimes get bogged down in the middle because Stout doesn't want the plot to move forward too quickly. That said, something like MURDER IS NO JOKE might have benefited from being given more room to breathe, with a more complex puzzle and more background.

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    3. I think there's room for a theory that authors tell you one thing about their hero, repeatedly, then happily contradict it whenever they like. Poirot is forever saying he just thinks, doesn't act, isn't searching for clues or doing anything physical. But in fact he's forever rushing round being active. And Wolfe is described in that certain way, so we all accept it, but there's a lot of breaches in the routine in fact...
      I haven're read In the Best Families - I must get to it, having already read 2 other Zeck books.

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  5. I must get hold of this collection. Nero Wolfe leaving home? Amazing. His agoraphobia must have been raging.

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    1. I think it's a nice set of stories. And yes, heaved himself out of the chair...

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