Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: "Butch Minds the Baby" by Damon Runyon

I read my first story by Damon Runyon in Detective Stories, selections by Philip Pullman. My husband and I discussed the story and he mentioned some movies that were based on Runyon's stories. The most well-known is Guys and Dolls but there are many others, including Little Miss Marker with Shirley Temple and Lady for a Day, with Warren William and May Robson (later remade as Pocketful of Miracles with Bette Davis). 

The story in Detective Stories is "Butch Minds the Baby" and Pullman admits that it is not really a detective story. Three hoodlums tried to steal a  company payroll but the plan did not succeed and the payroll was transferred to an office safe temporarily. The three hoodlums are from Brooklyn and their names are Harry the Horse, Little Isadore, and Spanish John. 

They need someone who can open a safe. Big Butch has these skills but he doesn't want to participate because he has already been in Sing Sing three times, but mostly because he is minding his baby. However, they talk Butch into bringing the baby along so that he can open the safe for him.

I realized later that the story was written in first person, present tense, which surprised me because I usually don't enjoy stories in present tense. 

"Butch Minds the Baby" was made into a 1942 American comedy of the same name. The film stars Virginia Bruce, Broderick Crawford, and Shemp Howard.

We decided to purchase Guys and Dolls and Other Writings by Damon Runyon. I have read the first two stories in that book, both from The Broadway Stories section ("Romance in the Roaring Forties" and "A Very Honorable Guy"). I enjoyed both of those stories also. 

I love Runyon's writing style. It is engaging and very humorous. Too bad I did not discover him earlier.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Moonflower Murders: Anthony Horowitz

Moonflower Murders is the sequel to an earlier book by Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders. In both books the main character is Susan Ryeland, and both feature the "book within a book" format. I did not review Magpie Murders and looking back, I can understand why. It was one of those books that is very difficult to review without revealing too much. 

As Moonflower Murders begins, retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living with her boyfriend Andreas, running a small hotel that they own on the Greek island of Crete. She thought this would be an idyllic existence, but she is exhausted with the responsibilities and is having doubts about her relationship with Andreas. 

Then Lawrence and Pauline Treherne visit their hotel, and tell Susan about a murder that happened eight years earlier in their hotel in Sussex.  One of her authors, Alan Conway, visited the Treherne's hotel after the murder and used characters from the actual murder in his next book. Now, their daughter Cecily is missing, and this happened immediately after she read Conway's book and told them that she had discovered who was really responsible for the murder. They approach Susan because she edited the book and was responsible for it being published. 

The Trehernes ask Susan to return to the UK, read the book, and see if she can figure out what has happened to Cecily and what clue she found related to the murder. This seems a bit extreme but they offer to pay her $10,000, which Susan could use to keep her small hotel afloat. 

That summary of the premise for the book sounds complicated – and leaves a lot out – but it does make more sense when you read the book. 

I liked everything about this book. I will confess to getting impatient with some parts of the story, and wondering why Susan takes so long to get to reading the book by Alan Conway (although she is of course already familiar with the story). But I was very happy about how Susan's story comes together in the end. And in Susan Ryeland, the author created a character that I cared about.

The book by Conway is placed almost at the middle of the book and is a complete mystery, complete with cover, copyright page, title page, and dedication page. It is a historical mystery, set in the 1950s, featuring a famous private detective somewhat like Hercule Poirot. 

The "outer" story (set in the present) is a very good puzzle mystery and when it was solved, I felt like the clues and the plot supported the resolution. Sometimes in a puzzle mystery I end up feeling like the author has just thrown in a resolution almost out of the blue. I enjoyed the inner book, set in the 1950s, but I did not feel like it was as challenging as the main story. Together they worked very well, though, at least for me.

Although both Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders share a main character and have a similar format, Horowitz labels them as standalone books on his website. I agree that this book can stand alone, but it does reveal some parts of Magpie Murders, if the reader wants to go back to read that one.

I first knew of Anthony Horowitz as one of the creators of the Midsomer Murders TV show and then later, Foyle's War. However he has done many other things. He is the author of a young adult spy fiction series which has recently been adapted as a television series. And he has written two Sherlock Holmes novels, a James Bond novel, and two other adult mysteries.

I am including this book in my submissions for the European Reading Challenge for Greece, since the book begins and ends in Greece, and that setting is lovingly described.


Publisher:  Harper, 2020
Length:      580 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      UK, Greece
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Nonfiction November: New books on my TBR

This is the fourth week of Nonfiction November, hosted at Doing Dewey. Go there to check out other posts for this week. The theme this week is: What books have I added to my TBR during the month? 

The books listed below are on my list to add to my shelves in 2021, and two of them have already been purchased. Following the description of each is a link to the blog where I learned about the book.

Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori, with illustrations by Lucille Clerc

The author picks 80 interesting trees from various places in the world to describe and provide interesting facts about. This book has already been physically added to my TBR stacks. 

At Still Life, with Cracker Crumbs

From the description at Goodreads:
"For 337 days, award-winning wildlife cameraman Lindsay McCrae intimately followed 11,000 emperor penguins amid the singular beauty of Antarctica."

Suggested by Book' Out

A nonfiction account of the custom of bacha posh, where girls are raised and presented to the world as boys. I also want to read The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi, a novel about that ancient custom in Afghanistan.

The March Trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (Writers),  Nate Powell (Artist)

Three nonfiction graphic novels about the Civil rights movement told from the perspective of John Lewis. Especially of interest because Lewis grew up in Alabama (where I grew up) and I lived for a year in Selma, Alabama.

I have read three other books on the 1918 pandemic this year and had been wondering what other books on the subject I could find. When I saw this at Deb Nance's blog, I remembered that my husband had purchased the Kindle version of this book. So I will be reading that one, probably in 2021. See Deb Nance's review at Goodreads.

Seen at Readerbuzz

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Arms Maker of Berlin: Dan Fesperman

Description from the book's dust jacket:

This powerfully suspenseful new novel from Dan Fesperman takes us deep into the early 1940s in Switzerland and Germany as it traces the long reach of the wartime intrigues of the White Rose student movement, which dared to speak out against Hitler.

When Nat Turnbull, a history professor who specializes in the German resistance, gets the news that his estranged mentor, Gordon Wolfe, has been arrested for possession of stolen World War II archives, he’s hardly surprised that, even at the age of eighty-four, Gordon has gotten himself in trouble. But what’s in the archives is staggering: a spymaster’s trove missing since the end of the war, one that Gordon has always claimed is full of “secrets you can’t find anywhere else . . . live ammunition.”

This book is a mixture of adventure novel and spy thriller. History professor Nat Turnbull gets mixed up with the FBI when his former mentor is arrested for stealing important documents. Initially, I had a bit of a problem with the FBI sending a professor to investigate for them, but they needed an expert to examine the papers and interpret them, and they do keep tabs on him. And pay his travel expenses. The story begins in New York, moves to the National Archives in Washington, DC, then to Berlin, Germany and Bern, Switzerland and back to the US, in Florida.There are many surprises along the way that connect back to Gordon Wolfe's role in intelligence in Switzerland towards the end of the war.

The novel includes a second storyline set during World War II, related to the secrets in the papers that are missing, possibly stolen by Gordon. Kurt Bauer's family owned an armaments firm that is important to the war effort. Kurt is in his teens and falls in love with a young woman active in the White Rose resistance group. He is torn between his loyalty to his family and his desire to keep his girlfriend safe.

I loved this book; it did have a slow start, but there is lots of action towards the end. I like dual timelines, and the topic, World War II secrets and spies, was perfect for me. The ending was fantastic.

I am submitting this book for Switzerland in the European Reading Challenge because a major theme in this book is the espionage and international intrigue in Switzerland during World War II, especially the later years of the war.


Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
Length:       367 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Settings:     US, Germany, Switzerland
Genre:        Spy thrilller
Source:       On my TBR pile since 2010.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: Two Stories from Crimson Snow


Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, is an anthology of vintage crime stories published by the British Library in 2016. I have only read a few of the stories so far but I am sure I will read all of them before Christmas. Both of the stories I have selected for today's post are set at Christmas.

"The Chopham Affair" by Edgar Wallace 

Edgar Wallace was a very prolific writer and his books were very popular in his day, but I never thought that his stories or novels would appeal to me. Looking back to my review of Silent Nights, another anthology of Christmas short stories edited by Martin Edwards, I was surprised to see that my favorite story in that collection, "Stuffing," was also by Edgar Wallace. (Although Martin Edwards erroneously states in his Introduction that Margery Allingham was the only author featured in both Silent Nights and Crimson Snow.) 

"The Chopham Affair" deals with the fate of a man who makes his living by blackmailing women on a long term basis. The setup is well done and the story has a nice twist. It was very entertaining and I liked the writing style. I guess I should be seeking out more stories by Edgar Wallace.

Per Project Gutenberg Australia, the story was first published as "The Chobham Affair" in The Strand Magazine in 1930 and was collected as "The Chopham Affair" in The Woman from the East, 1934.

"The Man with the Sack" by Margery Allingham

I am a big fan of Margery Allingham's novels but haven't read many of her short stories. 

This is an Albert Campion story. Campion receives two invitations to spend Christmas at Pharaoh's Court with the Turretts. The first is from Lady Turrett, who makes it fairly plain that she is only inviting him to be an unpaid private detective while a wealthy family with expensive jewelry are visiting. Campion plans to decline the invitation. Lady Turrett's daughter Sheila also invites him for Christmas, and describes it as "poisonous," primarily due to the wealthy visitors and her mother's antagonism toward her boyfriend. Albert relents, and joins them on Christmas Eve. There is a party for the village children at Pharaoh's court, with a Santa giving out gifts. The ending is not surprising, but the story is fun.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Classics Club Spin #25

One of the events offered by The Classics Club is The Classics Club Spin. Spin #25 has just been announced. On Sunday 22nd November, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read, review and post about whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by January 31, 2021. That gives me plenty of time to read any of the books on my list, so no pressure or angst involved.

Members who participate list twenty books from their classics list that they have not read. As usual, my list is mostly the same as the one I used for the previous spin. I added my latest purchases, Rebecca and Little Women. My main concern for this list is to pick books that I already have a copy of on my shelves.

So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin.

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe   [209 pages]
  2. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte   [452 pages]
  3. Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier  [410 pages]
  4. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  5. Anna Karenina (1878) by Leo Tolstoy  [over 800 pages]
  6. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene   [180 pages]
  7. In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes
  8. Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov  
  9. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  10. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  11. The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford
  12. The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy   [200 pages]
  13. Much Ado About Nothing (1598) by William Shakespeare
  14. Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott  [460 pages]
  15. Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen   
  16. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker    [420 pages]
  17. The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame 
  18. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  19. The Invisible Man (1897) by H.G. Wells
  20. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson