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
- 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)
8 oz. simple syrup
Zest limes, and combine zest with simple syrup.
After 10 minutes, fine strain into a container and chill.