August 30, 2022
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?”
“Can you tell this chap how to make a pink gin?”
— Jack Iams, What Rhymes with Murder?
July 12, 2022
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.
Sturgeon and Champagne. Ah, the sweet life.
–Henry Kane, The Unholy Trio
May 3, 2022
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.
–David Frome, Mr. Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard
March 15, 2022
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.”
–James O. Causey, Killer Take All
February 15, 2022
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.
–Craig Rice, Eight Faces at Three
December 7, 2021
I have had enough A.A. Fair Cocktail Talks and Erle Stanley Gardner Cocktail Talks on the ol’ Spiked Punch for those that don’t know to now know they are the same person, right? Well, the latter, Mr. Erle, is the person I suppose, and the former, Mr. A.A., just a nom de plume (as they say), but I like to hope he at least wore different hats when writing as different people. Anyway, I’ve had a fair (haha!) enough amount of Cocktail Talks as mentioned for you to go back through them to browse my thoughts on the two personas, on the books written by them, and my feelings therein. So, don’t miss that! Cause I’m not going to go over it all here, instead want to jump right in to the drink-y quotes from this book, Some Slips Don’t Show, which stars (as all the A.A. Fair books, I believe) detective Donald Lam, and to a lesser extent, his partner Bertha Cool. In this yarn, they end up with a client who isn’t completely sure if he cheated on his wife while in San Francisco, but may be being blackmailed. Curious! And then there is a murder, and some art, and a modern lady beguiled by the diminutive (in height, somewhat, but not in smarts or stick-tuitive-ness) and dashing Donald, as ladies tend to be. But before said beguiling, there’s background around the client, who it seems had himself a night.
She laughed a throaty, musical laugh. “Trying to play the big, bad wolf was pretty much of a strain on him. He was out of character.”
“I can imagine,” I said. “What happened?”
“He started drinking Champagne like water on top of some fruit punch. The combination didn’t agree with him.”
“So, what happened?”
“He went to the bathroom.”
“Do you have to know all the details?”
–A.A. Fair, Some Slips Don’t Show
November 16, 2021
I’m back into another George Simenon yarn starring Parisian Inspector Maigret (there have been many Maigret Cocktail Talks you can browse at will), an ideal read for a rainy November day, as during a fair part of Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard Paris is engulfed in heavy rains. And our stolid, stoic, Chief Inspector (to give him his full due) moves along through the wet and dry and cloudy days in his own particular way: slow at times, thoughtful at times, dreamy (can I say that? I did!) at times, but always pushing forward. His case this time involves the murder of a man who had a second-life of sorts, pointed out first by the fact that he was murdered wearing light brown shoes, shoes which his wife swears he didn’t own, and which Maigret calls “goose-dung” shoes, due to the color. That’s amazing! Maigret follows the various threads, spooling them up one-by-one, while stopping for various sips along the way: wine, Calvados, aperitives, more, maybe even more than usual (one of the many reasons I love Maigret so much is his love of bars, bistros, brasseries, and other eating-and-watering holes. Even when they are around-the-corner, as in the below).
“Where to now chief?”
It was just eleven o’clock.
“Stop at the first bistro you come to.”
“There’s one next door to the shop.”
Somehow, he felt shy of going in there, under Leone’s watchful eye.
“We’ll find one round the corner.”
He wanted to ring Monsieur Kaplan, and to consult the street guide, to find Monsieur Saimbron’s exact address on the Quai de la Megisserie.
While he was there, having started the day with a Calvados, he thought he might as well have another, and drank it standing at the bar counter.
–George Simenon, Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard
October 5, 2021
First published in 1884, An Old Man’s Love was the last novel completed by the Spiked Punch’s pal Anthony Trollope, published after his death (there’s one more unfinished novel, too – oh, and check out all the Trollope Cocktail Talks to learn more, in an overall way, while having oodles of reading fun), and also one of the few novels by him that I’d yet to read, until recently! It’s a short novel, and almost could have slipped into novella size, though I’d hate to miss all but a few of his last words. I wouldn’t put it into the super-awesome tier of Trollope, as it’s fairly one-path’d as opposed to his thicker, more layered pieces. But it’s a good study of just what the title would have you believe: an older gentleman falls for his younger ward and nearly marries her – but then a past love of her’s shows up, and stuff ensues, as you’d expect. There are a few other pertinent characters, including the old man’s (Mr. Whittlestaff, that is), housekeeper, with whom he has some funny exchanges, and her drunken reprobate of an estranged husband. The latter is featured in the below quote, which itself also features one of my favorite phrases, “drunk as a lord.” This phrase usage is really why the below makes it to Cocktail Talk status. Drunk as a lord! I’ve been there, my friends.
On the next morning, when John Gordon reached the corner of the road at which stood Croker’s Hall, he met, outside on the roadway, close to the house, a most disreputable old man with a wooden leg and a red nose. This was Mr. Baggett, or Sergeant Baggett as he was generally called, and was now known about all Alresford to be the husband of Mr. Whittlestaff’s housekeeper. For news had got abroad, and tidings were told that Mr. Baggett was about to arrive in the neighbourhood to claim his wife. Everybody knew it before the inhabitants of Croker’s Hall. And now, since yesterday afternoon, all Croker’s Hall knew it, as well as the rest of the world. He was standing there close to the house, which stood a little back from the road, between nine and ten in the morning, as drunk as a lord. But I think his manner of drunkenness was perhaps in some respects different from that customary with lords. Though he had only one leg of the flesh, and one of wood, he did not tumble down, though he brandished in the air the stick with which he was accustomed to disport himself. A lord would, I think, have got himself taken to bed. But the Sergeant did not appear to have any such intention.
— Anthony Trollope, An Old Man’s Love