Book Review: Buster Midnight’s Cafe by Sandra Dallas

Setting: Butte, Montana – from Prohibition through World War II and beyond

Synopsis: Looking back on their lives, Effa Commander and Whippy Bird write their story and what they know about the infamous Love Triangle Murder involving their good friends screen siren Marion Street (May Anna Kovacs) and boxer Buster Midnight (Buster McKnight).

Review: This book just made me smile. With characters named Effa Commander, Whippy Bird, Chick, Pink, Buster Midnight, Jackfish, and Marion Street, you can’t help but smile as you read their adventures. The book chronicles the lives of the Unholy Three – best friends from the beginning: Effa Commander, Whippy Bird, and May Anna Kovacs as they grow up in Butte, Montana. May Anna escapes her hard life and leaves the town of Butte to become a Hollywood star who goes by the name of Marion Street. Buster McKnight, a boxer who goes by the name Buster Midnight, is the boy who always loved May Anna. The book starts out with Effa Commander and Whippy Bird looking back at their lives and wanting to tell the true story of the Love Triangle Murder, a scandalous Hollywood murder involving their friends. The book explains how Effa Commander (never just Effa) and Whippy Bird (never just Whippy!) meet May Anna and chronicles them growing up and all of their adventures and heartbreak (and oh there’s heartbreak).

This is a story about friendship. Friendship with adventures involving Prohibition, boxing matches, being poor, having difficult lives, having fun, and 1940s Hollywood. The story takes Effa Commander and Whippy Bird from Prohibition through World War Two to I’m guessing approximately 1980s or so. The book came out in 1990.

I can’t remember how this book came to me – I think I may have picked it up at a library book sale (go to those! You will meet interesting people and find wonderful books for very cheap and you’ll help support your local library). I’m so glad I decided to read this book. It was enjoyable start to finish – I read it in one day – I just wanted to find out what happened! And I have this awful, terrible habit of reading the end of books before I even start them, and I was able to restrain myself this time and just let the story unfold. And I’m so glad I didn’t peek at the end! I don’t want to say too much about the plot – all I knew going in to the book was what the back of the book said, and that was enough. I enjoyed letting the plot unfold on its own. And Effa Commander and Whippy Bird are just so much fun – I wish I could talk with them.

I think this book would be a good choice for book clubs. There is a lot to discuss (characters, plot points, setting), and if your book club is like mine, where you bring food to the meeting, there are so many mentions of different foods that there is a lot to draw from when trying to decide what dish to bring when you meet up!

Bottom Line: A fun read full of atmosphere and interesting characters that I’d like to meet in real life. A wonderful story of friendship. For lovers of cozy mysteries, small towns, and funny characters.

You might like:

  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg – It’s been awhile since I read this book, so I may be wrong in this recommendation here, but this book immediately came to mind when I started reading Buster Midnight’s Café. The small town, the characters, the café.
  • The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty – a tale of the woman who accompanied Louise Brooks to a trip to NYC in the 20s.
  • When the Rivers Ran Red: An Amazing Story of Courage and Triumph in America’s Wine Country by Vivienne Sosnowski – a nonfiction account of Prohibition in Sonoma and Napa Counties in California.

Added to my own bookshelf to read someday:

  • All of Sandra Dallas’ books – I liked Dallas’ writing style and want to read more of what she’s written. Buster Midnight’s Café was her first book, and on a quick glance on the author’s website all of her books sound interesting, so I’ve added all of them to my “to be read” stack. Ah – the joy of reading! Read one, and that takes you to so, so many more!

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