Bertolt Brecht: Short Stories, 1921-1946, edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, translated by Yvonne Kapp, Hugh Rorrison and Anthony Tatlow (Methuen, $9.95). So far as is known, this is a complete collection of Brecht's short fiction: 37 stories or sketches plus one long fragment (a ghosted piece for the German middleweight boxing champion). Though he wrote stories only when not otherwise occupied -- with plays, poems and film ideas -- he produced enough material and over a sufficiently extensive period for it to serve as a microcosm of his work. There are Kafkaesque fables, wartime sketches, tales in the fairy-tale mode, and precursors of the plays. One story, "Four Men and a Poker Game," has what a fellow writer thought the classic Brecht beginning: "They sat on cane chairs in Havana and let the world go by."
Last Message to Berlin, by Philippe van Rjndt (Charter, $3.95). The deus ex machina in this fat World War II thriller is Winston Churchill. In between the prologue and epilogue, a period spanning a quarter of a century, he appears and disappears -- along with FDR, Joseph F. Kennedy Sr., Allen Dulles, Kim Philby and others, including Adolf Hitler. But, naturally, the heavy swash and buckle are left to the energies of fictional creations like agents Jonathan Cabot, an American, and Erik Guderian, a Nazi. Not bad of its kind, but familiar every step of the way. NONFICTION
The Last Country Houses, by Clive Aslet (Yale, $13.95). In the years of Britain's imperial sunset, from 1890 to 1939, the wealthy continued to build magnificent country houses, which took their places alongside the architectural glories of prior centuries. Here is a fascinating, beautifully illustrated survey of these last monuments to servants and low income taxes. If many of the houses seem merely pseudo- Georgian with central plumbing, their scale and opulence can still cause one to catch his breath.
The French Revolution, by J.M. Thompson (Blackwell, $12.95). First published in 1943, this study by an Oxford don has survived many fads in historical scholarship to remain the best introduction in English to what the French call La grande revolution. Always felicitous in style, Thompson judiciously weaves his way through the series of wrenches, beginning in 1789, by which France threw off the political and social encrustations of centuries.
The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, by John Milton Cooper Jr. (Belknap/Harvard, $9.95). We do not often pair the Presbyterian university president and the Rough Rider, but exact contemporaries they were. The author, a University of Wisconsin historian, contends that the two "shaped the American presidency and altered the course of politics" in 20th-century America. He builds a strong case for his thesis and along the way sheds light on America's rise to world power.
Children and Money: A Parents' Guide, by Grace W. Weinstein (New American Library, $8.95). In the face of childrens' demands for Guess jeans, Jams, and Polo shirts, not to mention money for movies and video games, parents can feel they're on a money merry-go-round. Grace Weinstein offers some sound common-sense advice on how to help children look at their needs objectively, how to direct them toward financial responsibility.
Gertrude Jekyll on Gardening, edited by Penelope Hobhouse (Vintage, $8.95). Gertrude Jekyll is probably responsible more than any other single individual, for inventing the archetypal "English Garden" -- that riot of color and texture, so seemingly random but actually so assiduously planned. Jekyll believed in bringing the randomness of the woodlands into the garden, and extending the garden into the woods, indeed blurring the line between the two, and her concepts were best suited, and most often implemented, in the large country houses built at the turn of the century. Yet her practices are adaptable to modern gardeners, with smaller stretches of ground and no woodlands. In this beautifully conceived book, British garden writer Penelope Hobhouse has edited and combined Jekyll's first complete book Wood and Garden with excerpts from articles and other writings to make a useful guide for today's gardener. Hobhouse has added her own careful notations and explanations which illuminate but never detract from the spirit of Jekyll's work. MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE
Levine, by Donald E. Westlake (Tor, $2.95). The author tells us in his preface to this collection of six short stories that in 1959 he wrote more than in any other year of his life -- 46 short stories and novelettes, an amazing 27 of which were published. Among those was the first tale featuring Detective Abraham Levine of Brooklyn's 43rd Precinct, a middle-aged cop who doesn't take death's intrusions lightly. That story is here, and so are the five others with Levine as protagonist, including the 1985 Edgar-winning "After I'm Gone." Each is a snapshot of everyday urban life, and Levine feels like someone one has met in the flesh.
The New Black Mask Quarterly, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman (Harvest/HBJ, $7.95). In the 1920s and '30s Black Mask published Hammett, Chandler, Gardner, and other masters of the tough-guy detective story. But by 1951 the paperback had replaced the pulp and the magazine folded -- only to be reincarnated today as a trade paperback. This inaugural issue leads off with a half dozen stars of contemporary hard-boiled fiction: Robert B. Parker (an interview and an excerpt from Promised Land), the first of a four-parter by the late Jim Thompson, new stories by George V. Higgins, Arthur Lyons and Loren D. Estleman, a hard-to-find Chandler piece (the story treatment for an unmade movie), and homage to the tradition by William F. Nolan in "The Pulpcon Murders."
Lovely in Her Bones, by Sharyn McCrumb (Avon, 2.95). This writer's first mystery, Sick of Shadows, was a broad romp through southern family thickets; this one, too, is about skeletons who aren't only in closets. Heroine Elizabeth MacPherson is working on an Indian archeological dig until a murder interrupts; after that the plot thickens dangerously and Elizabeth herself almost succumbs to the killer's wiles. McCrumb has a fairly light touch and her characters are quirky, but it's formula, nonetheless.
Rose's Last Summer, Margaret Millar (International Polygonics, $4.95). Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard had seen better days, and so has Millar's faded screen star Rose French, in this 1952 minor classic. Thus it's sad but not tragic when Rose meets her maker in a nearby garden. However, Frank Clyde, a psychiatric social worker who'd grown rather attached to her, has received a call from the dead woman that sets him wondering what's going on. Millar's gift is for the ordinary, just where it joins with the sinister, and her subtle humor informs every situation.
Cotton Comes to Harlem, by Chester Himes (Allison & Busby, $5.95). A handsome new edition of this rollicking, tough American classic which Himes, an expatriate living in France, first published as Retour en Afrique in 1964. The "cotton" of the title has nothing to do with the club, but is rather a bale of the stuff in which a large sum of stolen money's been hidden. And detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones are out in the streets trying to find it. Himes began his writing career while serving a prison sentence for jewel robbery and wrote almost 20 novels before he died last year.