William Saroyan: The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse

May 21, 2009

The narrator is a nine-year-old boy by name Aram. One day he is awakened by his cousin Mourad, who is only a little older than himself. When Aram looks out the window he sees his cousin sitting on a white horse.

He quitely slips out of home and the boys have a ride on the horse.

Where did Mourad get the animal? Did he steal it? How long did he keep it? How did he return the horse to its rightful owner? What was the latter’s reaction to the ‘lost and found’ incident?

An evocative story that reflects the gentle,  honest and trusting spirit of the Armenian community displaced in California from their homeland. The boys’ responsiveness to animals is touching.

I reread the story that is included in Great Tales of the Far West (Pyramid Books).


Jeffrey Archer: Something for Nothing

May 20, 2009

A modern story by a well-known author that may be classified under “Suspense” or “Thriller”. This week I read his latest book “Paths of Glory” – okay, readable, but true story or biography is not his métier and he has said that he won’t do it again.

Today’s selection is in “To Cut a Long Story Short”   (HarperCollinsPublishers,  2000).

I have ticked it in the Contents page  – that means I read it when I bought the book some nine years ago. But things tend to fade in memory. Halfway through the story, I thought I guessed how it would go, but these thriller writers can always give a twist to a twist!

While talking to his mother on the telephone, a man gets “crossed lines” and happens to overhear a rendezvous for passing of some ransom money. He makes a dash for the venue and manages to get hold of it. He also gets away! But getting ‘something for nothing’ is fraught with danger.

The story is well-written – the incidents are plausible because the clever author prepares the reader for any twist that he might give. (And the  kind of things he describes is not strange at all because the typical day’s paper has stories of similar happenings right here in Madras.)

But the twists? If only we have a chance to encounter such dramatic turns in our life, which usually runs on such predictable lines: well-oiled even keel.

The  type size  is so small in the book that I don’t think I will return to any other story in it.

Guy de Maupassant: Simon’s Father

May 19, 2009

Simon is a young boy born to a woman who had succumbed to a momentary temptation. The poor woman is abandoned by the man who seduced her.

The boy is constantly ragged by schoolmates for his not having a father.

He becomes dejected and is on the verge of drowning himself in the river (if you think how a young boy can get such suicidal tendencies, the author prepares us for it quite adequately) when good fortune comes.

This story, written in the 19th century, has relevance even today with so many men, after fathering a child, does not take up the responsibility of parenting. And the ragging of Simon by his schoolmates seems to be less vehement than certain incidents that happened recently in our country.

A companion story is “Hauto and Son” (which I first read years ago in a magazine put out by the French embassy in New Delhi and have since reread it twice) but I don’t think I will write about it here. It is available online and you may track it down.

Here is the link to today’s selection:


(Will do, though the translation that I read in the book in my library, The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life’s Journey ed. by William J. Bennett (Simon & Schuster, 1995) is better.


“I am about to drown myself because I have no father.”

James Holding: Second Talent

May 18, 2009

Let’s have a mystery story today. Manuel Andradas, a photographer, surprises Senhor Martinho relaxing in a chaise in the back garden of his mansion. He produces a gun and tells Martinho that he has been hired by a corporation to kill him. The rich collector points to some antiquities lying around him and tempts the intruder to spare him and walk away with any of those valuable things instead. He then bluffs that those things are in fact worthless and lures the man with the gun to an inner room in his house to show him the most precious thing in his possession.

In no other story that I have read such a long conversation takes place between a hired killer and the prospective victim.

Did a murder take place? If so, who was it who died? Was the murderer brought to book?

Just as the photographer had a ‘second talent’ – for killing – the rich collector too perhaps had his own ‘second talent’.

An unusual story indeed by the American mystery writer. I read it for the second time. Included in A Treasury of Modern Mysteries, Vol 2 (Doubleday, 1973), a book that I retrieved this morning from a carton up in a loft in my room till now.


“I am here to kill you, and I shall do so. Never doubt it.”

“Then why not get it over?”

Roald Dahl: Lamb to the Slaughter

May 16, 2009

This is a murder story.

A scene of domestic felicity suddenly takes a turn for the worse.

The wife calls the police and the arms of the law arrive: some of these are attached to friends of the murdered man who was a colleague of theirs.

Yesterday I said that in a murder case corpus delicti is vital; another clue the police look for is the weapon that was used in the crime. Perpetrators of murder, however, devise ingenious ways to hide it.

I have read this story to a gathering of some 15 or 20 people in my home; they liked it and no-one protested. But if you are squeamish, don’t read the story.



“It’s the old story,” he said.  “Get the weapon, and you’ve got the man.”

Lord Dunsany: Two Bottles of Relish

May 15, 2009

The speaker in this famous first-person narrative  is a salesman of a branded relish. He chooses London as his base, but as he cannot afford the rent of an apartment in the big city, he manages to persuade an Oxford-educated scholar to let him share the latter’s premises.

One day the hot news of a murder in a suburb comes up during the conversation between the two room-mates and the narrator, who has great respect for his co-tenant’s knowledge, appeals to him to try and solve the crime which is baffling the police and the detectives.

The educated man agrees he will, though he observes that a chess problem is more interesting to solve than a murder mystery. He never leaves his flat. He does the thinking while the narrator does the footwork.

The narrator  goes to the suburb in the course of pushing the relish and gathers details of the murder, the suspect who cannot be pinned down for lack of evidence (in any murder case corpus delicti is important, you know), the scene of crime, the policemen’s findings, the detectives’ reasonings and so on.  He gossips with the villagers from whom he gathers a lot of information about the suspect – his movements, or lack of them, the purchases he made in the local grocery store and so on.

As the two roommates sit down for their supper one evening and talk of this and that as they eat, the scholar sees it all in a flash. He has solved the crime and the murderer can be be nabbed.

Try as I might I did not get a link to this 1932 story, which is included in two books that I have.

See if you can get it in any anthology in the local library.

I had a companion story in mind and did not expect the text of that one by a recent author to be available online, but it’s there! What ironies! About that story, tomorrow!

Guy de Maupassant: An Uncomfortable Bed

May 14, 2009

I have some favourite short stories of this author. As I was trying to trace them out online  (my own books being in an inaccessible place right now), I came upon this story.

The title attracted me and I read it – for the first time. As it bears some resemblance to yesterday’s “A Terribly Strange Bed”,  I chose this for today.

Read it and have a laugh!




“Here are people who have more than their share of amusement, and apparently without reason. They must have planned some good joke. Assuredly I am to be the victim of the joke. Attention!”