Friday, February 16, 2018

Art Taylor, Coast to Coast and the Black Manhatttan

Art Taylor has won several of the mystery world’s top awards for his fiction, including four Agathas, one Anthony, two Macavities, and three Derringers. Today he chats about “A Necessary Ingredient,” recently named a finalist for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The story was originally published in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes From Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks (Down & Out Books). You can read the full story for free here. Welcome, Art!

The title “A Necessary Ingredient” has several meanings—chief of which is a reference to the tonka bean, whose history and mysteries I was introduced to by a former writing professor, novelist Wilton Barnhardt (though revealing any more about that introduction would immediately prove a spoiler alert for the story itself).

In “A Necessary Ingredient,” a new chef in a mid-sized North Carolina town hires private investigator Ambrose Thornton to track down who in the area might be growing tonka beans—outlawed by the U.S. government since 1954 but a prized delicacy, especially in French cooking, for its sensual taste and aroma. Intrigued by the mission and beguiled by his client’s attractiveness, Thornton sets out on a quest to find the bean—and perhaps win her too.

But another “necessary ingredient” in this mystery’s mix is, in fact, traditional mystery fiction itself. Thornton admits upfront that he’s not actually a detective but just enjoys reading classic detective stories. That reading frames and infuses his narrative, and in many ways, I intended the story as a tribute—a tip of the fedora, so to speak—both to hard-boiled detective tales and to regional, specifically Southern, crime fiction. You’ll find nods here not only to Chandler but to North Carolina writer Margaret Maron as well, her work maybe even more integrally given the setting.

As for a drink to accompany all that, I’m drawing on a variation of a classic cocktail mentioned in the story itself. The Black Manhattan in particular has a necessary ingredient of its own: the Sicilian amaro Averna. I tried to substitute another amaro once or twice (Ramazzotti, for example) and the effect was lost. Averna gives the drink both its dark hue and a caramelly sweetness that balances against the melancholy bitterness—really an irresistible combination to my mind.

Whether my story proves irresistible too, I hope you’ll find the sweetness in it, offsetting a couple of dark twists and bitter revelations as the plot unfolds.

The Black Manhattan
2 oz. rye whiskey (your preference)

1 oz. Averna (no substitutes!)

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters
Stir well with ice, and strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Cherry garnish.


  1. Congratulations on the Agatha nom, Art! [Somehow I know the story's a good one ;-) ]. The drink sounds pretty good, too.

    1. If only you lived closer, I'd mix up one for you! Soon enough, I hope. :-)

  2. Replies
    1. You are so welcome, Art. Love the book and the drink.

  3. I love the title, so innovative. The drink sounds interesting and definitely one to try.

    1. Hope you'll enjoy! Thanks for chiming in here. :-)

  4. I love hard-boiled detective tales AND Manhattans. Thanks Art, for providing me with both. Off to get some Averna.

  5. A big fan of Manhattans, I'll have to try this, and sip it while I read your story--fingers crossed, another winner!