November 29, 2022

Cocktail Talk: The Heart of the Matter

graham-greene-heart-of-the-matterOur recent Graham Greene Cocktail Talking (don’t miss The Comedians Cocktail Talk and This Gun for Hire Cocktail Talk, plus more Graham Greene’s from the past) continues, this time with The Heart of the Matter, which I recently re-read, and in which they drink a lot of Pink Gins, and sweat a lot, too. It’s a classic in the more serious Greene vein, steeped in immaculate, elegant, prose, alongside delving into the interactions and motivations of the main character, including a deep look in his Catholic beliefs and how they cause in a way part of the action to unfurl. Not for the faint of reading heart, neccessarily. But for those who like gin!

“What about you, darling?” He turned quickly away from her and began to fix two more Pink Gins. There was a tacit understanding between them that ‘liquor helped;’ growing more miserable with every glass one hoped for the moment of relief.

“You don’t really want to know about me.”

“Of course I do, darling. What sort of a day have you had?”

“Ticki, why are you such a coward? Why don’t you tell me it’s all off?”

“All off?”

“You know what I mean – the passage. You’ve been talking and talking since you came in about the Esperanca. There’s a Portuguese ship in once a fortnight. You don’t talk that way every time. I’m not a child, Ticki. Why don’t you say straight out – you can’t go?”

He grinned miserably at his glass, twisting it round and round to let the Angostura cling along the curve.

 

–Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

November 15, 2022

Cocktail Talk: Passing Strange

passing-strange-airdIt’s strange and not strange that I haven’t had any Cocktail Talks from Catherine Aird, a master in the British small town mystery genre (though really, that qualification probably does her a disservice, as she’s just pretty masterful). I read a short story of hers not but a few years back in some anthology or other which escapes me, after which I picked up the first book she wrote (A Religious Body), which I loved, and since then have been slowly filling out my Aird library, and liking all the books. Featuring Detective Inspector C.D. Sloan, who operates in the made-up (but very familiar in a way) English region of Calleshire, working with the slightly bumbling, but funny, Detective Constable Crosby, they solve many well-crafted small English village murders. But, while pubs always show up, there haven’t been many/any Cocktail Talking moments in the books I’ve read, until the below quote from Passing Strange (where a murder happens at a flower show!), a quote which I found delightful, and relatable, too!

By closing time he had been fortified by an unusual quantity of beer. He had had to concentrate quite hard when the time came to leave the King’s Head. The little flight of steps which had presented no problem at all when he had arrived demanded careful negotiation when he left.

— Catherine Arid, Passing Strange

November 7, 2022

Cocktail Talk: This Gun for Hire

1524186I 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

Cocktail Talk: Death of an Englishman

death-of-an-englishmanIt’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

Cocktail Talk: Confidentially Yours

confidentially_yoursI’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

Cocktail Talk: Kill and Tell, Part III

kill_and_tell_rigsbySorry, 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 27, 2022

Cocktail Talk: Kill and Tell, Part II

kill_and_tell_rigsbyLong ago on this here blog (the ol’ Spiked Punch, around longer than makes any sense, haha), I had a post with two quotes – in one post! What was I thinking? – from the Howard Rigsby book, Kill and Tell, the Pocket Book edition, 1953. Well, recently, I decided to re-read said book, brought back to it by the swell cover and the name, and cause I didn’t remember exactly how it turned out. I’d also forgotten what a, interesting, mid-last-century pocket-y mystery it is, just as the protagonist Tim Wilde is perhaps more thinky, or considered (if that makes sense) then some of his more hard-boiled shamuses of the time. Plus, it ends fairly sadly (not so strange, but the way it gets there I found different enough to be interesting). There are two murders, small town shenanigans, car smacks, monkeys (!!), piano playing, and more. Worth checking out. Plus the nice usage of the word “mottled” in the below!

I went up the stairs and he was standing there on the landing in a dressing gown. He had, as usual, a drink in his hand, a highball. His face looked mottled and feverish. “Well, I made it,” he said. “I made the inquest.”

“How was it?”

“Come in here,” he said. He turned and went into the sitting room and I followed him. He waved a fresh bottle of Scotch. “Pour yourself a drink.”

–Howard Rigsby, Kill and Tell

September 13, 2022

Cocktail Talk: What Rhymes with Murder?, Part III

what_rhymes_with_murderFor 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?

Rathbun on Film