Friday, August 26, 2016

“The Odds Are Against Us” and a Gimlet

Today we welcome Art Taylor, pairing a cool summer classic with his story “The Odds Are Against Us” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 2014), winner of last year’s Agatha and Anthony Awards for Best Short Story; the full story is available online here. Art’s debut book, On the Road with Del & Louise, won this year’s Agatha for Best First Novel and is currently a finalist for the Anthony and Macavity in the same category.

- Deborah Lacy

In the opening scene of “The Odds Are Against Us,” the story’s narrator orders a gimlet from his friend Terry, who’s tending the counter at a neighborhood bar and pool hall. Their conversation seems casual enough, but it’s quickly revealed that the narrator’s mind is elsewhere, musing over deeper and darker concerns. Some decision weighs heavily on his mind, the stakes apparently high, and in his head he’s making wagers on everything around him: whether the baseball player on TV scores a hit, for example, or whether the pool players in the corner leave individually or as a group. As his decision-making plays out, the narrator also reminisces with his friend about their younger days—childhood adventures, girls from the past, a sense of nostalgia that maybe offers some sliver of brightness to whatever is casting shadows on the narrator’s mood. 

Not simply a great drink to pair with the story (a great drink period), the gimlet also proves significant to the plot itself. The first bet the narrator makes with himself is whether his friend will make the drink with gin or vodka; gin means yes, vodka means no—even if the question itself remains elusive. And the drink as motif serves other purposes as well, echoing the sense of time passing, of something cherished and lost, of a person’s own burdens and responsibilities, a lifetime of them. Here’s a line from about halfway through the story: “Terry had made me another gimlet by this point, but I hadn't tasted it. I'd just been watching the ice crystals drift and glisten. I didn't want to bring my mouth to it yet, knowing that would melt them quicker.” 

The gimlet actually has a significant history in mystery fiction, serving as a key motif in Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece, The Long Goodbye, a story also centered on friendship and betrayal. Over the course of the novel, references to the cocktail charts the evolution of Philip Marlowe’s relationship with his new buddy Terry Lennox. 

I don’t remember thinking of The Long Goodbye when I wrote “The Odds Are Against Us”—the story wasn’t explicitly intended as an homage—but with the gimlet and even Terry’s name in the mix, it’s clear that Chandler’s work, my own favorite of his novels, was echoing somewhere in my subconscious at the time.


Early in The Long Goodbye, Terry Lennox proclaims, “A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else.” (Marlowe’s reaction: “I was never fussy about drinks.”) To most drinkers today, Lennox’s 1:1 ratio would prove unpalatable; instead, I’d personally recommend a 2:1 ratio—twice as much gin as Rose’s. 

Best yet, however, is to skip the Rose’s completely and follow Jim Meehan’s version from The PDT Cocktail Book (adapted below), a recipe that makes as delicious a summertime treat as you could imagine—perfect for the patio or really anywhere. 


2 oz. Plymouth gin (Arts’ note: Plymouth makes a considerable difference here)
.75 oz. lime cordial (see below)
.75 oz. lime juice

Shake vigorously with ice.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Lime Cordial  (downsized proportionally from the PDT recipe to avoid straining your zesting hand)

4 limes
8 oz. simple syrup

Zest limes, and combine zest with simple syrup. 

After 10 minutes, fine strain into a container and chill. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Skeleton Themed Crafts

It's the last lazy days of August and everyone at Mystery Playground is out playing in the sun. But just because we're taking a break, doesn't mean that you have stop crafting. Here's a recap of some of our more popular skeleton themed crafts to keep you busy. Just click on the link to find the instructions. You can also check out our Crime Scene Tape crafts if that is more your speed.

You can find directions to Kerry Hammond's fabulous and easy to make skeleton scarf (pictured above) or check out the super easy, ten-minute skeleton bracelet below:

I love these skull duster earrings

And here's Laura K. Curtis' simply to die for, skull shawl

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast

I love mushrooms, and I live on the Redwood Coast so I couldn't resist when I saw this book: Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast, A Comprehensive Guide to the Funghi of Coastal Northern California. It's a full-color guide to more than  750 species of mushrooms that grow naturally between Monterey, California and the border that California shares with Oregon. There are beautiful photos and descriptions of each mushroom with information about where it grows, what it looks like and whether or not it's edible. It also tells you how to find, identify and collect mushrooms and provides information about different varieties, from Chanterelles and Gomphoids to Brown-spored Decomposers

I never imagined that there were so many mushrooms where I live.  

This is a beautiful book with great information for mushroom hunters, or anyone interested in mushrooms. It's easy to understand and well organized. It would also make a lovely coffee table book. As a mystery writer, I know at some point I will use the information about poisonous mushrooms, where that might not be such a practical application for most people. 

The book's authors also maintain a Facebook page and can be found on Twitter @redwoodmushrooms. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Read Along with Greg Iles

The third book in one of our favorite trilogies is coming out this April, so when we heard there was going to be an international read along of the first two books to prepare for the launch of the third, we had to participate. 

The trilogy is Greg Iles' Natchez trilogy and the read along starts today with the first book, Natchez Burning. Set in Natchez, Mississippi this book delves into family secrets, honor, loyalty, blood, and corruption. It's a page turner and worth every turn. I couldn't put it down, and my mom couldn't put it down. You can find our original review here.  

If you want to get a taste of the book before you jump in, check out the excerpt.

Or you can watch this interview with Greg about the book:

Here's the reading guide for Natchez Burning if you want to take a look or use it for your book club. 

Here's the read along schedule:

Book 1: Natchez Burning - Today - September 19th

Book 2: The Bone Tree - September 13th - October 6th

Come on back August 31st when we will be giving away a special giveaway associated with the read along. We will also be talking about the book on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and Facebook. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pottery Barn Halloween Decor

Pottery Barn has their Halloween decor in stores already, and the skeleton offerings are spine-tingling as usual. Love this drink cooler.

But my absolute favorites are the dancing skeleton party plates and platter. It reminds me of the dancing skeletons in the Disney cartoon, Silly Symphonies

They had a version of this serving bowl set last year, but it's so cute, I can see why they brought it back:

This copper cauldron is new and really fun:

What's your favorite?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Butterfly Fascinators

I can't get over the drama in these butterfly fascinators from Delfina Crowns on Etsy. According to the creator, the orange monarch crown above is like one that appeared on Orange is the New Black. These are absolutely gorgeous. Now I just have to find the perfect event to done this. 

Butterfly fascinators

Friday, August 19, 2016

Drinks with Reads: Behind Closed Doors and a Jack the Ripper

Mystery Playground Bloggers Kerry Hammond and Sharon Long got together for this Drinks with Reads post. After reading the book, they met up at Baker St. Pub & Grill to discuss it and found the perfect drink on the menu to pair with it.

Behind Closed Doors is the debut novel by B.A. Paris.

Jack and Grace Angel appear to be the ideal couple. Jack is handsome, wealthy and works as a lawyer, defending victims of domestic violence. Grace is his charming wife who is always by his side.  Grace cannot believe she has found such a loving partner, one who is even willing to let her sister, Millie who has Downs Syndrome, live with them after she finishes school. She agrees to marry him and they plan a small wedding with just their closest friends and family.

After the wedding, Jack and Grace move into the perfect house, one that Jack bought for her as a wedding gift. They also have the perfect marriage, or so it seems to the outside world. The reader of this book is the only other person who sees what really happens behind closed doors. And we can both attest that nothing in this marriage is perfect.

To say this book is suspenseful, chilling and a psychological thriller is an understatement. It is a gripping, heart-stopping read that was extremely hard to put down. This story stays with the reader long after the last page. Critics have said that the novel is 2016’s answer to Gone Girl, but it is so much more. B.A. Paris is definitely an author that will stay on our radar.

Now on to the drink. We chose the Jack the Ripper for a few reasons. The most obvious is that our main character is named Jack. Also, the drink contains whiskey, and our Jack loved his whiskey.  Lastly, no one ever knew who Jack the Ripper was, he could have been an upstanding man in society who went about his daily business and fooled all his friends, only to go on killing sprees at night. We will let you wonder how this compares to the book’s Jack.

Jack the Ripper

1/2 oz Jack Daniels
1/4 oz Peach Schnapps
1/4 Oz (splash) Sangria Mix
1 oz Cranberry Red Bull

Shake together Jack Daniels, Peach Schnapps and Sangria Mix. Pour in a glass and top with Red Bull.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review is fair and independent.