I’ve had a goodly amount of Charles Dickens Cocktail Talk posts here on the Spiked Punch blog (started in the 1800s in honor of Dickens naturally), but never one from the underrated and underread book Barnaby Rudge, a situation which I’m going to remedy over the next few weeks, as I’ve recently re-read it, and so am primed for Cocktail Talks from it. You can learn more about the book from scholars more learned than I, but I will give you this: it has one of the finest, or most well-imagined, fictional pubs ever, The Maypole, in which some of the action centers. Also, it’s a book (like so much of Dickens) that while taking place in the past is finely attuned to the present, in this case as the sort-of second part of the book takes place around the actual London anti-Catholic (in theory, at least) riots, driven by Lord George Gordon, and the “politics” and demagoguery and players around such mirror a lot of what we see today. Sad, in a way. But the Maypole is nice! Until the . . . well, I won’t give too much more away. But I will start out at the Maypole, when one of the book’s main characters (out of a full and varied cast, as Dickens does), locksmith Gabriel Vaden, arrives at the pub on a stormy night.
When he got to the Maypole, however, and Joe, responding to his well-known hail, came running out to the horse’s head, leaving the door open behind him, and disclosing a delicious perspective of warmth and brightness – when the ruddy gleam of the fire, streaming through the old red curtains of the common room, seemed to bring with it, as part of itself, a pleasant hum of voices, and a fragrant odour of steaming grog and rare tobacco, all steeped as it were in the cheerful glow – when the shadows, flitting across the curtain, showed that those inside had risen from their snug seats, and were making room in the snuggest corner (how well he knew that corner!) for the honest locksmith, and a broad glare, suddenly streaming up, bespoke the goodness of the crackling log from which a brilliant train of sparks was doubtless at that moment whirling up the chimney in honour of his coming – when, superadded to these enticements, there stole upon him from the distant kitchen a gentle sound of frying, with a musical clatter of plates and dishes, and a savoury smell that made even the boisterous wind a perfume – Gabriel felt his firmness oozing rapidly away. He tried to look stoically at the tavern, but his features would relax into a look of fondness. He turned his head the other way, and the cold black country seemed to frown him off, and drive him for a refuge into its hospitable arms.
‘The merciful man, Joe,’ said the locksmith, ‘is merciful to his beast. I’ll get out for a little while.’
And how natural it was to get out! And how unnatural it seemed for a sober man to be plodding wearily along through miry roads, encountering the rude buffets of the wind and pelting of the rain, when there was a clean floor covered with crisp white sand, a well swept hearth, a blazing fire, a table decorated with white cloth, bright pewter flagons, and other tempting preparations for a well-cooked meal – when there were these things, and company disposed to make the most of them, all ready to his hand, and entreating him to enjoyment!
Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, what to do with you? I’m talking here about the book by Thackeray, of course, not the magazine. I’ll leave that to people who have read the magazine, and here we’ll stick to the book, which I recently re-read. And it took me a while, I will fully admit. I’ll also admit that the book is a classic, no matter how long it took. I mean, it’s so rich with stuff, in a way, and such a view into a certain milieu of the times, which is in some ways reflection of ones modern (maybe more than some ways). But it’s also a novel that to me reads completely (well, maybe not every single moment), or nearly completely, as if written in the sarcasm font, to bring it modern again. And if Mr. Thackeray, with respect, just scorns every character. Which means – very funny. Very realized characters. Now, he brings it together at the end in a friendlier way, and manages one of the best last lines ever, and when I was done, I was happy to have re-read it, and no doubt many Thackeray scholars if they read this post would school me! Understandably so. So, let’s change the narrative as they say. And instead let me say that I had forgotten how many swell Cocktail Talking scenes he brought into the book. We need to have at least two, maybe four. It makes sense, as Thackeray was known to enjoy, love, adore the clubs of the time (think port, not pulsating music), and not be ashamed to hit the late night brandy dens, etc. I’m all for it! And here we are! Our first Cocktail Talk. With Champagne! Seven glasses! And cherry brandy! And more!
“I think she’s going,” said the Rector’s wife. “She was very red in the face when we left dinner. I was obliged to unlace her.”
“She drank seven glasses of champagne,” said the reverend gentleman, in a low voice; “and filthy champagne it is, too, that my brother poisons us with–but you women never know what’s what.”
“We know nothing,” said Mrs. Bute Crawley.
“She drank cherry-brandy after dinner,” continued his Reverence, “and took curacao with her coffee. I wouldn’t take a glass for a five-pound note: it kills me with heartburn. She can’t stand it, Mrs. Crawley–she must go–flesh and blood won’t bear it! and I lay five to two, Matilda drops in a year.”
Whoa. This is one of the weirder days in my history. I’ve just realized I’ve never had a Bleak House Cocktail Talk on Spiked Punch before. I mean, you’d think I’d know, right? I write the posts! But there have been many, many posts on here, too many, really, and lots of Dickens Cocktail Talks, and my memory (writing about drinks and all) isn’t as up to snuff as the snuffiest, and I just on some level in my mind took it for granted that I’d had at least one Bleak House Cocktail Talks, but never stopped to check, until today, as I’m rereading said book, and so did indeed double and triple check and, well, weirdly, I never have had a quote from Bleak House on here. Whoa. See, Bleak House may be my favoritest Dickens book of the whole lot of ‘em. Maybe. Hard to say, and I am as we all are different people in some small manner on different days. But it is an all-time classic of the written world, an immense treasure for anyone who likes reading, and if you don’t, well, then check out the BBC Bleak House mini-series, cause it is the absolute tops. Bleak-Freaking-House! Not the peppiest, but I’ve laughed lots when re-reading. Cried, too. Jarndyce and Jarndyce man, it’s a killer. I don’t feel I need to outline the book, cause it’s well-known enough, but I do feel I need to have multiple Cocktail Talks from it to make up for my missteps in not having any on here already. I’m going to start with a dinner recitation from a ‘Slap-Bang’ dining house, where three chaps have been dining out: Guppy (a somewhat central character, who it’s hard not feel for, though he’s a little silly with his slicked-down hair, and a little, not un-savory, but not someone completely trustworthy), who works in one of the central law firms, and his pals Mr. Jobling (less central, law stationer), and Mr. Smallweed (lower clerk in the same firm as Guppy, and grandson to one serious shaking villain).
Mr. Smallweed, compelling the attendance of the waitress with one hitch of his eyelash, instantly replies as follows: Four veals and hams is three, and four potatoes is three and four, and one summer cabbage is three and six, and three marrows is four and six, and six breads is five, and three Cheshires is five and three, and four pints of half-and-half is six and three, and four small rums is eight and three, and three Pollys is eight and six. Eight and six in half a sovereign, Polly, and eighteenpence out!
Not at all excited by these stupendous calculations, Smallweed dismisses his friends with a cool nod, and remains behind to take a little admiring notice of Polly, as opportunity may serve, and to read the daily papers: which are so very large in proportion to himself, shorn of his hat, that when he holds up The Times to run his eye over the columns, he seems to have retired for the night, and to have disappeared under the bedclothes.
Recently was re-reading the 1950s Dell Mystery pocket-sized book What Rhymes with Murder?, by Jack Iams, and thinking: why don’t more books have mystery-solving-reporters anymore? Let me step back: Jack Iams was a novelist (mysteries and others), teacher, and maybe most of all: reporter and journalist, for Newsweek, London Daily Mail, New York Herald Tribune, and others. So, perhaps not a complete surprise that some of his mystery books features Rocky Rockwell (amazing), City Editor and writer for The Record, one of two dailies in the small city this yarn and others take place within. Not only a writer/editor, if you wondered, but also a man not afraid to mix-it-up, both with circulation war heavies and such and with the dames – mostly his fiancé here, but also a wee dalliance with a writer for the other paper in town. He’s not the only newspaper person/mystery solver in pulp book history, either, though we don’t see as many now (I hope that’s right. It feels right!), which is a shame. Of course, not as many newspaper folks in general, sadly. But I digress! To get back to the matter at hand, this book, where Rocky gets mixed up with the murder of a visiting overly-amorous British poet (the ‘overly-amorous’ may have been implied with ‘British poet’)! It’s quite a swell mid-century piece of mystery fiction, moves quick, has some feints and counter-feints, ends up with two murders, Rocky rescues a paperboy from a hoodlum, and of course spends some well-earned time drinking up in clubs and hotels and homes. So much so that I’m gonna have a couple What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talks, starting with the below pink gin-ing. Or desire for sure.
Across the room, alone at a table, sat Ariel Banks’s secretary Clark-Watson. A waiter was trying to explain something, then the clipped, high-pitched British voice said distinctly, “Dash it, I am simple asking for a pink gin.”
“But he don’t know how to make it,” said the waiter.
“That is scarcely my fault,” said Clark-Watson.
Amy chuckled and said to me, “I think I’ll get into this act.” She got up and strolled to Clark-Watson’s table. I could hear her saying, “I’m Amy Race of the Eagle. Perhaps I could be of assistance?”
Finally picked up another Henry Kane book (to read more about the solo volume I had previously, check out the Martinis and Murder Cocktail Talks) a few weeks ago, one also starring private eye (or “private Richard” as he calls himself) Peter Chambers. The book follows along our big, smart, tough (but sexy!) PI in his mid-60s manner as he enters the world of large dollar signs and political influence. A world he busts right into, as you’d expect, with good suits, lots of suave action, and lots of drinking. He also shows a nice two-fister or two-gun intolerance for fascists no matter how much they pay – as every single person should of course! This book, like the other I’ve read is pretty fun, moves pretty fast, and opens a fair number of bottles of booze in a bubbly manner. Below, it’s Champagne. Taittinger 1921, if you were wondering!
“Coffee?” he said to his wife. The tall silver urn was doing small business. The big business was at the Champagne coolers.
“Wine,” she said.
“Had you better?”
“Taittinger 1921,” she said. “You bet I had better.” She smiled at me with large white teeth. “Which means I have never had better. Taittinger ’21. The best.”
We drank Champagne, ate, chatted, and ate and chatted and drank.
Take a trip with me now, friends, back, back, back in time a few weeks ago when I was talking here on the Spiked Punch (in the Mystery of the Dead Police post) about my love of Pocket Books, both those initial-capped as being from the brand that shares that name, and the general books-sized-to-fit-in-your-pocket that were widely available during the early-and-middle-ish part of last century. More recently than that, I re-read another Pocket Book from way farther back in 1941, one called Mr. Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard, by David Frome (there’s at least one more Mr. Pinkerton book, maybe others – if you see it, buy it and send it to me please). In it, there are three murders, a jolly little man named Mr. Pinkerton (not part of the famous detectives, by the by) who somehow gets embroiled in it all, his taciturn bulldoggy pal Inspector Bull, and some Londoning, which I always like. A fun little read! And with some Cocktail Talking too. Longtime (we’re going back farther than the post mentioned, but not so far as 1941) readers will realize I’ve had the below Cocktail Talk on here before, many moon ago – but it’s such a sweet quote, I’m going with it again! I’ll have a few others from the book later, for balance, don’t you worry.
Mr. Paget had brought along with him one of the new-fangled American contraptions for mixing spirits, and he, Linda Darrell, and Hugh Ripley had brought some mint from the garden, sent Gaskins to the fish monger’s for a six pennyworth of ice, and mixed it up with lemon juice. They made what they call a cocktail out of it.
Just a week ago I talked about the double book book I’d recently picked up, talked about in The Deadly Pick-up Cocktail Talk post, that is, and therein mentioned the second book of the one-book duo, Killer Take All, by James O. Causey. And you know what? Today we are Cocktail Talking from that very book. It’s a swell piece of pulp pleasure, too, hitting the same pace and at least near the style of longtime fav Day Keene (read more Day Keene Cocktail Talks while you’re here why dontacha). By that I mean, our hero/narrator (who happens to be a golfer! Of all pulpy things) gets into trouble, then more trouble, then trouble piles on another layer of troubles, and troubling on and on until you feel there is no way he can get outta the trouble hole. Plus: some mobsters and ex-mobsters, an ex-girlfriend who may be untrustworthy, a cop who may be the opposite, loads of other shady intriguing figures, and (if that wasn’t enough) an old master painting playing a big part. Plus booze! And bars! A dandy, dandy read.
Stephen reached into his jacket pocket and brought out a pint of bonded bourbon. “Open it, Tony? We could both stand some anti-freeze.”
I took a deep slug. It was good whiskey. Stephen kept his eyes on the compass as he reached for the pint and downed almost half of it.
“Hey, you’re driving, remember?”
He took another slug and grinned, showing even white teeth. “Breakfast, man.”
I’ll admit freely that I am not a very social-media-y person. Maybe it’s age, maybe inclination, maybe I type too slowly, maybe it’s a curse put on me by an ancient sorcerer, who knows? However, I will say that at least one awesome thing has happened for me via the socials (I’m sure many things, but that’s not as dramatic), and that was when someone on the twitters pointed me towards the author Craig Rice and the book Eight Faces at Three. I believe it was mystery author and cool cocktailer (author of Down the Hatch: One Man’s One Year Odyssey Through Classic Cocktail Recipes and Lore) and noir-ish editor (typing all that out, I’m sorta jealous I’m not him!), Vince Keenan. I didn’t know Rice at all before this pointing, and that was a big failing I’m now happy to say I’ve corrected. Rice (full name something like Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig Rice) lived a bit of a wild, early-to-mid 1900s life, and that’s saying something. Not only married many times (including to a beat poet, of all things), a cocktail and booze-swirler and swigger during some rollicking periods in history, a mystery book writer and ghostwriter, and the first crime-etc. writer to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, when Time was a bigger deal than we can probably really grasp – I mean, that’s huge! – she was also (I as I read when trying to track down more info, and which I loved so much I wanted to type out), described by Bill Ruehlmann as “the Dorothy Parker of detective fiction: she wrote the binge and lived the hangover.” Wowza!
Of course, none of it would matter as much if Eight Faces at Three wasn’t all kinds of fun to read! It starts a wee bit slow, but once murder happens, and a (perhaps wrongly accused?) suspect suspected, and (most of all) said suspect’s pal, the tipsy debutante Helen Brand arrives and decides to solve things with press agent (and also tipsy) Jake Justus, well, the fun starts rolling at speed. They’re accompanied (into bars, cars, and bottles) by defense council John J. Malone, which means this book kicks off the John J. Malone series of Rice books, and while he’s a hoot, I hope in other books our other two named imbibers also show, cause they have a madcap 20s romance vibe that was all kinds of kicks. And they cocktail a lot! As well as open bottles, as in the below quote (which doesn’t specific a spirit, but I’m taking it to be rye, as that seems their tipple of choice).
Jake gasped, collected his thoughts. “Invariably.”
She laughed. “Reach into the side pocket. No – this side. I thought it might be a long, cold ride into town.”
Jake beamed approvingly at her. “There’s a certain Florence Nightingale touch about you that’s beginning to grow on me.”
She laughed again. “No glasses though.”
“Well,” he said, “you couldn’t have everything. It wouldn’t be fair”
He passed the bottle to her, watched admiringly as she tilted it up and drank deeply without allowing the big car to waver more than a little on the icy pavement.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More