May 21, 2024

Cocktail Talk: The Return of the Native

The Return of the Native

Here we are and the ol’ Spiked Punch blog has gone high-brow. Countryside high-brow, I suppose, as below we have the first Thomas Hardy Cocktail Talk ever! And Hardy, as we all know, was devoted to his particular countryside, which he called Wessex, perhaps more devoted to this one place than almost any other author was or is to a spot. Perhaps. But I ramble! I went through a heavy Hardy phase as one does in say my late 20s to mid-30s (somewhere in there), and while I never returned to him again and again in the way I do with Dickens, or Trollope, or Mosley, I did recently re-read The Return of the Native, and might delve back into another of his, too, soon. We shall see. But again, I ramble. There’s been enough said about Hardy that I don’t need to give some sort-of Return of the Native critique, but I will say that, outside of the Hardian language and narrative and landscape, the book also features a pub called The Quiet Woman Inn a little, and while not a book full of Cocktail Talking, the pub does set the scene for the below quote, which has the prettiest drink under the sun in it!

“That’s a drop of the right sort, I can see,” said Grandfer Cantle, with the air of a man too well-mannered to show any hurry to taste it.

“Yes,” said Wildeve, “’tis some old mead. I hope you will like it.”

“O ay!” replied the guests, in the hearty tones natural when the words demanded by politeness coincide with those of deepest feeling. “There isn’t a prettier drink under the sun.”

“I’ll take my oath there isn’t,” added Grandfer Cantle. “All that can be said against mead is that ’tis rather heady, and apt to lie about a man a good while. But tomorrow’s Sunday, thank God.”

“I feel’d for all the world like some bold soldier after I had had some once,” said Christian.

“You shall feel so again,” said Wildeve, with condescension. “Cups or glasses, gentlemen?”

“Well, if you don’t mind, we’ll have the beaker, and pass ‘en round; ’tis better than heling it out in dribbles.”

–Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native

May 7, 2024

Cocktail Talk: The Way We Die Now

The Way We Die Now by Charles Willeford

I’ve had a fair number of Charles Williford Cocktail Talks on the ol’ Spiked Punch in the past, and I suggest you go read all of them to learn more about this interesting writer, who became more widely famous when he started a series about a Miami detective named Hoke Mosely (though his other books are well worth tracking down in the main – you’ll catch a few of them and a few Hoke’s in the past Cocktail Talking). Hoke featured in four books, and I sure wish there were more, as he’s quite a character. The Way We Die Now is the last of the four novels featuring him, and was published early in 1988, the same year Williford sadly died. It’s a dark book at times, as a warning, but funny, too, and great, I think, in many ways. One of which is Larry’s Hideaway, featured in the below quote.

Hoke was well pleased by the interrogation. It had gone more smoothly than he had thought it would. Before returning to the station, Hoke stopped at Larry’s Hideaway for a shot of Early Times and a beer. Sergeant Armando Quevedo was sitting at the bar, and staring glumly into a seventeen-ounce strawberry Margarita. A large strawberry floated on top of the drink. Hoke sat on the stool next to him and ordered a shot of Early Times and a Michelob draft.

“When did you start drinking that shit, Armando?” Hoke said.

Quevedo turned and grimaced. “It’s pretty awful, but the doc said I’d have to give up boilermakers. So I figured if I stuck to this belly wash, I wouldn’t overdo it. It’s sweeter than hell. Are you off today?”

“No, I’m working. I just stopped off for a quickie.”

–Charles Willeford, The Way We Die Now

April 23, 2024

Cocktail Talk: Pork City, Part III

Pork City by Howard Browne

For our last stop (so far – they do a lot of drinking in this book, so there may be more in the future, which is funny in a way to say as the book takes place in the past) in the Chicago of Howard Browne’s well-worth-reading Pork City (a book based on a real event from the rollicking prohibition era), we step away from the bootleggers to get a view into the health care profession of the time – at least one tell-it-like-it-is doctor! Be sure to catch the Pork City Part I and Pork City Part II Cocktail Talks, too, or Alphonse Capone might have to have a word with you!

Dr. Gilchrist, not noted for his bedside manner, had made it clear six weeks earlier that he had no patience with idiots. “Any sonvabitch,” he roared at Jake, “who smokes fifteen cigars a day, swills bathtub gin, sleeps six hours a night, and spends the other eighteen stewing over the goddamn stock market is gonna end up with an ulcer. Duodenal. You hear what I’m sayin’, asshole?”

–Howard Browne, Pork City

April 9, 2024

Cocktail Talk: Pork City, Part II

Pork City by Howard Browne

If you haven’t yet read the Pork City Part I Cocktail Talk, don’t hesitate (or you may get gunned down by gangsters – I’m kidding!), so you can learn more about this Howard Browne should-be classic re-telling of a murder that happened during prohibition-era Chicago. It’s a rollicking read, and if you’ve always wanted to get an eye into booze smuggling and selling during the grand failed experiment, well, this book has you covered. The below quote focuses on the bootleggers, and mentions a car that spawned a band, too!

The ’27 REO Speedwagon lurched steadily ahead, its cargo of forty cases of Old Overholt bourbon covered with alfalfa bales under a black tarpaulin. Cotton woods and elms met overhead to for a leafy tunnel. This was corn, wheat, and hog country, level as a billiard table, dotted with small white farmhouses, large red barns and an occasional silo. The sun shone, the air smelled of new-mown hay, birds sang and swooped and crapped on the windshield.

–Harold Browne, Pork City

April 2, 2024

Cocktail Talk: Pork City, Part I

Pork City by Howard Browne

Pork City, how did I miss out on you for so long? I blame society (as a punk once said), or just myself for not knowing more about author Howard Browne. Not the English bishop (who I also know little about), but the editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures who also wrote mysteries and then for TV – including the ever-loving Rockford Files! One of his mysteries was the book Pork City, though calling it a mystery only alludes to where it’d be filed in a bookstore or library, as there’s no mystery to the murder that happens in it. But let me back up. Taking place in prohibition-era Chicago, Pork City is based on a true story, the murder of a Trib reporter, and has a host of real-life folks in it (including Alphonse Capone himself as a mainish character), and centers around real Chicago spots of the times. All of which makes it sound a little like a historical retelling, which it is, in a way, but with more pizzazz, more thrills, more snappy dialogue, and more booze, as well as real insight into the workings of police and the mobs of the time. It’s a hoot and a humdinger, and for one like myself whose interests intersect in booze and the bang from a gun, well, an ideal read. So ideal we’re gonna have a couple of Pork City Cocktail Talks, starting with the gin-y below number.

She angrily brushed away a tear, went to the bar, and refilled her glass with Gordon’s gin (or so the label claimed). After adding a minuscule amount of vermouth, she dropped in two ice cubes from the silver-trimmed bucket and crossed to one of the living room’s wide windows. The newly installed Lindbergh beacon, revolving from high atop the Palmolive building a few blocks to the south, put a slashing path of light against the night’s cloudless sky. Loop-bound traffic drifted soundlessly along Lake Shore Drive, past the Potter Palmer castle and the long stretch of beach at Oak Street and on into Michigan Avenue.

–Howard Browne, Pork City

March 26, 2024

Cocktail Talk: Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street

The Tiled House, J.S. Le Fanu

I’ve been dipping my terrified toes into more 1800s, early 1900s ghost/supernatural stories lately, specifically those written by J.S. Le Fanu, an Irish writer born in 1814. Not going to say I feel as ghastly good towards his works I’ve read so far as a I do to M.R. James, but ol’ J.S. can spin a scary yard. He was one of the (if not the) writers of horror tales who took the genre from Gothic chain-rattling to more psychological other-worldness, if that makes sense (and he was a somewhat troubled person himself, it seems, so the terrors really have that personal feel lots of the time). The stories I’ve been reading are all in a scarily swell collection called The Tiled House, put out by Collins Chillers (I need to track more of the anthologies in that line down, as it seems there are some ghoulishly grand ones), and includes the story the below spirits – the boozy ones – are featured within.

A night or two after the departure of my comrade, I was sitting by my bedroom fire, the door locked, and the ingredients of a tumbler of hot whisky-punch upon the crazy spider-table; for, as the best mode of keeping the

            Black spirits and white,

            Blue spirits and grey,

with which I was environed, at bay, I had adopted the practice recommended by the wisdom of my ancestors, and “kept my spirits up by pouring spirits down.”

–J.S. Le Fanu, “Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street”

March 12, 2024

Cocktail Talk: Death of a Dutchman

Death of a Dutchman

I’ve had only one other Magdalen Nabb Cocktail Talk, even though I’ve now read four of her books starring Marshal Guarnaccia, a persistent marshal in the Carabinieri (the second police force in Italy, one that grew out of the military and has a sometimes helpful, sometimes less relationship with the Polizia di Stato). The books take place in Florence, a city I’ve visited and loved lots, so I should really have a few more of Cocktail Talks from said books – here’s hoping the future leads to that very occurrence, especially as I find myself very fond of the Marshal, whose steady, non-flashy, neighborhood cop-y sense and regular Italian sensibility are very enticing in a way. Not to mention that he interacts with barmen serving Campari, which I always like to read about.

“Let’s hope not. I don’t want any shoot-outs with terrorists taking place in my bar, thanks.”

And he, too, began to scan the innocent-looking tourists.

“Rubbish! That sort of thing only happens in Rome . . .”

But both them touched the metal edge of the counter to ward off evil, and the barman, dropping ice-cubes into three Camparis for an outside table, kept an eye on the Marshal’s broad back.

–Magdalen Nabb, Death of a Dutchman

March 5, 2024

Cocktail Talk: The Message on the Sun-Dial

called Murder At the Manor: Country House Mysteries

Here we have another British Library Crime Classics Cocktail Talk. What are the British Library Crime Classics, I can hear you ask? I’m glad you did ask, friend! These are rediscovered novels and short story anthologies brought back from the mists of time for our modern-day reading pleasure. I’ve read a few of the novels, but even more of the short story collections, which are marvelously done (the editor is a chap named Martin Edwards, who also writes his own mystery novels, and does so much editing I doubt he sleeps). The most recently read one for me was called Murder At the Manor: Country House Mysteries, and as with all of them, it’s a delight in the main, with stories from a host of authors known and unknown – really, these are dandy ways to discover authors from the past you may have missed. For me, that includes J.J. Bell, journalist and author, who it seems wasn’t as well known for his mystery output as perhaps he should have been (perhaps more known for comic fiction). The quote below from his story “The Message on the Sun-Dial” features a not-so-savory man named Bolsover. You might not like him by the story’s end, but you have to admire his ability to drink at lunch.

He lunched leisurely at an unusually early hour. He preceded the meal with a couple of cocktails, accompanied it with a pint of Champagne, and followed it with a liqueur. He felt much better, though annoyed by an unwanted tendency to perspire. On his leaving the restaurant, the tendency became more pronounced, so much so that he feared it must be noticeable, and once more he took a taxi, telling the man to go Kensington way.

— J.J. Bell, “The Message on the Sun-Dial”

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