Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Classic Crime and Cocktails

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books with a Tom Collins

I've been happily working my way through Martin Edwards 'The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books' for the last month or so (read it for to long at a stretch and the resulting wish list quickly gets out of hand). It's excellent, and mentions many more than 100 books, so there are a lot of avenues to explore. The British Library Crime Classics series has also now passed the 50 titles mark, ('The Story of Classic Crime' serves as a companion to the series) with the promise of plenty more to come, which is good news all round.

Edwards says in his introduction to 'Classic Crime' that "The main aim of detective stories is to entertain, but the best cast a light on human behaviour, and display both literary ambition and accomplishment. And there is another reason why millions of modern readers continue to appreciate classic crime fiction. Even unpretentious detective stories, written for unashamedly commercial reasons, can give us clues to the past and give us insight into a long vanished world, that for all its imperfections, continues to fascinate".

It's a statement that sums up why I read so many of the books that I do, and what I enjoy about them. Any vaguely nostalgic yearnings for a different time are the least of it (and don't really go back any further than long school holidays with rainy afternoons spent fishing through disintegrating  boxes in the attic which often turned up slightly mouldy old book club editions). I am really fascinated by the clues and insight into a not so distant part though.

With all of that in mind I thought it was time for another booze and books series, but this time specifically focusing on the Crime Classics series, and cocktails of a similar vintage. (Cocktails and crime fiction seem to have evolved at roughly the same time, and certainly enjoyed a joint 'golden age' between the wars - and that's the line I'm sticking with).

I've been looking for simple cocktails that call for a minimum of ingredients mostly to answer the 'and how to you drink this/what do you mix it with' questions I get at work, and because I think they're the sort that work best at home. (I'm not a natural when it comes to mixology, and don't have the space or money for an extended collection of liqueurs).

The 'Tom Collins' is an obvious start point - first recorded in the second edition of Jerry Thomas' 'The Bartenders Guide' (1876) there are some great stories about its origin. The first, from America, suggests it got its name from a hoax played in 1874 (it made the papers). People would be told that somebody called Tom Collins was in such and such a bar spreading nasty rumours about them, but when they got there and asked for him they got a drink instead... An alternative British version suggests that it's name got mixed up with that of John Collins, head waiter at Limmers Hotel on Conduit street, London (familiar to Georgette Heyer fans) in the 1870's. He served a gin drink that fits the same description, and would probably have been a close relation to Georgian Gin punches.

The Jerry Thomas version calls for five or six dashes of sugar syrup, the juice of a small lemon, one large wineglass of gin (large wine glasses of the period were rather smaller than now) and two are three lumps of ice. Shake well, and strain into a large bar glass (a Collins glass!) and fill up with plain soda water. Imbibe while it is lively. Whisky or brandy can be used instead of gin. Later versions throw in a marischino cherry.

This is basically gin with (a good quality, and properly lemony) lemonade, but it can be made sweet or sour to taste and makes an excellent alternative to a gin and tonic. For real authenticity use an 'Old Tom' Gin for a British version, or a Dutch genever for the American. I can't help but think it would also be an especially good match with William Stephens Hayward's 'Revelations of a Lady Detective' as well.

I generally read with nothing stronger than a cup of tea or coffee to hand, but all Cocktail suggestions are welcome.


  1. Like you, I love these books and didn't know about this new companion, so thank you!

  2. It ranges further and wider than the existing classic crime series, so it's much more than just a companion - and if you like crime of a certain age it's a must have kind of a book.