Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Celebrating Harry Truman and Death on the Menu #bookgiveaway




LUCY BURDETTE: Key West is famous for being the home of the Harry S. Truman Little White House. The president spent a lot of working vacations on our island, and this modest place where he worked and relaxed (playing poker with members of his cabinet and members of the press) couldn't be more appealing. I have a good friend, Bill Averyt who is one of the tour guides at the Little White House and he was immensely helpful. Not only did he give me extra private tours of the backstage areas of the building, he was loaded with plot ideas.
Since the new mass market paperback edition of DEATH ON THE MENU hits bookshelves today, and since a lot of us are focused on the next presidential election, I thought it might be fun to have Bill visit with some interesting facts about Harry Truman, with a book as prize for leaving a comment of course!

LUCY:  Harry Truman spent a lot of time in Key West at the Little White House, often with other government figures and the press in attendance. But Bess Truman did not love it, so she often didn't come. (And that didn't seem to bother anyone.) Tell us something about what life was like when Harry was in residence?

Bill: Truman brought down to Key West the officials and the staff members whom he wanted to work with at that time.  It all depended of course on what the problems and the crises of that moment were, but typically the top officials would include people like the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, military officials, the Secretary of Defense (the Defense Department was created in the late 1940s; before that time we had a Secretary of War), admirals and generals, plus experts like Clark Clifford.

Truman alternated work and relaxation--usually a brisk walk in the morning and a swim later in the day on "Truman Beach"--this no longer exists, the area is now part of the Fort Zachary Taylor state park.  Truman also frequently held press conferences.  He liked to play tricks on the reporters, grilling them sometimes with trivial questions like the ones he often had to answer, like "what did you have for breakfast" and "have you called your wife today".

Truman wasn't really a fisherman.  Bess was, and he would go out deep sea fishing with her when she visited.

LUCY: One of things I admire about Harry Truman is how he stepped up after becoming president following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. Maybe no incoming president can really understand what the job will be like until he or she gets there, but some handle it with more grace and wisdom than others. Tell us a little about what he faced and how he handled that after assuming the job?

BILL: Truman had had no substantial foreign policy experience before his assuming the presidency and this was cause for a lot of apprehension when he was sworn in.  After he was sworn in the evening of April 12, 1945, he received his first national security briefing the morning of Friday, April 13--yes, Friday the Thirteenth.  Then, that morning, his security advisors told him of the existence of the atom bomb.  He had no previous knowledge of this.

Truman had to deal quickly with immense questions:  Nazi Germany collapsed in May; Truman met with Stalin and Churchill in Potsdam from mid-July to early August to decide on the occupation policy for Germany and the establishment of governments in the liberated countries of Eastern Europe.  

Just at this moment, scientists in New Mexico successfully tested the first atom bomb.  Truman had to make the momentous decision to use it against Japan, which quickly surrendered after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.  

In the following months, it became clear that the USSR would install Communist governments in Eastern Europe.  The Cold War was on.  Truman was instrumental in creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with our allies.  He obtained Congressional approval for the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Western Europe.

Truman had to handle many major crises and challenges.  His performance was not flawless.  There were a lot of stumbles in early months and minor embarrassments throughout his administration, such as petty corruption among some of his advisors.  But in retrospect, most historians consider him one of our most capable presidents.

LUCY: And there is a cat on the premises of the Little White House named Barkley. Tell us about that?


Bill: Barkley is the LWH official cat; the guides feed Barkley every day at the back door.  Barkley is named after Truman's vice president (after the 1948 election-there was no Vice President from April 1945 to Jan 1949).  But ... Barkley is a girl cat.  Never mind, this is Key West!

Lucy again: if you have other questions about Truman and the Little White House, we'll try to answer them. But here are a couple of questions I have about this bit of history...Is anyone really prepared to take on the job of president of the US? What characteristics do you think are most important for this job? Can you imagine learning of the atom bomb in your first security briefing???


About the book: Lucy Burdette, Death on the Menu from Crooked Lane Books

Food critic Hayley Snow is thrilled to be working at a three-day international conference at the Harry S. Truman Little White House. But things get off to a bad start when Hemingway’s Nobel prize gold medal (which belongs to Cuba and is on display for this weekend only) disappears. And they only get worse when a body is discovered in the storeroom. Hayley must spring into action before the killer adds another victim to his menu. 

“There’s a lot to love about this series—deft plotting, likable characters, and an ending that always satisfies. But one of the things I love the best is how the author transports her readers to Key West with every page, describing real landmarks and restaurants with such realism that I feel I’m actually there. Magical and delicious fun!”—Suspense Magazine

"Fascinating details about the Truman Little White House, Cuban American history and relations, Cuban food, and Hemingway’s years in Key West are woven through this atmospheric cozy."—Booklist

“Burdette’s loving descriptions of food and the appended recipes are an added fillip for readers who enjoy some history and romance with their mysteries.”—Kirkus Reviews


“Tightly plotted, with plenty of island-style red herrings and mouth-watering food-prep descriptions, DEATH ON THE MENU is also full of friends helping friends, and the sweetness of love.” –Kingdom Books 

Not only is the mass market edition for this book available now, ebook editions of both DEATH ON THE MENU and A DEADLY FEAST are on sale for $1.99 and 2.99 for a limited time only

58 comments:

  1. Thanks for telling us about the Little White House, Bill.

    Although I think it’s difficult for anyone to be truly prepared for the reality of the job, it had to be terribly difficult to step into the presidency in the midst of war. I’m a bit surprised that Truman wasn’t better informed about things [such as the bomb] . . . was it common to keep the vice president “isolated” from important information? It must have been quite a shock for him to learn about it . . . .

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    1. Joan, I don't think it was common at all, but I'm going to ask Bill to tell us more...

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    2. Joan, I think it depended entirely on the president as to what the VP knew.

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    3. Response from Bill: Most presidents, even up to the present, have not done a very good job on this score. Probably Trump with Pence and Obama with Biden have done more than most 20th century presidents. FDR and his political advisors chose Truman to strengthen the ticket for the 1944 election--he had a sound Senate record, supported the New Deal strongly, was able to work across the aisle, connected to an agricultural constituency, and was neither "North nor South" since Missouri was/is a kind of in-between state. So Truman checked all the boxes. But Truman only met with FDR very briefly before and then after the election. FDR was almost totally focused on the war effort in the fall of 1944 and the early months of 1945.

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  2. Congrats on the paperback. I enjoyed learning about the Little White House through the book, and more so with the post now.

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  3. Fascinating tidbits about Truman and the Little White House. Book sounds like another winner!

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  4. Bill, thank you for that fascinating information, and I’m envious of your job. I would love to be around all that great history on a daily basis. I visited Truman’s Little White House back in 2007, and it’s one of my favorite historical places. I’m a fan of Harry Truman and Bess and Margaret, so it was rather a fangirl moment for me. Didn’t Margaret usually accompany the President on his trips there? Lucy, I was so thrilled that much of Death on the Menu was set there. Congrats on the paperback edition.


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  5. Congrats on the paperback edition and for the fascinating look at behind the scenes in the Little White House. It's one of my favorite places in Key West. I'm not sure, but didn't both Eisenhower and Kennedy use it? Kennedy during the Bay of Pigs crisis?

    Like Joan, I doubt anyone can be truly prepared for the job of President. Considering that Truman's tenure was so unexpected, the country was lucky to have someone like him at the time. He was a remarkable man and one unafraid to accept the consequences of his actions. David McCullough's book Truman makes for a great read of Truman's life and times.

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    1. I loved McCullough's biography of Truman.

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    2. All of his books are fabulous - but this one was special. I think because I remember Truman, although not as a President - and it was so interesting to peek inside his life.

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  6. I really enjoyed Death on the Menu when it first came out. Congratulations on the paperback edition!

    As a native Missourian, I'm a big Truman fan, and very familiar with his library, and the humble frame farmhouse where he was born. A friend from college grew up in Independence and remembered taking walks with Mr. Truman around their neighborhood. Being a kid, she didn't really grasp who he was. She just knew he was a nice guy who talked to her like she was an intelligent person, not just a pesky kid.

    Bill, my question is, how did Truman come to know and love Key West in the first place? Tropical shores are pretty far removed from Missouri farmland. What did he like best about the island? And who actually owned the property in those days? The federal government? Truman himself? You must have one of the coolest jobs a historian could have!

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    1. I would love to see his Missouri library and home Gigi, and what a great story from your college pal.

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    2. I know one of those answers--the land belonged to the Navy. checking with Bill about the other questions...

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    3. Response from Bill: Truman had been working on all cylinders since April 12, 1945, when he was sworn in President. He had overseen Allied victories against Germany and Japan, made the momentous decision to use the atom bomb, directed American participation in the new United Nations, began dealing with a not-so-cooperative Soviet Union in the months following the end of WWII, and focused on the recovery of the domestic economy after years of wartime controls. Ouch! Tremendous work load. By the fall of 1946 he was exhausted and his White House physician ordered a "working vacation" someplace warm. Admiral Leahy suggested the naval base in Key West (Truman had never been). He and Bess went and loved it.

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  7. Congrats on the paperback release, Lucy - I loved that book.

    I never knew there was a VP gap. How interesting. I also cannot imagine being Truman and having to take on the job at that fraught time. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Congrats on the paperback release. Very interesting.

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  9. Of all the people who have ever run for president, I think Hillary Clinton came the closest to being prepared for that job, and knowing exactly what to expect. First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. George HW Bush probably came second, as Representative, CIA Director, Ambassador to the UN, and VP. Neither of them would have needed to be filled in on much.

    I enjoyed learning more about the Little White House while reading Death on the Menu. It was all new information to me. Even though Truman was in office when I was born, I really know little about him or his presidency. Like Gigi, I'm curious as to what led him to use Key West as a retreat.



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  10. Although I've been to Key West several times, I've not been to the Little White House. I grew up in NW Missouri, not far from Truman's retirement residence. It wasn't unusual to see him walking the street of Kansas City in his later years. He was so poorly prepared for the hardest job in the world, yet he stepped up to the plate -- unlike the present chief toddler. My first real memory of President Truman is the day after the 1948 election, holding up that newspaper with a headline "Dewey Beats Truman."

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  11. Lucy, congrats on the paperback release of Death on the Menu. I'm another Truman fan--visited his home in Independence and my favorite room was his office. Here was someone serving for the privilege, not personal opportunity or personal enrichment. Bill, thanks for the insight into Truman's stays at the LWH. So different from the boob who runs off to his personal club to strut and preen before his adoring fans, to ask them their advice on national matters. Truman's 'vacations' sound like working trips to me. Is there a virtual tour of the LWH available?

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    1. That would be such a good idea Flora, but I'm not seeing it on their website. Lots of other good stuff though... https://www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.com/

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  12. This is fascinating! I had completely forgotten Truman’s Key West connection. How lucky you are to get the insider’s tour.

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    1. He helped me with the amazing final twist too:). a wonderful friend...

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  13. Roberta/Lucy, congratulations on the paperback release of Death on the Menu. I adore your Key West Series for so many reasons, the fictional characters, the history of Key West and the biographical info on denizens such as Hemmingway and Truman.

    Bill, I agree with everyone that your job sounds divine. Like many others, I am a fan of Truman, and now I really need to read that biography. I am curious about how Truman became connected to this house and to Key West as a place for his "out of DC White House."

    First a president needs to know history, not just the few facts he chooses to remember, but broad and deep historical knowledge. When dealing with parts of the world that are unfamiliar to him or her, instead of discounting them as unimportant, I believe it is in everyone's best interest for the pres. to study up! I think that a president needs to be open to new information, because the world is always changing and political alliances change with it. I do not agree with isolation as an answer to anything in these times. Empathy would also be a good trait. Too bad that the guy there now has none of these traits.

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  14. Congratulations! here is more of Roberta‘s triumphant book launch… Just published: An interview I did with her on sisters in crimes spotlight website! One reader already emailed to me “Roberta is so charming!” https://sincne.clubexpress.com/content.aspx?page_id=2507&club_id=338034&item_id=2026&pst=11618&actr=3

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  15. Fascinating bits of actual history here, that I had never thought about before. No, I don't believe anyone is actually prepared to be president, especially when they realize the buck actually does stop with them. Didn't Truman have that quote on his desk? But they can jump in and learn as much as they can, if they are willing to put forth the effort. just the other day I read that one of the most important ways a president can be successful is if they know who to call and then will listen to the advice and opinions of those who know more than he or she does. But I still believe the people who could really be the best as being president would never run. Running for president is one thing; being president in altogether different.

    Loved the book, Lucy!

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    1. thanks Judi, and I agree with all you said. Running is so different than being. It will be very interesting to watch what happens this year when the process has changed so very much.

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  16. Congratulations for the paperback book birthday! I've been to Key West quite a few times, but missed this -- it goes on the list now!

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    1. Next time, don't miss--it's one of my very favorite places

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  17. Congratulations on your paperback release! This post is so fascinating and interesting. I have read a great deal about Harry S. Truman and his life before being president. No one can be prepared to be president. I admire Truman.

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  18. Congratulations! What a wonderful and extremely interesting post today which captured my interest. Truman was unique and strong. He had to be in order to succeed and achieve what he did in office. No one can know what they are facing when becoming president.

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  19. Lucy, congratulations on the paperback release. The Little White House is one of my favorite places. You did a wonderful job of inserting its history into the mystery in Death on the Menu.

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  20. So Happy that there is a new release of Death on the menu. I enjoyed the Cuban element of this mystery.
    Bill, it is said that Bess Truman did not like the LWH. Is this true? If so, why not?

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    1. Probably because it was a big ol' boys club most of the time.

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    2. Coralee, she was a famously private woman who tried to keep as low a profile as possible. I'm going to guess the combination of a lot of people living and working in the LWH, and Key West being a comparatively small town (where the President would garner a lot of press coverage) helped keep her at home.

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    3. Response from Bill: She had no hostility toward Key West or Key Westers. But she did feel that it was better for Truman to work hard and then to play hard with the officials who accompanied him. Truman especially loved to play poker, drink bourbon, and swap jokes--very much a "boys night out" kind of relaxation. So she was content to have him spend most of these visits without her. As well, her mother was in declining health and she spent considerable time back in Missouri. Final point: Bess and Harry were polar opposites in terms of personality. She was shy and retiring, a very private person. Hated photographers and media hype and all that. So there were a number of reasons why she did not visit all the time.

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  21. My dad was born and raised in Kansas City, MO. Boy, did he have tales! Some years ago we drove to KC from Minnesota for a job interview for Frank. I booked us at the historic Hotel Savoy. It was borderline rundown at the time but still interesting. HST used to frequent the bar & grill there and even had his preferred booth which the bartender pointed out to us. At the end of 2018 Frank and I visited Key West and toured the Little White House. So interesting! I eyed that infamous poker table pretty closely too!

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    1. These stories are REALLY making me yearn to get down to Key West and see the LWH myself!

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  22. Lucy, this is the book that I borrowed twice from the library, thinking it was a new book the second time! LOL

    Still have the Truman biography by David McCullough, though I didn't get around to reading the book yet. Perhaps I will before the end of the year.

    Truman is my father's favorite president. He told me a story about Truman. He was in the Congress when some politicians decided that the best way to get rid of him was to make him the Vice President of the US, thinking that he will have no power, then Surprise! Truman becomes the President when FDR died. The story was that other politicians did NOT like Truman because Truman always did the right thing and said NO to the bigwigs? He talked about how Truman stood up to Racism ?

    Now I need to read the McCullough book about Truman.

    During the Ken Starr hearings about 20? years ago, I remember reading a story about how someone on Truman's staff tried to get a mistress for Truman and Truman threw out the staff member who did that! He was very faithful to Bess.

    Diana

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  23. Very interesting! Truman isn't one of the more talked about presidents, so i love the tidbits about him. I think the less famous presidents have just as interesting stories about their time in office.
    Congrats on another great book. Can't wait to read it.

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    1. Alicia, if you want to learn more, I recommend the David McCullough biography, which several people have already mentioned. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and beside being well-researched and comprehensive, it's a really good read. As a bonus, it came out in '92, so it's very easy to fins a cheap used copy!

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    2. Alicia, you are the winner of a pb copy of DEATH ON THE MENU. Email me at raisleib at gmail dot com with your mailing address and we'll get it off to you!

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  24. Lucy, congratulations on the PB release! I LOVED this book, and reading about the LWH has made me want to read it again. I miss your characters and Key West. I'm sorry I only got to see the Little White House from the outside--was it closed that day? But I'm fascinated by the history and I'm going to look up the McCullough biography.

    It behooves us to remember how important the choice of a VP can be!

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  25. I don't believe anybody is "prepared" to be president, much less inherit the job from a much-beloved figure like FDR. Truman did the best he could - and he also had to deal with a prima donna general in the Far East with Douglas MacArthur.

    I think the ability to roll with the punches - gracefully - might be the most important trait for a president.

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    1. Liz, my late husband, who read those magisterial door-block presidential biographies, thought very highly of Truman. He had enormous shoes to fill, under some of the most trying circumstances our country had been in up to that point, and he acquitted himself well.

      Plus, he gets points for loving Key West!

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  26. You do make me want to visit Key West . . . and long for a real President, one who faces challenges with courage and honesty. We did try to elect one, majority voted for HER. May watchful eyes secure a fair election in November.
    It's a fabulous book, and may the new format, help it reach many new readers. We can still travel . . . by reading. <3

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  27. Looking forward to reading "Death on the Menu". I don't know why anyone would want to be president. I don't think anyone can even imagine the true scope of the job and the decisions that you make effect not only the USA and the world.

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  28. I love this series! Greatly enjoyed this book. When I am reading one of this series I often load up Google Earth and take a street level tour of Key West. What a delight to see the locations "up close and virtually personal"!

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  29. Congratulations on your book and thanks for the informative post! lindaherold999(at)gmail(dot)com

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  30. I love books that have history in them. I'm not sure anyone knows what being president is like until they are. I can't imagine wanting that much responsibility. Qualities that would help would be common sense, patience, being levelheaded and intelligent.
    clugston.kathy@yahoo.com

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  31. My dad is possibly the biggest Harry Truman fan! I need this for him!

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