January 17, 2023
Last week, I had a Vanity Row Cocktail Talk (don’t miss that or past W.R. Burnett Cocktail Talks), the book that shares a cover in the swell Stark House two-books-in-one reprint with this week’s highlight, Little Men, Big World. After mentioning the book in said past Cocktail Talk, felt I should give it a moment of its own. So, here we are! Of the two books, I like them . . . both the same amount, which is a lot. This one jumps around more in narrative perspective, though it also circles again within crime and politics (more the former maybe) in a Midwestern city, with a few different characters from various sides of the scene taking the main role depending on the chapter and such. One of which is veteran newspaper man, Ben Reisman, who used to write the crime beat, but who now is a well-known columnist, though one who still desires to dig up a juicy story. And desires whiskey, too.
Sudden success some people said. Sudden success, after twenty-five years? And was this success? How about the plays he’d intended to writer, the novels? Reisman groaned and stared into his glass of Vichy water. The others were drinking whisky. He, too, liked whisky, and some nights he even got drunk. But the doc told him it would kill him and sometimes he was afraid. Why did he have to have ulcers? Young Downy did not have ulcers. Young Downy had pink cheeks and optimism. Not much in the way of brains. But what are brains? A liability.
–W.R. Burnett, Little Men, Big World
January 13, 2023
Here’s a nice kettle of booze. Perhaps (due to its minty-crushed-ice-y-fruit-y nature) this is more of a spring and early summer – or late summer – number? But I was feeling the need for some summer feeling, and so decided to revisit it as a mid-winter splash of sunshine. And really, the whiskey base certainly helps warm those winter blues. Maybe it should just be had on sunny winter days? Or maybe whenever one darn well feels like it! Drinking should be fun and not an ever-involved thought exercise, anyway. The first time I made this, I utilized Tommyrotter Distillery Triple Barrel American whiskey (which had happily shown up via the post), but this time I wanted to try a bourbon, and wanted to go local, and so went with Woodinville Whiskey’s award-winning (and always reliable!) Straight Bourbon. The slight sweetness and memorable spice went decidedly well with the fruit and mint notes (might be hard in winter to find good mint, depending on where you are, but stick with it! To the bold come the spoils and all that) I felt. Really, a lush lovely drink, no matter when drunk.
My Final Offer
1-1/2 ounces Woodinville Whiskey Company Straight Bourbon
3/4 ounces Rothman & Winter Orchard apricot liqueur
2 dashes Fee Brothers Peach bitters
4-1/2 ounces club soda
Mint sprig, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with ice cubes. Add the whiskey, liqueur, and bitters. Stir well.
2. Fill a highball or comparable glass with crushed ice (or cracked if needs must). Strain the mix from above into the glass.
3. Top with the club soda. Garnish with the mint.
December 13, 2022
It wasn’t that long ago (weirdly, it was like five-and-a-half years ago, so maybe long ago in some ways? Your call) that I had a series of Cocktail Talks from the Elliott Chaze book Black Wings Has My Angel (read Part I, Part II, and Part III to learn more, see more, drink more). And today, when I woke with the desire to re-read the book (as one does with good books), and then began reading, I was again mystified that the book isn’t better know. Perhaps it’s better known now than five years ago, as another reprint in English has come out – for a long time, too long, the only recent versions were in French. It’s such a classic literary noir novel, and so well-written, it baffles me. Possibly it’s because he didn’t write a lot of books, period, and definitely that I know of, not another in this vein at this level. I’m still trying to track down other books by him, so might be wrong-footing that. But he wasn’t prolific as, say, Jim Thompson or David Goodis (who he shares some commonalities with, in this book if not others I’ve yet to read) in the novel knocking out department, and wasn’t a pulp mag story filler like Day Keene, having I’m guessing higher aspirations, and also a day job as a newspaper person. Maybe it’s that lighter output, but heck, maybe it’s just fate. Whatever, if you lean noir-y, and haven’t read this, you should. There’s more about the book in those old posts, but short story: criminal, femme fatale (both mains carrying layers), crime (with a murder, cold-blooded), the high-life, the lam-life, and bleak moments, written incredibly well. And booze. Especially I.W. Harper whiskey, which you could sip while reading. Enough of it that when I decided to have one more Cocktail Talk from the book, well, I.W. had to be a highlight.
The bartender wore a phony gay-nineties mustache and a checked vest, and he was drunk enough himself to slosh the stuff around generously. Two I. W. Harpers painted the room prettily. I got a kick out of being in a crowd of people who were out to enjoy themselves. There were pictures over the bar of John K. Sullivan and of Gentleman Jim Corbett both stripped to the waist and wearing the kind of pants you see on tightwire performers and ballet dancers.
–Elliott Chaze, Black Wings Has My Angel
November 7, 2022
I recently had another Graham Greene Cocktail Talk here on the Spiked Punch (that one was a Comedians Cocktail Talk), and when re-reading the book that that there post focused its light upon, I got the urge to re-read some other Greenes. Does that happen to you? You read or re-read a book by an author and then just get the urge to delve more deeply into said author? Well, it does to me! It’s a bit like when you have a delicious, say, whiskey drink, and then you’re like “well, that worked out nicely, how about another!” For another in our Greene reading situation, I grabbed one of the ‘entertainments’ as he called them, as opposed to his serious stuff I suppose, This Gun for Hire. Following along the paths of a not-so-nice hired gun and a nice aspiring actor (who happens to have a fiancé who is a police detective) whose paths cross after a political assassination, well, it moves fast, draws you in, and is, well, entertaining! And has the below fun quote about whiskey, and beer!
“Keep a bottle of whisky here, super?” the Chief Constable asked. “Do’us all good to ‘ave a drink. Had too much beer. It returns. Whisky’s better, but the wife doesn’t like the smell.”
–Graham Greene, This Gun for Hire
October 25, 2022
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Magdalen Nabb, too long, it seems, as I’d forgotten how enjoyable they are. But, I was recently in Florence, where her (detective and mystery-y books, not the kids books as far as I know) books take place in the main, and felt I should revisit one of them in honor of the Florence revisit. Did that make sense? Blame the jet lag if not! Anyway, I went with Death of the Englishman, the first of her Florentine mysteries, featuring Marshal Guarnaccia (along with other reoccurring characters, some of whom get more time than he in some books. It’s neat, and incredibly well-done, how she balances out the various narratives. Very skilled without being showy). There’s a murder and a mystery and some thieves, too, all goods stuff, but the best stuff is the detailed look at Florence, the streets, the smells, the food, the sights, and especially the people and the routines and experiences they go through. If you love Florence, Italy, or mysteries well-written that transport you, then you should be in on these. Especially if you also like wine, grappa, or vin santo (like me).
“Well, try and get some rest, anyway, and drink plenty of fluids.” Both of them noticed at the same time the almost empty whiskey bottle standing by the parchment lamp. “Not that stuff.”
“I’ve never tasted it.” The Marshal drank half a litre of red every day with his evening meal, never more nor less, and a drop of vin santo on Sundays.
“And no wine, either, while you’re on this.” The professor was reading the Marshal’s mind as he wrote.
–Magdalen Nabb, Death of an Englishman
October 18, 2022
I’ve had a fair amount of Charles Williams’ Cocktail Talks on here, which makes some sense as he’s (I think) one of the middle-of-last-century pulpy pocketbook masters (heck, even the NYT said he’s “just about as good as they come”). Confidentially Yours, originally from 1962, originally called The Long Saturday Night, and made into a movie directed by François Truffaut, hits the sweet spots: hero blamed for a crime he didn’t commit, everything seeming to go against him putting him in numerous nutty spots, a wife with a shady past, another potential paramour who might be helpful, might not, small and big town moments, poisoned-pen-style phone calls, multiple murders, ducks, and everything leading to . . . an unexpected conclusion! Fun stuff, including the below quote, with both dogs and whiskey! Somewhat!
“Here,” she said, picking up one of the things lying on the seat. It was a pint bottle of whiskey.
“You’re an angel,” I said.
“No, a St. Bernard, but I get tired of that little cask around my neck. When you’ve had a drink of that, there’s some food.
I took a big drink – straight out of the bottle when she said she didn’t want any – felt it unfold inside me, and opened the cardboard box. It contained a steak sandwich, wrapped in three or four big paper napkins and still warm.
–Charles Williams, Confidentially Yours
October 4, 2022
Sorry, after last week’s Kill and Tell Cocktail Talk (read that one for a little more information on the book by Howard Rigsby), I realized I had to have at least one more, while I could still type – before the Martini kicks in. It’s not actually as drinky a book as some from the era, and the PI star isn’t as hard-drinking as others (he turns down a number of drinks), but hey, it’s not like he isn’t gonna drink at all!
“What would you like to drink?” I asked. “I can make a fair Martini.”
She had begun to look worried again, but she seemed to shrug it off. She smiled. “A Martini sounds grand.”
I made it five to one, and when she had tasted it she rolled her eyes upward. “While I can still talk there’s something I’d like to tell you,” she said.
I came back with a bourbon and soda and sat down.
–Howard Rigsby, Kill and Tell
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?