Books by William Murray

Released: Sept. 13, 2005

"Murray has left as his final gift a lovely book of song. (8 pp. b&w photo insert)"
A season in the lives of young singers struggling get noticed in the demanding world of opera, alluringly told by prolific writer and tenor Murray (City of the Soul, 2003, etc.). Read full book review >
CITY OF THE SOUL by William Murray
Released: Feb. 1, 2003

"As a young man, newly returned to Rome and insufficiently hungry to learn its fabulous history, Murray was upbraided by an aunt for his ignorance: 'You cannot live in Rome like a barbarian.' He took her advice to heart and learned his lessons well."
From the deft pen of New Yorker writer Murray (Janet, My Mother, and Me, 2000, etc.), an amiable, unhurried, and character-driven walking tour of Rome. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2000

A thoughtful portrait of two forceful, talented women, their lives while together and apart, and their enormous impact on the life and career of the author. Murray, a longtime New Yorker staff writer and author of the Shifty Lou Anderson racetrack mysteries (A Fine Italian Hand, 1996, etc.), was 14 in 1940 when his mother, Natalia, then 38, began a lifelong love affair with Flanner, ten years her senior. He describes Flanner, who became a sort of surrogate father, as a "wonderfully genial eagle" and a "benevolent angel" who provided counsel, guidance, and support; his mother, "an explosive force of nature," was both his greatest friend and most dangerous antagonist. Although Murray opens his account with Flanner's death in 1978 and then shifts back to the 1940 meeting, the narrative is basically chronological, interweaving their life stories and his own. Both Murray and his mother, who was born in Rome, lived at various times in Italy as well as the US; Flanner, whose New Yorker column, "Letter from Paris," established her as a brilliant journalist, spent most of her time in France, moving to New York to live with Natalia only in 1975, after she retired. The extended separation of the two women, though for a time the source of unhappiness, also nurtured and sustained the love affair, Murray thinks. Keenly appreciative of Flanner's writing, he lingers over her work and over her relationship with the New Yorker editors, as he does his own efforts to find his voice as a writer and his New Yorker experiences. By comparison, his mother's career in publishing gets short shrift. Natalia Murray, who wrote a more guarded account of her relationship with Flanner in Darlinghissima (1985), would probably be disconcerted by this one; to Flanner's many admirers it will be both revealing and gratifying. (8 pages b&w photos) Read full book review >
A FINE ITALIAN HAND by William Murray
Released: May 1, 1996

Shifty Lou Anderson, forsaking his beloved Santa Anita Racetrack for the International Brotherhood of Magicians conference in Milan, finds Italy nothing if not decorative. There's aspiring model Bobby Jo Dawson, the cynosure of every lecherous Italian eye; established model Parker Williams, the Ice Princess, who leaves a trail of frustrated men in her wake; and Francesco Pirro, the uninhibited freelance photographer who takes the first pictures of Bobby Jo's body after she's found on the shore of Lake Lugano, beaten, raped, and drowned. Bobby Jo's father Jake, a Kentucky breeder who knows Shifty just well enough to ask a favor, wants him to stay in Milan in order to ship the body home and keep the pressure on investigating magistrate Angela Tedeschi. Tedeschi is studiously avoiding any interest in Bobby Jo's violent, well-connected squire, Adriano Barone—even though Barone's industrialist father ruined her own father years and years ago. For Shifty, who last saw Bobby Jo drugged and feebly struggling with Adriano's fast friends at a wild party, it's an offer he can't refuse. What Shifty can't know is that despite his continued success at the track and the card table, and the way he wows the ladies with his sleight of hand, he's the slowest player in the game this time. More Cook's tour than mystery, with Shifty dismayingly out of his league, but Murray's eighth (Now You See Her, Now You Don't, 1994, etc.) does save a pair of handsome surprises for the end. Read full book review >
NOW YOU SEE HER, NOW YOU DON'T by William Murray
Released: Oct. 26, 1994

Horseplaying magician Shifty Lou Anderson, whose eye for horseflesh is a lot sharper than his instinct for women, is involved with a suitably unsuitable new lady: Megan Starbuck, a PR consultant for Wayne Copeland, a movie star with big political plans that are being financed by a right-wing fund-raising octopus called America One. The trouble with Megan is that she keeps disappearing from San Diego, saying she'll call and then jetting off to L.A. or Washington, or getting phone calls at 5 a.m. and asking Shifty to leave. The sex is great, Shifty concedes, but he wonders if he'll ever have breakfast or a conversation with her. As the Del Mar racing season breezes through the summer, Wayne— buoyed by the continued success of his horse Superpatriot, ``America's horse,'' an animal whose winnings are donated to all the right charities—seems to be gearing for a run for the White House. But the more brief encounters Shifty savors with Megan, the more he's troubled by the bad things that happen to Wayne's entourage—the execution of America One founder Bob Goldman and his family, the beating of Superpatriot's groom, the murder of Wayne's inoffensive wife—and the more he wonders where Megan's been spending all her time outside the sheets. Ross Perot with the presence of John Wayne makes an amusingly scary conceit for a political thriller, but Murray (We're Off to See the Killer, 1993, etc.) never allows the thriller to take wings because he's left his heart in Del Mar; only the racing background blooms with his customary alchemy. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 13, 1993

Lackluster seventh outing for gambler/magician Shifty Lou Anderson (the excellent The King of the Nightcap, 1989, etc.), now spending a few months watching over the stables while horse trainer Charlie Pickard recovers from bypass surgery and trying to make sense of horse owner Roger Baldwin's insistence on having smarmy jockey Daryl Spencer up on his ponies. The Vegas Sports Books go crazy, and it's obvious that dirty dealing (money laundering?) is going on. Meanwhile, a small-time hustler, a phone-for-sex girl, and a repulsive goon die as Shifty scrutinizes track tote boards and ogles the lewd activities staged by Baldwin associate Gene Aramis and his heavy-betting, sultry pal Alma (who steals Shifty's most recent love, May, from him). There'll be two horse calamities- -and more—but Shifty will still handicap a few Del Mar winners before things wrap up. Magic tricks and quirky characters galore, but Shifty's soured romance makes him testy company. Moreover, there's surprisingly loose—and dull—writing from the usually adroit Murray, whose plot this time around runs well out of the money. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1992

An amiable, anecdotal memoir of a professional writer's perdurable, albeit oft-unrequited, love affair with thoroughbred horses. New Yorker regular Murray, author of the Shifty Anderson racetrack-mystery series (I'm Getting Killed Right Here, 1991, etc.) and other books, recalls how, as a preppy teenager, he contracted an unshakable case of horse fever once he was introduced to the pleasures of the track by a cousin's sporty husband. Having pursued his long-shot avocation while making a solid career for himself as a journalist and author, Murray (a well-born fugitive from Park Avenue) now offers a witty, often rueful account of life as an improver of the breed. A sometime owner, as well as inveterate bettor who appreciates the thrills of victory and agonies of defeat, he provides perceptive assessments of what makes individual punters, jockeys, trainers, handicappers, grooms, and a host of other racing denizens run. Nor does Murray scant the magnificent—if frequently frustrating and heartbreakingly fragile- -beasts on which the track's two-legged animals focus at world- class as well as also-ran courses on the county-fair circuit throughout the US. Covered in addition is the widely ignored reality that gambling underpins the industry that calls itself the sport of kings. An idiosyncratic tour of domestic racing likely to appeal to horseplayers as well as their civilian counterparts. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 12, 1991

The further adventures of magician/horseplayer Shifty Anderson, who, in order to afford the upkeep on the filly Mad Margaret (left to him in The Hard Knocker's Luck, 1985), becomes horseflesh partners with rich, cruel, and possessive builder Michael Cameron and his heart-stoppingly beautiful wife Linda. At Sovereign Acres, where ``Maggie'' is moved to recover from shinsplints, manager Win Freeman remarkably resembles Linda, who is so drawn to him that she stops dallying with Shifty and begins a heated affair with her male look-alike. When Win is killed, Shifty asks questions of Sovereign Acres owner Judge Jed Hunter, who treated Win like a son (to the disgust of his wife) and whose legal career may not have earned him nearly as much money as his association with the crooked Cameron and the indicted Fazzini Brothers. Between races and beatings, Shifty uncovers a sorry tale of past adultery, unacknowledged births, arson, and a ruthless scheme to co-opt local water rights in order to bring Sovereign Acres into being. More importantly, Mad Margaret wins by a lip. Only someone with Murray's great skill would dare twins as a clue (and even he barely pulls it off). But for Runyonesque dialogue, picaresque racetrack vignettes, and great verve, Murray gallops in a winner. Read full book review >
THE LAST ITALIAN by William Murray
Released: June 17, 1991

A look at modern-day Italy by a New Yorker writer who spent part of his childhood in the peninsula and has been returning for extended visits ever since. This book of essays picks up where Murray's earlier memoirs left off (Italy: The Fatal Gift, 1982). In an attempt to get beneath the picture-perfect Italy described by most guidebooks, Murray delves into the country's back streets, talking to the ``little people''—waiters, shopkeepers, etc.—and into its darkest secrets, exploring such recent scandals as the collapse of the Rizzoli publishing empire and the murder of Italian playboy Francesco D'Alessio by American model Terry Broome. Some of his essays are place-oriented, others center on people, but all portray a complex culture afflicted by industrialized ills yet still imbued with a strong sense of the past. Murray is at his best when making small insightful observations (``the old people seem, in a way, to be mourning for a way of life which is vanishing'') or relaying surprising tidbits of information (murder is rare in Rome). His essays on Sperlonga, once a poor village, now a fashionable resort; on Naples, ``an elegant old invalid'' still recovering from the earthquake of 1980, and on the D'Alessio affair are especially fascinating. Still other essays fall surprisingly flat. Murray is occasionally repetitious (his Pozzuoli and Naples chapters are very similar) and bland. The book lacks cohesion as well, and although he tries to bring it all together through his final portrait of ``The Last Italian,'' ``living out his last the streets of San Francisco,'' the conceit doesn't quite work. But despite the lack of a strong unifying shape and occasional weak spots, Murray's thoughtful, well-written essays offer unusual insight into the daily concerns of late-20th-century Italy. Read full book review >