May 29, 2018
I was at the amazing Seattle Public Library annual booksale
not to long back, and came across a great box of book (well, lots of boxes of book, many, many, many were there, but this was a particular
one) that had a fair amount of old pocket-sized books, the ones with good covers, including books from heavy-hitters like Hammett and Chandler. But also some names I didn’t know, which is where this beauty by Adam Knight, The Sunburned Corpse
, comes into the picture. It wasn’t the best pulpy pick-up, but it’s lots of fun – I mean, it has the subtitle “Murder in a Tropical Paradise” and what’s more fun than that! There was a tough detective, a bunch of double-dealing, a murder on a boat, rum, and more, including the below quote that isn’t about rum. I love booksales!
“Forgive me,” she said, after a great lurch of the boat. “If I’m making passes at you under the table, please blame it on Davy Jones.”
“I’m not complaining,” I said.
“You’re really nice,” she smiled. “What are you drinking?”
“Drambuie. It sits well after a big meal.”
“A man of discernment.” She cased me slyly, weighing me with her wise eyes. “You don’t find many Drambuie drinkers on a boat like this. I would have judged you a Scotch and soda man.”
“I didn’t think it showed.” I lifted her glass and sniffed it. “You fooled me, too. I would have called you the Manhattan type. Instead, you’re sipping Aquavit. Scandinavian ancestors?”
“I love the Swedes?” She laughed. “I also love Aquavit because it warms me and excites me. But Aquavit is a kind friend the morning after.”
–Adam Knight, The Sunburned Corpse
April 26, 2016
Our final Fredric Brown cocktail talk (in this run at least) comes from a story called “The Wench Is Dead,” which was later expanded into a novel. It’s about a genial drunk (who used to be high society), and murder, of course! And mishaps, and, as you’ll see below, Manhattans. Be sure to check out Part I and Part II to expand your Brown-ing. You’ll be happy you did.
‘Let’s drink our drink and then I’ve got a room around the corner. I registered double so it’ll be safe for us to go there and talk a while.’
The bartender had mixed her Manhattan and was pouring it. I ordered a refill on my whisky-high. Why not? It was going to be my last drink for a long while. The wagon from here on in, even after I got back to Chicago for at least a few weeks, until I was sure the stuff couldn’t get me, until I was sure I could do normal social drinking without letting it start me off.
–Fredric Brown, Miss Darkness
April 12, 2016
I recently received the book Miss Darkness: The Great Short Crime Fiction of Fredric Brown. I hadn’t had any experience with Mr. Brown before, which is a shame as he’s pretty darn good – smart, funny, able to write both super short stories and longer pieces, obsessed a bit with chess and Shakespeare and a few other choices things, like drinks. He also made a name for himself as a sci-fi writer (maybe even moreso) and I believe had a few movies made from his work. This collection is a monster of sorts, just in that it’s 726 pages, so hard to read on the bus (but not impossible!). A worthy monster to attack though, as it’s jam-packed with crime-noir-y goodness. And if you like circus sideshows, well, don’t miss it. I’m going to run a couple Cocktail Talk quotes from it, because Mr. Brown also enjoyed the tipples, as I’ve said. This one’s from the story “Good Night, Good Knight,” and has cocktail and bartending and acting and blackmail fun.
He got the haircut, which he needed, and the shave, which he didn’t really need — he’d shaved this morning. He bought a new white shirt and had his shoes shined and his suit pressed. He had his soul lifted with three Manhattans in a respectable bar — three, sipped slowly, and no more. And he ate — the three cherries from the Manhattans.
The back-bar mirror wasn’t smeary. It was blue glass, though, and it made him look sinister. He smiled a sinister smile at his reflection. He thought, Blackmailer. The role; play it to the hilt, throw yourself into it. And someday you’ll play Macbeth.
Should he try it on the bartender? No. He’d tried it on bartenders before.
The blue reflection in the back-bar mirror smiled at him.
–Fredric Brown, Miss Darkness
May 26, 2015
Okay, I’ve taken nearly a month since the Glass Key Part 1 post, and during that time haven’t been able to get this smashing Dashiell Hammett novel of politics and ka-pows out of my mind. So, that means – a second Cocktail Talk post on it. You are very lucky people (but not as lucky as when you actually read the book), cause it’s a swell, swell read, as the below demonstrates (in boozy fashion).
Lee Wilshire had returned to her table. She sat there with her cheeks between her fists, staring at the cloth.
Ned Beaumont sat down facing her. He said to the waiter: “Jimmy’s got a Manhattan that belongs to me. And I want some food. Eaten yet, Lee?”
“Yes,” she said without looking up. “I want a Silver Fizz.”
–Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key
April 7, 2015
A lost novel by James M. Cain (James M. Cain!) came out a couple years ago, and I didn’t even realize it. Cause I am an idiot! But, that didn’t make me any less happy when I did find out, and when I found a copy I was ridiculously happy. Mr. Cain is of course one of the honest-and-true pulp and hardboiled masters, and so discovering The Cocktail Waitress, a lost novel of his, well, that’s treasure to a guy like me. And the book is fantastic, with many of the Cain hallmarks (sex, greed, stark, and characters that breathe), and with a fair amount of action in a bar called The Garden of Roses. In it, our main character learns a bit about what she’ll need to do besides delivering drinks.
“First set-up is for the old-fashioned. You know what an old- fashioned is?”
“You mean the orange slices and cherries?”
“…Yeah, them.” He gave me a long look, then went on: “And for Martinis?”
“I turn the olives out in a bowl and stick toothpicks in them.”
“Onions, no toothpicks.”
“O.K. Now, on Manhattans—”
“No toothpicks if they have stems on them. But sometimes the wrong kind is delivered, and them without stems take picks. On Margaritas—”
“Salt? In a dish? And a lemon, gashed on one end, to spin the glasses in?”
“Speaking of lemon—”
“Twists? How many?”
“Many as three lemons make. Cut them thick, put them in a bowl, and on top put plenty ice cubes, so they don’t go soft on me. I hate soft twists.” He looked at me like I was a dancing horse or some other marvel. “You sure you never…?”
I explained: “My mother used to give parties, and my father fixed the drinks. I was Papa’s little helper.”
— James M. Cain, The Cocktail Waitress
March 17, 2015
The cover blurb from the NYT review of this book says it all, “A brutal story of mayhem and murder, liquor and lust.” Okay, it doesn’t seem all that brutal today maybe as in 1947, but it does deliver on the murder, liquor, and lust, no doubt about that! Written by Henry Kane and starring a detective named Peter Chambers, Martinis and Murder is probably B level hard-boiled pulp action – not at the level of the masters, but not a bad little read. And as far as cocktail talking goes, this book is packed and overflowing with booze-y asides, varieties of imbibibles, and lots of general drinking. Oh, there’s a mystery, too, which gets solved in-between the drinks. Because the book’s so tipsy and happy about it, this is only going to be the first Cocktail Talk, of three! And there could have been more! Really!
She touched a cord with a gold tassel and the butler came in.
‘Aperitif?’ she inquired and looked at me.
‘Manhattan,’ I said.
‘Manhattan, Alfred. And several Martinis, dry. Please serve them in the garden. Now, come along, Peter Chambers. And don’t disgrace me.’
–Henry Kane, Martinis and Murder
February 3, 2015
Not too long ago I had my first George Simenon Cocktail Talk post, and in that very post mentioned that I thought I’d probably have more – and I was right! I’ve read a few more Inspector Maigret books since then, most recently A Man’s Head. And it was a good yarn indeed, fast-paced, intriguing, nicely mysterious, and really tightly plotted. Everything you’d want (if what you want is a worthy book, that is). Also, a fair amount of the action takes place in bars, which I’m all for, as you might guess. The main bar is the American bar in the Cupole, where Maigret makes a sorta rare foray into cocktails.
He heard someone call out.‘A Manhattan.’
And he said: ‘The same for me.’
He was not himself of the cocktail generation. Beer was more in his line. The barman pushed a dish of olives toward him, but he did not touch them.
—A Man’s Head, George Simenon
March 26, 2013
It’s nice to know that the classics were full of Cocktail Talk. And nice to know that I’m still tappng into those great books, the Compleat Imbibers, those British compendiums of drink, wine, glassware, poetry, and so much more that everyone should pick up if they ever get a chance. If you don’t get a chance, well, read this quote:
Drinkers, such as Horace, were regularly mentioned in the New Year’s Honours. Indeed, Horace’s great ode on the defeat of Cleopatra begins, symbolically, with the words ‘Nunc est bibendum’: ‘Now for a drink.’ It is as if some patriotic American poet, the late Robert Frost perhaps, were to have celebrated the annihilation of an infinitely seductive female Mao tse Tung by demanding a Manhattan.
–Peter Dickinson, Love, Liquor, and Classical Learning, from The Compleat Imbiber 6