January 17, 2023
Last week, I had a Vanity Row Cocktail Talk (don’t miss that or past W.R. Burnett Cocktail Talks), the book that shares a cover in the swell Stark House two-books-in-one reprint with this week’s highlight, Little Men, Big World. After mentioning the book in said past Cocktail Talk, felt I should give it a moment of its own. So, here we are! Of the two books, I like them . . . both the same amount, which is a lot. This one jumps around more in narrative perspective, though it also circles again within crime and politics (more the former maybe) in a Midwestern city, with a few different characters from various sides of the scene taking the main role depending on the chapter and such. One of which is veteran newspaper man, Ben Reisman, who used to write the crime beat, but who now is a well-known columnist, though one who still desires to dig up a juicy story. And desires whiskey, too.
Sudden success some people said. Sudden success, after twenty-five years? And was this success? How about the plays he’d intended to writer, the novels? Reisman groaned and stared into his glass of Vichy water. The others were drinking whisky. He, too, liked whisky, and some nights he even got drunk. But the doc told him it would kill him and sometimes he was afraid. Why did he have to have ulcers? Young Downy did not have ulcers. Young Downy had pink cheeks and optimism. Not much in the way of brains. But what are brains? A liability.
–W.R. Burnett, Little Men, Big World
December 13, 2022
It wasn’t that long ago (weirdly, it was like five-and-a-half years ago, so maybe long ago in some ways? Your call) that I had a series of Cocktail Talks from the Elliott Chaze book Black Wings Has My Angel (read Part I, Part II, and Part III to learn more, see more, drink more). And today, when I woke with the desire to re-read the book (as one does with good books), and then began reading, I was again mystified that the book isn’t better know. Perhaps it’s better known now than five years ago, as another reprint in English has come out – for a long time, too long, the only recent versions were in French. It’s such a classic literary noir novel, and so well-written, it baffles me. Possibly it’s because he didn’t write a lot of books, period, and definitely that I know of, not another in this vein at this level. I’m still trying to track down other books by him, so might be wrong-footing that. But he wasn’t prolific as, say, Jim Thompson or David Goodis (who he shares some commonalities with, in this book if not others I’ve yet to read) in the novel knocking out department, and wasn’t a pulp mag story filler like Day Keene, having I’m guessing higher aspirations, and also a day job as a newspaper person. Maybe it’s that lighter output, but heck, maybe it’s just fate. Whatever, if you lean noir-y, and haven’t read this, you should. There’s more about the book in those old posts, but short story: criminal, femme fatale (both mains carrying layers), crime (with a murder, cold-blooded), the high-life, the lam-life, and bleak moments, written incredibly well. And booze. Especially I.W. Harper whiskey, which you could sip while reading. Enough of it that when I decided to have one more Cocktail Talk from the book, well, I.W. had to be a highlight.
The bartender wore a phony gay-nineties mustache and a checked vest, and he was drunk enough himself to slosh the stuff around generously. Two I. W. Harpers painted the room prettily. I got a kick out of being in a crowd of people who were out to enjoy themselves. There were pictures over the bar of John K. Sullivan and of Gentleman Jim Corbett both stripped to the waist and wearing the kind of pants you see on tightwire performers and ballet dancers.
–Elliott Chaze, Black Wings Has My Angel
November 7, 2022
I recently had another Graham Greene Cocktail Talk here on the Spiked Punch (that one was a Comedians Cocktail Talk), and when re-reading the book that that there post focused its light upon, I got the urge to re-read some other Greenes. Does that happen to you? You read or re-read a book by an author and then just get the urge to delve more deeply into said author? Well, it does to me! It’s a bit like when you have a delicious, say, whiskey drink, and then you’re like “well, that worked out nicely, how about another!” For another in our Greene reading situation, I grabbed one of the ‘entertainments’ as he called them, as opposed to his serious stuff I suppose, This Gun for Hire. Following along the paths of a not-so-nice hired gun and a nice aspiring actor (who happens to have a fiancé who is a police detective) whose paths cross after a political assassination, well, it moves fast, draws you in, and is, well, entertaining! And has the below fun quote about whiskey, and beer!
“Keep a bottle of whisky here, super?” the Chief Constable asked. “Do’us all good to ‘ave a drink. Had too much beer. It returns. Whisky’s better, but the wife doesn’t like the smell.”
–Graham Greene, This Gun for Hire
October 25, 2022
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Magdalen Nabb, too long, it seems, as I’d forgotten how enjoyable they are. But, I was recently in Florence, where her (detective and mystery-y books, not the kids books as far as I know) books take place in the main, and felt I should revisit one of them in honor of the Florence revisit. Did that make sense? Blame the jet lag if not! Anyway, I went with Death of the Englishman, the first of her Florentine mysteries, featuring Marshal Guarnaccia (along with other reoccurring characters, some of whom get more time than he in some books. It’s neat, and incredibly well-done, how she balances out the various narratives. Very skilled without being showy). There’s a murder and a mystery and some thieves, too, all goods stuff, but the best stuff is the detailed look at Florence, the streets, the smells, the food, the sights, and especially the people and the routines and experiences they go through. If you love Florence, Italy, or mysteries well-written that transport you, then you should be in on these. Especially if you also like wine, grappa, or vin santo (like me).
“Well, try and get some rest, anyway, and drink plenty of fluids.” Both of them noticed at the same time the almost empty whiskey bottle standing by the parchment lamp. “Not that stuff.”
“I’ve never tasted it.” The Marshal drank half a litre of red every day with his evening meal, never more nor less, and a drop of vin santo on Sundays.
“And no wine, either, while you’re on this.” The professor was reading the Marshal’s mind as he wrote.
–Magdalen Nabb, Death of an Englishman
Tags: Cocktail Talk, Death of an Englishman, Magdalen Nabb, red wine, vin santo, Whiskey, Wine
Posted in: Cocktail Talk, grappa, Italy, Whiskey, Wine
October 18, 2022
I’ve had a fair amount of Charles Williams’ Cocktail Talks on here, which makes some sense as he’s (I think) one of the middle-of-last-century pulpy pocketbook masters (heck, even the NYT said he’s “just about as good as they come”). Confidentially Yours, originally from 1962, originally called The Long Saturday Night, and made into a movie directed by François Truffaut, hits the sweet spots: hero blamed for a crime he didn’t commit, everything seeming to go against him putting him in numerous nutty spots, a wife with a shady past, another potential paramour who might be helpful, might not, small and big town moments, poisoned-pen-style phone calls, multiple murders, ducks, and everything leading to . . . an unexpected conclusion! Fun stuff, including the below quote, with both dogs and whiskey! Somewhat!
“Here,” she said, picking up one of the things lying on the seat. It was a pint bottle of whiskey.
“You’re an angel,” I said.
“No, a St. Bernard, but I get tired of that little cask around my neck. When you’ve had a drink of that, there’s some food.
I took a big drink – straight out of the bottle when she said she didn’t want any – felt it unfold inside me, and opened the cardboard box. It contained a steak sandwich, wrapped in three or four big paper napkins and still warm.
–Charles Williams, Confidentially Yours
August 16, 2022
The great Graham Greene hasn’t made an enormous amount of time Cocktail Talking here on the ol’ Spiked Punch (though do the read the past Graham Greene Cocktail Talks), which is a shame because A: I like his works lots, and B: he liked a good drink. Probably because we shade a little lower-brow (though he did write a fair amount of what he called “entertainments” which might lean into pulp pockets perfectly), or just because I forget to mark the pages of potential Cocktail Talks when reading his books. Or re-reading, I should specify, as I believe I’ve read them all at least once, re-reading being the case recently as I was re-reading his book The Comedians, which takes places mostly on Haiti during the tragic reign of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Circling around one main character and a few main satellites characters (who meet on a boat heading towards the country), it’s a sometimes chilling, always moving novel. Definitely one that one should be read, especially if you carry an interest in political history around like a traveling bar.
“What’s your poison?”
“Have you a whiskey?”
“I have next to everything, old man. You wouldn’t fancy a dry Martini?”
I would have preferred a whisky, but he seemed anxious to show off the riches of his store, so, “If it’s very dry,” I said.
“Ten to one, old man.”
He unlocked the cupboard and drew out a leather traveling-case – a half-bottle of gin, a half-bottle of vermouth, four metal beakers, a shaker. It was an elegant expensive set, and he laid it reverently on the tumbled table as though he were an auctioneer showing a prized antique. I couldn’t help commenting on it.
“Asprey’s ?” I asked.
“As good as,” he replied quickly and began to mix the cocktails.
–Graham Greene, The Comedians
Tags: Cocktail Talk, Gin, Graham Greene, Martini, ten to one, The Comedians, traveling cocktail case, vermouth, Whiskey
Posted in: Cocktail Talk, Gin, vermouth, Whiskey
August 2, 2022
I’ve read, I think (though I haven’t kept the meticulous records I should have), at least 80% of all the Agatha Christie books, and yet I’ve still only a small handful of Agatha Christie Cocktail Talks on the ol’ Spiked Punch. That, friends, is a shame! But she doesn’t always have her characters swilling in the Cocktail Talk style, though Poirot (if I have to explain who that is, well, you need help) does like his crème de menthe and suchlike, and folks are swilling in her books. Probably, I get too caught up in the mysteries themselves, like in Appointment with Death, one of the ‘Poirot-on-travels’ variety, where he is in Middle East when a not-very-nice-at-all matriarch is murdered – at least, he thinks it is murder! He ends up hanging with a local gendarme to get to the bottom of things, cause (as everyone knows) Poirot doesn’t like murder! The particular usage of that phrase by someone else I believe caught my eye twice in the below quote, along with the whiskey and soda being consumed. So, this time, though I was deep into the mystery, I still did a double take and took the quote along for this very Cocktail Talk.
Colonel Carbury said unemotionally, “He don’t like murder! Quite right! No more do I!” He rose and poured himself out a stiff whiskey and soda; his guests’ glasses were still full. “And now,” he said, returning to the subject, “let’s get down to brass tacks.”
–Agatha Christie, Appointment with Death
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
Tags: bonded bourbon, bourbon, bourbon for breakfast, Cocktail Talk, James O. Causey, Killer Take All, Part I, pulp, two-books-in-one, Whiskey
Posted in: Cocktail Talk, Whiskey