January 31, 2023
This quote’s from another story featured in one of the British Library Crime Classics anthologies, edited as always by the indefatigable Martin Edwards (see a couple past British Library Crime Classics Cocktail Talks). This particular collection is called Guilty Creatures, and is roaming with mysteries that circle or feature or highlight or spotlight animals in some way. Being an animal-lover myself, it was an ideal mix of stories for me. Not a lot of Cocktail Talking as you might expect, and (also as you might expect in a collection featuring a range of stories from early-to-middle last century) with a few stories that don’t hit such a high mark, though many, many do. This particular story actually wasn’t one of my favs, but was fun in a way, and has the amazing title “Pit of Screams,” and has snakes playing a big part, and a warning on brandy and Champagne in the below quote that while I can’t agree with, I can certainly understand!
In Togarapore to this day they will tell you that the snakes hypnotized the Rajah so that he fell. But what do you think?
He was giddy from the drink and the sun? Yes, that’s another possible explanation. It is bad to drink brandy and Champagne at midday. But neither is correct. What really killed the Rajah was a tear running down the cheek of that girl wife.
I was a young man in those days, very strong and with hot blood. When I saw that tear I bent, unnoticed, and jerked his ankles so that he somersaulted like the rat he was into the Pit of Screams.
— Garnett Radicliffe, “Pit of Screams”
December 20, 2022
I’ve only yet had one other Cocktail Talk (The Case of Oscar Brodski Cocktail Talk, from the Blood on the Tracks anthology) from a British Library Crime Classics collection, though I hope to have more. These collections (there are a fair amount now, themed often in various ways) bring together some more famous, some less famous, some oft anthologized, some mostly forgotten mystery and crime stories written by British authors mainly in the early part of the last century. They’re loads of fun. Not all the stories are top shelf, but I haven’t read one yet (and I have three of the collections now) that didn’t have some merit. In them, better-known names (the awesome Arthur Conan Doyle for one) sit alongside lesser-known authors, some of whom were renowned during their times, then faded from public knowledge as years passed. As happens! Just today, I was reading the collection called Settling Scores, which contains murders and crimes around various types of sports and sporting events: tennis, golf, squash, boxing, and more, including rowing, which is where our Cocktail Talk comes from, as might be guessed from the story’s title, “The Boat Race Murder.” It was written by David Winser, who had a burgeoning writing career (and doctoring career) cut tragically short by a bomb in WWII. The series editor (and well-known mystery writer in his own right) Martin Edwards provides helpful bios for each author, along with picking the stories. You might think, “sports,” and expect a lack of Cocktail Talking (training and all) – I didn’t expect to find a quote quite right myself. But then came across the below, which is perfect.
You must try and picture a fizz night at Ranelagh. Someone, the coach or some other old Blue, had suddenly produced a dozen bottles of Champagne, and the coach has said that the crew’s been going so well that it damn well deserves the filthy stuff. Actually, as he and everyone else knows, the main purpose of the fizz is to stop the crew getting stale.
–David Winser, The Boat Race Murder
February 1, 2022
On a rainy days like today, and yesterday, and probably tomorrow, I start to think “wouldn’t it be nice if it was sunny and I was on a train riding through the English countryside, with curious and attractive small towns and verdant and buzzing fields and such passing by outside my window?” And then I go back to reading the excellent collection of Golden Age British train-fueled mystery short stories Blood on the Tracks, and start to think, “hmm, maybe I’m safer inside with the rain outside dampening murderous thoughts?” One of the British Library Crime Classics collections (a fine series edited by writer and editor Martin Edwards, and one which unearths many mystery and crime gems nearly lost to history, usually placing them alongside some better-known hits), Blood on the Tracks boasts 15 stories that all share a train connection, making it a top choice for railway enthusiasts as well as mystery hounds – and for those, like me, who fit both categories? It’s dreamy! Our particular Cocktail Talk here comes from a story by R. Austin Freeman, a writer from that late 1800s, early 1900s Golden Age of crime fiction, one I don’t know well, but look forward to reading more from (probably with the help of more British Library Crime Classics!). In it, there are diamonds, a nefarious deed, actual blood on the tracks, a doctor detective of note, and wonderful usage of the wonderful word, “jorum.”
“Have a biscuit?” said Hickler, as he placed a whisky-bottle on the table together with a couple of his best star-pattern tumblers and a siphon.
“Thanks, I think will,” said Brodski. “The railway journey and all this confounded tramping about, you know.”
“Yes,” agreed Silas. “Doesn’t do you good to start with an empty stomach. Hope you don’t mind oat-cakes; I see they’re the only biscuit I have.”
Brodski hastened to assure him that oat-cakes were his special and peculiar fancy; and in confirmation, having mixed himself a stiff jorum, he fell to upon the biscuits with evident gusto.
–R. Austin Freeman, “The Case of Oscar Brodski”