Friday, August 11, 2017

Verdict of Twelve with a 'Rose'

The British Library's Crime Classics series has unearthed all sorts of books. Some whose appeal is based on nostalgia, atmosphere, location, and period mannerisms as much as plotting or quality of writing, and some where it's genuinely baffling to try and work out why they ever went out of print.

Raymond Postgate's 'Verdict of Twelve' is one of the latter sort, inreally do most understand why it languished so long in obscurity, and honestly, unless you actively dislike vintage crime this is a book worth going to some effort to seek out. It's split into roughly three parts, the first explores the back stories of some of a jury about to hear a case. These histories are not quite what anyone might expect, but all are deeply compelling, they also explain the conclusions the jurors will later reach.

The second part of the book describes the events which lead up to the trial, including a possibly vital clue to the frame of mind of the deceased in the form of a short story by Saki. Finally we have the trial where a middle aged woman is accused of murdering her ward, a sort of nephew by marriage. The question of did she, or didn't she, remains very much open until a sort of afterword clears it up. What makes this book so very good though, is not finding out what happened, but in following the principle players as it all unfolds. It really is a tremendous book.

The woman in the dock is Rosalie Van Beer, a shop girl who married a soldier 'above her station' in the heady days of the First World War when there wasn't time to think, or waste. Her husband was killed at the front, her husbands family pension her off and pretty much wash their hands of her. Rosalie is sinking into good natured alcoholism and low company when the deaths of her first husbands brother, and father, leave her in a position to move into the family home and take up guardianship of young Philip. In doing so she becomes socially isolated- to grand for her old friends, unacceptably vulgar to the county set her father in law would have belonged to. The drinking becomes less good natured.

She's not an attractive character, but she's fascinating, and I wanted a drink that reflected her history. After a bit of digging through the Savoy cocktail book I found a Rose Cocktail (French style No. 2). It sounded like a good fit, but I wasn't sure how it would taste, the answer to that was surprisingly good. It calls for 1 part cherry brandy, 1 part Kirsch, 2 parts Gin, stirred well with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. The colour was an attractive dusty pink, and the flavour deceptively benign for something that packs quite a punch. The cherry brandy provides sufficient sweetness to take the edge off the gin and kirsch.

There's the echo with Rosalie's name, and the possibility that this is the sort of romantically named drink a young officer might have bought his girl on a night out somewhere smart before going to the front. It's also got more than enough alcohol in it to satisfy a fairly hard drinker.

5 comments:

  1. I don't really do cocktails (except gin and tonics and now foghorns with Opihr gin, which I think this blog put me on to, so much thanks for that - like drinking lemon sherbets with extra added bite), but I'm very happy to see another series. Especially one which reviews the BL classics at the same time. Happy reading!

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    1. I'm not my ch of a cocktail drinker either - it's always felt like a bit of an affectation, but I've been looking for really simple things, using bits I have around my kitchen, and that I might make regularly as a G&T alternative. (The bees knees is the winner so far, Gin Ricky's have been a feature of this summer already, and the hot spiced rum is great too). It's been really good to think about the crime classics series as a whole, rather than as individual books, so I'm really pleased that you're enjoying it too. Thank you!

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  2. I like this crime classics series, our local bookstore has a display of them to tempt me. This one sounds of interest.

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    1. This one shouldn't be missed. It's the genuine article as far as lost Classics go, and kept confounding my expectations. Darkly funny in places, but also full of shocks, anger, compassion, and understanding. It's really good!

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  3. Thanks for the recommendation. I tried a couple of books in this imprint and didn't get on with them, but this sounds far more promising. Classic crime seems to be very hit and miss and the quality can vary wildly even with the same author, but the gems are so enjoyable.

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