April 14, 2020
Okay, okay, okay, I have to have one more Cocktail Talk from the bountiful holiday bounty that is The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. If you missed the first two winter-holiday-in-spring Cocktail Talks, then roll back in time with Christmas Mystery Cocktail Talk #1 and Christmas Mystery Cocktail Talk #2. Good? Cheerful with holiday cheer? Good? Then it’s time for a little Santa bartender thanks to Rex Stout, his legendary detective Nero Wolfe, and the story “Christmas Party” – at this Christmas party, there’s some merriment, and then some murder, as you’d expect. And some Pernod! You probably didn’t expect that, but see the below (and get The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries).
“I can stand a sip, Al.”
“But you won’t enjoy it. Wait.” Kiernan put his glass on the bar and marched to the door on the left and on out. In five seconds, he was back, with a bottle in his hand, and as he rejoined us and asked Santa Claus for a glass I saw the Pernod label. He pulled the cork, which had been pulled before, filled the glass halfway, and held it out to Bottweill. “There,” he said. “That will make it unanimous.”
“Thanks Al,” Bottweill took it. “My secret public vice.”
— Rex Stout, Christmas Party
April 7, 2020
Only weeks in the past, I had a Cocktail Talk from the Robert Barnard story “Boxing Unclever,” which was featured in the awesome anthology The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, which is both big as advertised (my version nearly 800 pages) and bouncing over with holiday cheer – meaning, murders, thievery, and the like, with authors ranging from 100s (or thereabouts) of years old to more modern fare. It’s a winter gem! This Cocktail Talk is in the older bracket, though not old in a pejorative sense! The story is by Damon Runyon, and, weirdly, I used to rent an apartment near where he was born in Manhattan, KS! He made his mark in the other Manhattan, where his writing on the glittering and tarnished made him famous. This story starts on a scrumptious holiday high note with the below quote, and then rolls its prohibition-y way from there, in a language and style right on time.
Now one time it comes on Christmas, and in fact it is the evening before Christmas, and I am in Good Time Charley Bernstein’s little speakeasy in West Forty-seventh Street, wishing Charley a Merry Christmas and having a few hot Tom and Jerrys with him.
This hot Tom and Jerry is an old time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is one so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.
–Damon Runyon, Dancing Dan’s Christmas
March 24, 2020
When you’re sorta, oh, staying at home for an extended period as some are at the moment, it’s good to have a big, big book (or many). If you’re looking for a good big, big book, may I suggest what I’m reading, The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries? Cause it is very big (700 plus pages in the version I have), and very good (I mean, it features tons of heavy-hitters covering many genres), and very holiday-y, which brings a nice feeling these days. Christmas and winter holidays are mystery-story hotspots, if you didn’t know, probably due to balancing the cheer out with murder. That’s a guess, but I’m just happy there are so many good stories here! Including one by Robert Barnard called Boxing Unclever. I have to admit, I didn’t know Mr. Barnard well before this story (I know, I probably should!), but one of the fun things about a big anthology like this is discovering the writers new to you, alongside your favorites. And this story is an intriguing one, a story within a story, and one with some nice – and murderous! – cocktail-talking, in the form of the below quote:
And so it was time for a second round of drinks. I decided on that as I saw toiling up the drive the figure of my dear old dresser, Jack Roden. My once dear old dresser. I poured out a variety of drinks including some already-mixed cocktails, two kinds of sherry, some gins and tonic, and two glasses of neat whisky. There was only one person in the room with the appalling taste to drink neat whisky before luncheon. Pouring two glasses gave that person a fifty-fifty chance of survival. Depending on how the tray was presented. With my back to the guests I dropped the hyoscine into one of the whisky glasses.
— Robert Barnard, Boxing Unclever