September 13, 2022
For our final What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talk (and don’t miss What Rhymes with Murder? Part I and Part II to get some more boozing, sure, but also to learn more about this Jack Iams’ 1950 mystery, where a British flirty poet gets shot, a reporter hero tries to track down the murder as he’s a suspect, and where the society page grand dame reporter might be the best shamus of the bunch!) I have what I’m thinking is one of the finest moments in the however many years I’ve been writing here: the mention of grappa in a 1950s pulp pocketbook! Really! Amazing! I love grappa, being like one of the big grappa pushers I know, and someone who brings back bottles of obscure-in-the-US grappas in my suitcase when traveling to Italy every year. So, when I saw the below, I was very, very happy. You will be, too.
I went around the corner to Frascini’s, a restaurant where a lot of newspapermen and politicians and cops hung out. It was crowded, and I had a feeling that people were staring at me, and after a bowl of minestrone, I didn’t want anything more.
“Whatsa matter, you sick?” asked Tony Frascini.
“No, just shaky.”
“Have a grappa. Fix you up.”
–Jack Iams, What Rhymes with Murder?
September 6, 2022
As a good reporter and editor (much like Rock Rockwell, the intrepid editor of The Record, and hero in this here mystery book from 1950), I’m going to start this Cocktail Talk by referring you to the reference point of the What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talk Part I, where I dig into the idea of reporters/mystery heroes, and a little more about the book as a whole. Here, I wanna just dive into the Cocktail Talking, so the only background on the book I’m putting in this paragraph is the tagline from the back cover, cause it’s one the finest taglines ever: “When a lusty lothario sings his serenade, romance rhymes with death!” Oh, and in the below they talk about overly-bittered Old Fashioneds. Also, memorable. Read it!
A voice at my elbow said, “Cocktail, sir? Old-Fashioneds and dry Martinis.”
“Old-Fashioned,” I said, hardly noticing the neat figure in black and white who spoke.
“Okay, but there’s more bitters in them than whiskey.”
I started and looked around. From under a frilly cap, the face of Amy Race was peering at me impishly. “I’m sticking to straight whisky myself,” she said. “That’s the trend below stairs.”
In spite of myself, I burst out laughing.
–Jack Iams, What Rhymes with Murder?
August 30, 2022
Recently was re-reading the 1950s Dell Mystery pocket-sized book What Rhymes with Murder?, by Jack Iams, and thinking: why don’t more books have mystery-solving-reporters anymore? Let me step back: Jack Iams was a novelist (mysteries and others), teacher, and maybe most of all: reporter and journalist, for Newsweek, London Daily Mail, New York Herald Tribune, and others. So, perhaps not a complete surprise that some of his mystery books features Rocky Rockwell (amazing), City Editor and writer for The Record, one of two dailies in the small city this yarn and others take place within. Not only a writer/editor, if you wondered, but also a man not afraid to mix-it-up, both with circulation war heavies and such and with the dames – mostly his fiancé here, but also a wee dalliance with a writer for the other paper in town. He’s not the only newspaper person/mystery solver in pulp book history, either, though we don’t see as many now (I hope that’s right. It feels right!), which is a shame. Of course, not as many newspaper folks in general, sadly. But I digress! To get back to the matter at hand, this book, where Rocky gets mixed up with the murder of a visiting overly-amorous British poet (the ‘overly-amorous’ may have been implied with ‘British poet’)! It’s quite a swell mid-century piece of mystery fiction, moves quick, has some feints and counter-feints, ends up with two murders, Rocky rescues a paperboy from a hoodlum, and of course spends some well-earned time drinking up in clubs and hotels and homes. So much so that I’m gonna have a couple What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talks, starting with the below pink gin-ing. Or desire for sure.
Across the room, alone at a table, sat Ariel Banks’s secretary Clark-Watson. A waiter was trying to explain something, then the clipped, high-pitched British voice said distinctly, “Dash it, I am simple asking for a pink gin.”
“But he don’t know how to make it,” said the waiter.
“That is scarcely my fault,” said Clark-Watson.
Amy chuckled and said to me, “I think I’ll get into this act.” She got up and strolled to Clark-Watson’s table. I could hear her saying, “I’m Amy Race of the Eagle. Perhaps I could be of assistance?”
“Can you tell this chap how to make a pink gin?”
— Jack Iams, What Rhymes with Murder?
August 16, 2022
The great Graham Greene hasn’t made an enormous amount of time Cocktail Talking here on the ol’ Spiked Punch (though do the read the past Graham Greene Cocktail Talks), which is a shame because A: I like his works lots, and B: he liked a good drink. Probably because we shade a little lower-brow (though he did write a fair amount of what he called “entertainments” which might lean into pulp pockets perfectly), or just because I forget to mark the pages of potential Cocktail Talks when reading his books. Or re-reading, I should specify, as I believe I’ve read them all at least once, re-reading being the case recently as I was re-reading his book The Comedians, which takes places mostly on Haiti during the tragic reign of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Circling around one main character and a few main satellites characters (who meet on a boat heading towards the country), it’s a sometimes chilling, always moving novel. Definitely one that one should be read, especially if you carry an interest in political history around like a traveling bar.
“What’s your poison?”
“Have you a whiskey?”
“I have next to everything, old man. You wouldn’t fancy a dry Martini?”
I would have preferred a whisky, but he seemed anxious to show off the riches of his store, so, “If it’s very dry,” I said.
“Ten to one, old man.”
He unlocked the cupboard and drew out a leather traveling-case – a half-bottle of gin, a half-bottle of vermouth, four metal beakers, a shaker. It was an elegant expensive set, and he laid it reverently on the tumbled table as though he were an auctioneer showing a prized antique. I couldn’t help commenting on it.
“Asprey’s ?” I asked.
“As good as,” he replied quickly and began to mix the cocktails.
–Graham Greene, The Comedians
August 9, 2022
It’s been 8 years (!!!) since I had the first Cocktail Talk from the George Simenon book My Friend Maigret – which, if memory serves (sadly, it doesn’t serve as well as it once used to, hahaha), was the very first Inspector Maigret book I ever read, after picking up three at once at the now-much-missed Seattle Library Book Sale. Since, I’ve taken many a stroll with the taciturn-at-times slow-moving-at-times always-large always-interesting Maigret, and look to take many more, though my collection is getting nearer and nearer to full. What a treat to go back and read this yarn, which falls into the category of Maigret-outside-of-Paris in the main (there are a number of these, though not as many as in the city proper I don’t believe), as he and a tag-a-long Scotland Yard Inspector (in France to watch the famous Chief Inspector’s methods) end up on the Island of Porquerolles to solve the murder of an ex-con who had been bragging in one of the local bars (where they spend a fair amount of time, drinking the local white wine mentioned below) about his friend Maigret. There are many Cocktail Talk moments as usual with Maigret, don’t miss My Friend Maigret Cocktail Talk Part I’s anisette (and for that matter, check out all the Maigret Cocktail Talks), but the below has both the white wine and marc, the latter always a welcome addition.
“Did he go steal jewels in New York?”
“I rather think he’s in Paris,’ Mr. Pyke corrected him calmly, selecting a toothpick in his turn.
A second bottle of the island’s wine, which Jojo had brought without being asked, was more than half empty. The patron came over to suggest:
“A little marc? After the garlic mayonnaise, it’s essential.”
It was balmy, almost cool in the room, while a heavy sun, humming with flies, beat down on the square.
—My Friend Maigret, George Simenon
August 2, 2022
I’ve read, I think (though I haven’t kept the meticulous records I should have), at least 80% of all the Agatha Christie books, and yet I’ve still only a small handful of Agatha Christie Cocktail Talks on the ol’ Spiked Punch. That, friends, is a shame! But she doesn’t always have her characters swilling in the Cocktail Talk style, though Poirot (if I have to explain who that is, well, you need help) does like his crème de menthe and suchlike, and folks are swilling in her books. Probably, I get too caught up in the mysteries themselves, like in Appointment with Death, one of the ‘Poirot-on-travels’ variety, where he is in Middle East when a not-very-nice-at-all matriarch is murdered – at least, he thinks it is murder! He ends up hanging with a local gendarme to get to the bottom of things, cause (as everyone knows) Poirot doesn’t like murder! The particular usage of that phrase by someone else I believe caught my eye twice in the below quote, along with the whiskey and soda being consumed. So, this time, though I was deep into the mystery, I still did a double take and took the quote along for this very Cocktail Talk.
Colonel Carbury said unemotionally, “He don’t like murder! Quite right! No more do I!” He rose and poured himself out a stiff whiskey and soda; his guests’ glasses were still full. “And now,” he said, returning to the subject, “let’s get down to brass tacks.”
–Agatha Christie, Appointment with Death
July 26, 2022
Our final stop (don’t miss The Unholy Trio Cocktail Talks Part I and Part II, by the way) in my latest Henry Kane yarn featuring two-fisted sharp-dressing quick-shooting kiss-a-lot-of-girls PI Peter Chambers. This quote almost didn’t make it to the site, as I wasn’t sure it was Cocktail Talk-y enough, but really, any time someone in a book is drinking a Rob Roy, it needs Cocktail Talking. And a Dry Rob Roy (not sure I’ve heard that much)? Forget about it! Read the other two in the series to get more book details, but not before you drink up the below.
“What are you drinking? Lunch is on me.”
“I’m going to get paid.”
“That you are.” I had brought a blank check. “Dry Rob Roy,” I said to the waiter. The menus were already on the table.
“Congratulations,” Arnie said.
“I believe you got married.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Miranda wouldn’t have told him. She was as cozy with information as Cosa Nostra. “How do you know?” I said.
“How do I know? Heck, there was a spread in every newspaper.”
“Yes, there was, wasn’t there?” My drink arrived and I drank it, quickly.
–Henry Kane, The Unholy Trio
July 19, 2022
Another (see The Unholy Trio Part I Cocktail Talk, if you missed it) quote from the Henry Kane political, blackmail, murder, money yarn called The Unholy Trio, starring private investigator Peter Chambers, who tears it up, romances it up, and drinks it up through the book. It’s a fun ride, folks, and one that even includes our manly hero getting (as it says on the book), “a gilt-edged invitation to trouble,” as well as getting married! Really. Well, sort-of. You’ll have to read the book to the get all the details, though the below covers the most important part, the marriage Martinis.
And so we went home to our bridal suite and there she said, “Martinis. And I’m making.” She opened the liquor cabinet. “Excellent ingredients here. And a jar of olives and a jar of pearl onions, but I don’t like either. No lemons.”
“I though you weren’t special for Martinis?”
“Except on special occasions. Do you think we ought to call down for lemons?”
I didn’t quite relish the idea of calling to Room Service from the bridal suite in the middle of the night for a couple of lemons.
“I’ll go down and get them,” I said, and when I returned, after my curious excursion to the kitchens below, there was a tall shaker with frosty Martinis sitting and waiting.
–Henry Kane, The Unholy Trio