September 14, 2021
Agatha (Christie, naturally — not to throw shade on other Agathas, but really, if just using the first name “Agatha” don’t most people’s minds head towards her? Just me?) is deservedly known best for her detective (whether Belgian, small town observer, or husband-wife team) books. But she wrote others, too! Some falling into what I’d call “international intrigue,” including They Came To Baghdad. She was a well-traveled writer, with a flair for description, and so writing more globe-trotting – as opposed to set in the UK – books makes sense. Though, I have to admit, there are lots of mysterious threads intertwining here, but hey, she knows her stuff. Basically, after some set-up and stage-setting and character introducing, and a lot of “what’s happening here”-ing, the story follows Victoria Jones, who loses her job, meets a nice chap in a park, decides she’s in love, follows him (by picking up a random job with free airline tickets) to Baghdad, and drops right into a worldwide conspiracy, nearly gets killed, gets kidnapped, goes on an archeology dig, and stays in a hotel run by a man named Marcus who likes to buy drinks, which are delivered by a waiter named Jesus. And a whole lot more! There are murders, twists, neat scenes, and more drinks. Well worth picking up!
“Come and have a drink with us Miss Jones. Martini – Sidecar? This is Mr. Dakin. Miss Jones from England. Now then, my dear, what will you have?”
Victoria said she would have a Sidecar “and some of those lovely nuts?” she suggested hopefully, remembering that nuts were nutritious.
“You like nuts? Jesus!” He gave the order in rapid Arabic. Mr. Dakin said in a sad voice that he would have a lemonade.
“Ah,” cried Marcus, “but that is ridiculous.”
–Agatha Christie, They Came to Baghdad
September 7, 2021
Don’t miss the weird (!) Owls Don’t Blink Cocktail Talk Part I, or you’ll be sorry (in little ways, maybe, but probably not losing sleep, which would make me sad), which not only has a strange New Orleans-y quote, but more info on this book by Erle Stanley Gardner, though writing as A.A. Fair. And, while being thorough about your research, check out all the Erle Stanley Gardner Cocktail Talks, to get the skinny of how I feel (hmm, is this too much all about me? You’ll get good cocktail quotes, too) about his famous creation Perry Mason, and private investigators Donald Lam and Betha Cool, who star in this particular mystery yarn. In the below quote, Lam is taking one of the potentially murderous (!) female characters in the book out for a ginormous dinner. I can’t imagine eating this much, but in the 40s, people were heartier.
The waiter brought our daiquiris. We touched glasses, took the first sip.
The waiter stood by our table, exerting a silent pressure for our orders.
“Could you bring some oysters on the half shell with a lot of cocktail sauce, some horseradish and lemon?” I asked. “Then bring us some of those cold, peppered shrimp, some onion soup, a steak about three inches thick, done medium rare, some French-fried onions, shoestring potatoes, cut some French bread, put on lots of butter, sprinkle on just a trace of garlic, put it in the oven, let it get good and hot so the butter melts all through the bread, put some sparkling Burgundy on the ice, and after that bring us a dish of ice cream, a huge pot of coffee, and the check.”
The waiter never batted an eyelash. “I could do that very nicely, sir.”
–Erle Stanley Gardner (writing as A.A. Fair), Owls Don’t Blink
August 31, 2021
This may be one of the weirdest Cocktail Talks ever! Boom! If you’ve read past Erle Stanley Gardner Cocktail Talks, and you should, you’ll already know that I lean towards liking his books written under the pseudonym A.A. Fair (the Donald Lam-Bertha Cool mysteries) better than his more famous Perry Mason books (though as I age, I’ve found more of those I like a little more than expected, too), so that’s not weird. The book has a fair number of twists and turns and unexpectedness happening for PI Lam and jolly moments from PI Cool, with more of the former, but that’s all expected in these yarns, so not weird at all. Though ending in LA, much of the book (which was pubbed in 1942) takes place in lovely New Orleans, and that’s where the weirdness happens. See, I’d expect as a famous writer, and as one fairly meticulous usually, Mr. Gardner would have actually visited that fair city, and spent time on the streets and in the bars and restaurants before writing this book – and had some of the city’s legendary cocktails and highballs and such. And there are many classic libations that trace their histories back to New Orleans! However, when a scene takes place in a bar and PI Lam is ordering drinks, his list of “New Orleans drinks” is bafflingly, oh, boring? Un-New-Orleans-y? Weird? To me, weird. Maybe there was a time in the 40s that people thought of the below as New Orleans drinks? I’m glad it’s not now! But the below Cocktail Talk is still worthy – weird can be fun, too.
We had no more than seated her when the waiter came up for an order.
“Plain whiskey and water,” she said.
“Gin and Coke,” I ordered.
Hale pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Well, let me see. Do you have any really good Cognac?”
I answered for the waiter. “No,” I said. “Since you’re here in New Orleans, why not drink a New Orleans drink? Gin and Seven-Up; Gin and Coke; rum and Coke; or bourbon and Seven-Up?”
–Erle Stanley Gardner (writing as A.A. Fair), Owls Don’t Blink
August 24, 2021
Not a lesser novel in the whole scope of the novel form, but perhaps considered a lesser Graham Greene novel, Travels with My Aunt is even with that brief and not-awe-inducing intro phrase a worthy read. In a nutshell: slightly boring chap takes early retirement to be slightly boring, but then runs into his “aunt” who is an eccentric traveler and jolly woman, who then takes said chap (Henry Pulling is his name) on adventures and opens his eyes to the world – and unveils family secrets? I won’t give it away – and more travels ensure until it turns out early retirement maybe is much more fun than expected. A good summertime read, and as it’s still summer, jump in (also, it was made into a movie, which is a good summertime watch). But first, the below quote, which is a bubbly favorite. As I’m drinking bubbly right now (you’ll understand this sentiment when you read the below), I feel I have to tell the truth and admit: I’ve had this quote on the blog before. but it’s so good, twice is twice as nice!
Champagne, if you are seeking the truth, is better than a lie detector.
— Graham Greene, Travels with my Aunt
August 17, 2021
You may have thought it couldn’t be done, but we’re back to Orley Farm after our cinematic sidestep last week, and I’m going to have one more Mr. Moulder Cocktail Talk from the Trollope novel (I may have more Cocktail Talks from the book that don’t feature him, too. Only time will tell pals, and even it might not know!). But we’ve had a few of him in his higher moments, and so I only felt it was right to have one when he’s snoozing away after a long day shilling for Hubbles and Grease and swilling brandy and water (and perhaps other potent potables, too). However, it’s the description of his waking in the below quote that does the most for me. Oh, before I forget! Don’t miss the Orley Farm Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, and Part III for more about the book itself, and all the Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks (there are a few!) for more Trollopean fun.
Soon after that Mr. Kenneby saw Mrs. Smiley home in a cab, and poor Mrs. Moulder sat by her lord till he roused himself from his sleep. Let us hope that her troubles with him were as little vexatious as possible; and console ourselves with the reflection that at twelve o’clock the next morning, after the second bottle of soda and brandy, he was ‘as sweet as sweet.’
–Anthony Trollope, Orley Farm
August 3, 2021
A bit of a departure for many fans from his more tense thriller-ific films, To Catch a Thief is still, I believe, a wonderful Hitchcock film. The glamour of the setting and the leads (Cary Grant and Grace Kelly of course), the movement of the lens, the pace, the light suspense and banter, all of it comes together in a summery kind of way that lends itself to repeat viewings. If you haven’t seen it, well, you should. And if you have, but not recently, give it another viewing. It is, in one word, charming. But why (I hear you asking) am I blathering a bit on about it? Well, it was released on this day exactly in 1955! So, that deserves a Cocktail Talk, and the below quote is a dandy one.
“Bourbon’s the only drink. You can take all that champagne stuff and pour it down the English Channel.”
–John Michael Hayes (screenwriter), To Catch a Thief
July 20, 2021
Our third Orley Farm Cocktail Talk revisits a character introduced in Part II (for more on the overall book, see Part I, and for more Trollopean fun, see all past Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks), traveling salesman for Hubbles and Grease, Mr. Moulder. In this quote, we find our rotund commercial traveler at home for Christmas celebrations, where he and his missus are hosting a few others for a big feast, and where Mr. Moulder is talking of the liquid possibilities for the day, specifically brandy and a special whiskey,
And then, as for drink, —”tipple,” as Mr. Moulder sportively was accustomed to name it among his friends, he opined that he was not altogether behind the mark in that respect. “He had got some brandy—he didn’t care what anybody might say about Cognac and eau de vie; but the brandy which he had got from Betts’ private establishment seventeen years ago, for richness of flavour and fullness of strength, would beat any French article that anybody in the city could show. That at least was his idea. If anybody didn’t like it, they needn’t take it. There was whisky that would make your hair stand on end.” So said Mr. Moulder, and I can believe him; for it has made my hair stand on end merely to see other people drinking it.
— Anthony Trollope, Orley Farm
July 13, 2021
Welcome to the second part of our tipsy tour through the Anthony Trollope novel Orley Farm (don’t miss Part I, or any of the past Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks). In the first part, I chatted a smidge about the novel itself, and where it slots into my own personal Trollope-verse, if you will. One thing I didn’t mention there, however, is perhaps my top character in the book, a commercial traveler (or traveling salesman, if you will), named Mr, Moulder, a lover of food and drink and a representative of the fine old firm of Hubbles and Grease, purveyors of find coffee, tea, and brandy. Randomly showing up when one of the novel’s major players stops at a fine old English inn, The Bull, Mr. Moulder shows up again, and I was happier for it. But the below quote (they’ll be more from our Mr. Moulder) is in his introduction graph, and gives a nice view into him, if you will.
He wore no beard, and therefore showed plainly the triple bagging of his fat chin. In spite of his overwhelming fatness, there was something in his face that was masterful and almost vicious. His body had been overcome by eating, but not as yet his spirit—one would be inclined to say. This was Mr. Moulder, well known on the road as being in the grocery and spirit line; a pushing man, who understood his business, and was well trusted by his firm in spite of his habitual intemperance. What did the firm care whether or no he killed himself by eating and drinking? He sold his goods, collected his money, and made his remittances. If he got drunk at night that was nothing to them, seeing that he always did his quota of work the next day. But Mr. Moulder did not get drunk. His brandy and water went into his blood, and into his eyes, and into his feet, and into his hands, —but not into his brain.
–Anthony Trollope, Orley Farm