After enjoying last years re-issue of Lorna Nichols Morgan’s ‘Another Little Christmas Murder’, I pounced on ‘The Death Box’ when I saw it a few weeks ago, but quite honestly haven't enjoyed it nearly as much - partly because of all the Rum and Lime.
One of the things I love about older books are the sidelights they throw on contemporary drinking culture, and vintage crime is a treasure trove for this kind of information. I find it fascinating in itself; Cyril Hare’s ‘An English Murder’ had a wonderful scene where a very venerable bottle of vintage Port is opened with all due ceremony and which leaves the butler finally respecting the policeman. It was no surprise to learn that Hare had wine trade connections. Drinking habits are also clues to character though (both the authors and their creations), some of which are easier to decor than others as habits change over the generations.
Broadly speaking a knowledge of wine is a sign that someone is a gentleman (Sayers lavish descriptions of Lord Peter’s drinking habits are an example, and then there's Brideshead Revisited, which is full of wine references, and explicitly uses them to sort the sheep from the goats).
My problem with ‘The Death Box’ is that although it's set in London (published in 1946, but I think set pre war) it feels like it's trying to be American. There are a lot of gangsters running about doing odd things, everybody keeps breaking into houses, and there's near constant drinking (no hint of rationing) much of it Rum and Lime. Rum, rather than whisky, or the more gentlemanly brandy, has a hint of exoticism about it (at least it does to me, reading now, but I guess the origin is the rum and lime the navy would have drunk?) but the simplicity of rum with a dash of bottled lime (juice or cordial I wonder, probably cordial?) has a no nonsense masculine edge to it. Definitely a clue to the hero’s personality…
I generally have Rum about the house, mostly for cooking, sometimes for cocktails, but I rarely drink it on its own, because I rarely want that particular sugar based flavour profile. My current bottle is Gosling’s Black Seal which is heavy on the muscovado sugar/dark treacle/ cloves and cinnamon flavours. I'd call it a good quality mixing Rum, rather than a sipping Rum, the flavours which are a bit too punchy on their own, do a very good job of holding their own with other things.
I didn't have any lime cordial, but plenty of limes so I just added juice - in keeping with the book, where it's just Rum and lime, no ice. The result was surprisingly good; the lime juice cuts through the muscovado/burnt fruit cake notes of the Gosling’s, but doesn't overwhelm it, it just provides a balancing acidity. The next step would be to add water and more sugar to make grog (or to replicate the general feel of the thing in a marmalade).
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