Friday, May 8, 2020

The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense and the Violet Hour

The new collection The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense (Crippen & Landru) gathers sixteen stories by Art Taylor—among them stories which have won a dozen of the mystery genre’s leading awards, including the Edgar, the Anthony, and multiple Agatha, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. Recently, another of Art’s stories—“Better Days” from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—was named a finalist for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story (read all the nominated stories at that link). Last year, Art wrote a Drinks with Reads post for “Better Days”, and today he offers another cocktail to accompany his new collection.  

The sixteen stories in The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense cover more than twenty-five years of my writing career. Needless to say, re-reading those stories myself offered opportunities for reflection about that quarter-century of work—where I started as a writer, where I’ve evolved, and where (hopefully) I’ve improved. Some of the individual stories seemed reflective themselves: characters thinking about their lives, pondering existential issues, debating hard choices. The title story especially is steeped in nostalgia, swirled with a bit of melancholy, and topped with a dollop of regret.

The cocktail I’ve chosen to accompany The Boy Detective is called the Violet Hour. I know of at least two mentions of that phrase in books on my shelf. In The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, Bernard DeVoto writes about the martini being suited to “the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.” And in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, James Bond christens his famous version of the martini as The Vesper: “It sounds perfect and it’s very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world.”

While each of those references refer to gin drinks and speak specifically to early evening—day easing toward night—the Violet Hour recipe below is bourbon-based and a drink I would more strongly recommend as a nightcap alongside some late-night reflections of your own: your senses settling, your mind wandering, memories tiptoeing around the edges of your thoughts. 

My friend Brandon Wicks introduced me to this drink. I’m not certain of its origins, and Googling “Violet Hour cocktail” will turn up several other cocktails with markedly different ingredients. But this specific recipe has become a regular at our house, and I’m glad to share it here. 

The Violet Hour

2 oz. bourbon
.75 oz. sweet vermouth
.25 oz. dry vermouth
.10 oz. blackstrap rum (a little over half a teaspoon)
2 dashes old-fashioned bitters

Build in a single old-fashioned glass with no ice. Stir.
Serve at room temperature. No garnish.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Here Come the Body and The NY Sour

Today we celebrate the first book in the Catering Hall Mystery series, Here Comes the Body. Written by long-time Mystery Playground fan favorite, Ellen Byron as Maria DiRico, Here Comes the Body, delivers a catering packed punch and a great drink below.

In Here Comes the Body, the first Catering Hall Mystery from Maria DiRico, Mia Carina moves back home to Queens after being cleared as a person of interest in her husband’s presumed death. She’s there to help her father Ravello, a capo with the Boldoni crime family, turn a rundown banquet hall that was surrendered to him by a broke gambler into a successful, legitimate enterprise. Mia has always wanted her father to go straight and she’s determined to help succeed. But who knew working for a catering hall could be as dangerous as working for the Mob?

Many is the night Mia comes home in need of a drink. Being a Big Apple native, even if she’s an outer borough girl, she turns to local recipes, like this one…

2 oz. rye or bourbon whiskey
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
½ oz. fruity red wine

Combine the rye or bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, cover, and shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass that’s filled with fresh ice. Slowly and carefully poor the wine over the back of a spoon held just above the drink's surface so wine floats on top.
Recipe by Mary-Frances Heck, Bon Appetit

BIO: Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won an Agatha award and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Her new series, the Catering Hall Mysteries, written as Maria DiRico, was inspired by her real life. She’s an award-winning playwright and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, and FAIRLY ODD PARENTS. But her most impressive credit is working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart.