'The Notting Hill Mystery' is one of the very early detective novels (1862-3, originally published, anonymously in serial form). It's told in the form of a report from an insurance agent, investigating after the wife of a mysterious Baron dies. If he hadn't taken out five sizeable life insurance policies on her, one after the other, mere weeks before she met her end it might not have looked quite as suspicious. The mystery here isn't who or why, but how, and how to prove it.
This was also one of the earlier books in the Crime Classics series, and whilst I'd bought the first couple (which specifically featured female detectives) I'd passed this one over. Reading about it a couple of weeks ago though, I saw that one of the characters has the same surname as me - which was enough of a push to send me out in search of a copy, and I started reading it yesterday. So far so good...
It also presented the perfect opportunity to go back to Jerry Thomas to look for a suitably contemporary drink. I found the Brandy Smash. Smashes, he tells us, are simply juleps on a small plan, instructions for making them with gin or whisky, as well as brandy, follow.
To make one take a teaspoon of white sugar, two tablespoons of water, 3 or 4 sprigs of mint, and a generous measure of brandy. Press the mint in the sugar and water to extract the flavour, add the brandy, and fill the glass 2/3rds full of shaved ice (ice in my case). Stir thoroughly and ornament with a few sprigs of fresh mint, and half a slice of orange. Beautify with berries in season.
I really like this combination of brandy, mint, with a bit of sweetness (I'll admit I didn't beautify with berries, but the possibility is intriguing). It's not a particularly strong drink, especially as the ice begins to melt, and if you've gone easy on the brandy, but it's extremely good late into a hot afternoon.