August 11, 2020
First published in serial form in 1862/1863, No Name is not the book name (see what I did there!) that first pops up when one thinks of Mr. Wilkie Collins; instead, it’s The Moonstone, and then The Woman in White. Both of which have also had recent television adaptions. It makes some sense, too, especially as The Moonstone is in many ways arguably (gently, cause there is no need for a ruckus) the first, or one of the first, detective novels, kicking off a massive industry, and The Woman in White has a little of that action, too. However! Collins wrote many more novels, some good, some not as good, and strongly in the good column is No Name. It had been, maybe, twenty-odd years since I read this the first time, and on the second reading recently I was struck by just how good it is, and left wondering why more haven’t taken it up. It has, as you might expect, a fair dollop of Victorian melodramatics – meaning, lots of cliff’s edges or “oh that didn’t happen” ramped up moments, like a silent movie in a way, or like a fair amount of modern movies now that I think about it – and gets wordy at over 500 pages. But the story/stories of two sisters (Magdalen and Norah Vanstone) abandoned when their parents die, and left none of their inheritance due to the ridiculous legality of the times, and how they deal with it and the loss of standing and fortune (not to mention grief, degradation, all that) is done quite well, and gives us a heroine (Magdalen) that many readers at the time weren’t fond of, but which I quite liked in her “do whatever it takes” and “I’m not going to sit in a place others tell me to” attitude. It could, I think, also make a swell miniseries! Plus, it was Collins’ pal Charles Dickens favorite (of the Collins canon), and has a couple nearly Dickensian characters, including the rascally Captain Wragge, and his nemesis, the calculating Mrs. Lecount, who below gives us – along with cruel fool Noah Vanstone – our first of three Cocktail Talks from the book.
“The man has been drinking, sir,” said Mrs. Lecount. “It is easy to see and to smell that. But he is evidently used to drinking. If he is sober enough to walk quite straight–which he certainly does–and to sign his name in an excellent handwriting–which you may see for yourself on the Will–I venture to think he is sober enough to drive us to Dumfries.”
“Nothing of the sort! You’re a foreigner, Lecount; you don’t understand these people. They drink whisky from morning to night. Whisky is the strongest spirit that’s made; whisky is notorious for its effect on the brain. I tell you, I won’t run the risk. I never was driven, and I never will be driven, by anybody but a sober man.”
–Wilkie Collins, No Name
June 30, 2020
Well, anyone who is anyone knows that I love myself some Anthony Trollope. More than anyone else is the world? I’m not sure about that, as there are some fanatical Trollope-ites out there, and more power to ‘em. But I do love old Anthony (or, Tony, as I call him when we’re chatting), and have read I think all but two of his books, or three, perhaps, which is in a way a nice feeling, as I have that to look forward to. I also have re-reading (and re-re-reading and onwards in some cases) the books I have, one of which is The Bertrams (pubbed 1859), a tale theoretically of three chaps, but really one (George Bertram) is the spotlight guy most of the time. Is The Bertrams my favorite Trollope, or in the top half? Probably not (just lacks a little of the Trollope balance, parallelisms, and rounded characters, and such, to me). Am I still really glad and re-read it, and do I hope to be around long enough to re-read it again? Damn straight Tony! And does the book have a number of Cocktail Talk worthy moments? Damn straight again! Starting with the below, which is probably one of the few Milk Punch moments in classic literature.
“Having uttered these very lugubrious words, and almost succeeded in throwing a wet blanket over the party, he sat down.
‘Now, you’re not going to do anybody else, are you?’ said Madden.
‘Only Twisleton, and Gerard, and Hopgood,’ answered Bertram; ‘and Fortescue looks as if he expected it. Perhaps, however, he’ll let us off till the day after to-morrow.’
And then, with a round of milk punch, another cigar apiece, and a little more chat, the party broke up.”
–Anthony Trollope, The Bertrams
June 9, 2020
As I, like others, have been at home perhaps more than usual lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading (well, I do a lot all the time, but even more perhaps), and one thing I dove into during this time was The Complete Father Brown Stories by old G.K. Chesterton, which is a massive tome – ideal for right now! And I have to admit (cause we’re all pals here), that I watched the currently TV Father Brown tele show before reading any of the stories. Which is weird, cause usually I go at it the other way round. And, even weirdly, since we’re admitting things, I like the TV show better. Don’t throw things at me. Mark Williams is a genius actor, I like the small town England focus, and, well, I like his Father Brown a bit more than the book one. And skipping some of G.K.’s dated and wrong, oh, opinions, is okay, too. Which is not to say that the stories in the main aren’t good and shouldn’t be read. They totally should be, cause lots and lots of awesome is contained therein. Enough that I’m going to have a trio of Cocktail Talks from different stories, starting with below brandy bellowing.
“And you will have your usual, Sir,” said Mr. Wills leaning and leering across the counter.
“It’s the only decent stuff you’ve still got,” snorted Mr. Raggley, slapping down his queer and antiquated hat, “Damn it, I sometimes think the only English thing left in England is cherry brandy. Cherry brandy does taste of cherries. Can you find me any beer that tastes of hops, or any cider that tastes of apples, or any wine that has the remotest indication of being made out of grapes? There’s an infernal swindle going on now in every inn in the country, that would have raised a revolution in any other country. I’ve found out a thing or two about it, I can tell you. You wait till I can get it printed, and people will sit up. If I could stop our people being poisoned with all this bad drink——”
— G.K. Chesterton, “The Quick One”
January 28, 2020
A little more Maigret never hurt anyone, right – heck, Maigret is seen as a cure-all in many countries, so more is actually beneficial. It feels like that to me every time I read a Maigret yarn I haven’t read at least (and luckily, I still have a ways to goes, as Mr. Simenon was very prolific). I picked up the latest, for me, in a Florence bookstore, bella-ly enough, and in it Maigret has to enter the world of the super-rich after a murder in Parisan luxury hotel the George V. Said murder happening after two folks had a bit of a do, with numerous sippers, as detailed below.
“Not at this time of night, Madame la Comtesse, but I’ll get in touch with the nurse…”
A little over an hour before, he had brought up to that very suite a bottle of Champagne, a bottle of whiskey, some soda water, and a bucket of ice. The bottles and glasses were still in the sitting room, except for one Champagne glass that had been overturned on the bedside table.
–George Simenon, Maigret and the Millionaires
January 7, 2020
I’ve been re-reading the Day Keene duo book (duo, as it contains two full novels – quite a Day deal, really) put out by Stark House, the one which contains both My Flesh is Sweet (which has its own My Flesh is Sweet Cocktail Talk in the Spiked Punch, and for that matter, check out all the Day Keene Cocktail Talk posts) and Framed in Guilt. And in said re-reading, a couple sweet quotes I should have highlighted the first time popped out to me. So, consider this Part I. Framed in Guilt (which may well be the mighty pulp master Keene’s first!) is a fast-paced, well-plotted, yarn in the Keene style, in which Hollywood scripter Robert Stanton barrels around CA, with his past catching up to him (maybe?) and a murder or two hung on him, as well as nearly getting burned himself. It moves in the Keene manner! Which is a high compliment indeed. And they drink some Scotch, as well as other things. But below, Scotch.
The man at the wheel seemed to shrink. His coat was suddenly too large for his shoulders. It seemed difficult for him to breathe. “I didn’t know there was a child. Believe me.” He took a bottle from the glove compartment. “After that, I need a drink.”
“You might ask if I cared for one,” Grace said.
He handed her the bottle. It was dimpled bottle Scotch, and tasted as good as it smelled. Grace drank sparingly, then corked and returned the bottle to the glove compartment.
–Day Keene, Framed in Guilt
September 11, 2018
I recently read the fairly-late-period Trollope novel Ayala’s Angel again – you can tell I’ve read it before, because I have a past Ayala’s Angel Cocktail Post on this very blog! But I tend to read Trollope books more, because no modern books are as good (I kid, I kid – sort-of, hahaha), or just because I like them so much. So, came back to this one again, and loved it again. It doesn’t get as much press as the more serious late-period Trollope works, but it’s a very fun read, a romantic comedy in most ways, with lots of humorous moments, as well as a perfect picture of a certain type of life in the late 1800s, featuring lots of details, the nearly-always-there fox hunt, visuals into the changing economies, all that. But mostly, just really good characters and lots of fun. It’s a long read, but moves quickly and keeps the pages turning. When reading it again, I realized A: how much I liked it, and B: that I gave it short-shrift with just one Cocktail Talk. So, a few more are coming! Starting with this one, where our heroine is being crabby, and takes it out on gin!
“I hate dishes,” said Ayala, petulantly.
“You don’t hate eating?”
“Yes, I do. It is ignoble. Nature should have managed it differently. We ought to have sucked it in from the atmosphere through our fingers and hairs, as the trees do by their leaves. There should have been no butchers, and no grease, and no nasty smells from the kitchen,—and no gin.”
This was worse than all,—this allusion to the mild but unfashionable stimulant to which Mr. Dosett had been reduced by his good nature.
—Ayala’s Angel, Anthony Trollope
February 13, 2018
I love the Stark House
Noir Classics series – thanks Stark House! They take some legendary noir/crime/mystery/all-the-good-stuff writers, some looked over, some not, pick out some of their (often lesser-available) books, and often package two books in one volume. Which is amazing! Recently, I became the proud possessor of another in the collection, a book combining two hits from Charles Williams – Nothing In Her Way and River Girl
. That’s some combo!
I’ve Cocktail Talked Charles Williams before – a fair amount, go check them out – and am always happy to find a yarn of his I haven’t read (thanks again Stark House!), which is the case here times two. He’s known for his sea-set books best, perhaps, but also for his unflinching look into his characters, who all carry flaws, his usually-right-on plotting, and a couple movie adaptations, including ocean-bound Dead Calm. Neither of the books in this two-books-in-one powerhouse takes place aboard a boat on the ocean like that one (though as you’d expect from the title, River Girl includes a river), but both are worth diving in to. I liked Nothing In Her Way a bit better of the two, because it’s a grifters story, and, well, I like reading about the cons and the cons who try to con. Also, it has a number of Cocktail-Talk-able quotes, so we’re gonna feature two here, starting with the rum and accidental-glass-breaking (or is it?) number below:
It was one of those dim places, with a black mirror behind the bar, and while it was doing a good business, I hadn’t known it was that crowded. I’d just put my drink down and was reaching for a cigarette when I felt my elbow bump gently against something, and then I heard the glass break as it went over the bar. I looked down at the spreading Daiquiri, and then at him. It was odd. There’d been plenty of room there a minute ago.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It didn’t spill on you, did it?”
“No. It’s all right.” He smiled. “No harm done.”
“Here,” I said. “Let me get you another one.” I caught the bartender’s eyes and gestured.
“No,” he protested. “I wish you wouldn’t. It was just an accident. Happen to anybody.”
“Not at all,” I said. “I knocked it over. I’ll get you another one.” The barman came up. “Give this gentleman another Daiquiri. And charge me with a glass.”
–Charles Williams, Nothing In Her Way
January 16, 2018
The earlier Cocktail Talks from the Charles Willeford book Pick-Up
(read Pick-Up Part I
, and Pick-Up Part II
if you missed ‘em) alluded to me diving into the Willeford canon lately – deeper, that is, than the Hoke Mosely books I do so love (read all the Willeford Cocktail Talks
to learn more). The dive included the dark, really, lesser-known book Made in Miami
, which is a fast-paced, hotly-focused, a bit (for the times, and maybe even now, in inflection) saucy and tawdry, and finally fairly bleak look into a shady side of Miami. If that sounds intriguing, it’s well worth tracking down. And it has – it’s hot in Miami – some nice cocktail talking.
Maria unzipped her dress at the back and carefully slipped it over her head. She draped it lovingly over the foot of her bed while she looked for a coat hanger in the closet. It was the only really decent dress Maris had brought with her and she took excellent care of it. The silk dress was much too good to wear in a Rotunda Room full of women while she drank Tom Collinses at sixty-five cents apiece, the waiter expecting a dime tip every time he brought another round.
–Charles Willeford, Made in Miami