Headed for a Hearse

The Drink

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Jonathan Latimer…states that his Headed for a Hearse Cocktail is quite as deadly as it sounds.

The equipment necessary are a water tumbler, some crushed ice, and a stout heart; also Pernod and some very old Bourbon. Place the ice in a strainer and pour into the tumbler two jiggers of the Bourbon. Similarly drip through the ice an equal quantity of Pernod. Add a quarter of a tumbler of cold water.

– From So Red the Nose

And here we have another authorly drink in which absinthe is the first and strongest flavor. Although maybe that won’t be true if you actually use “very old brandy” as instructed, but for me, very old = very expensive. I guess my brandy counts as old to you if you’re eight.

The good news is I now have an actual old-school mallet for crushing ice, much to the delight of my downstairs neighbors I’m sure.

Oh! And mark this one down as one of the few cocktails to be featured in its namesake book. It’s a whole scene! They have a long conversation and it even results in a plot-related hangover! Neat!

The Book

headedforahearse

“I am a detective,” Crane said with dignity. “I’m a very great detective.”
“He’s drunk.”

– From Headed for a Hearse

westlandcase

A 1937 television adaptation of Headed for a Hearse

Headed for a Hearse is the second entry in Jonathan Latimer’s short-lived Bill Crane mystery series. It starts in the cell of an innocent man on death row, a man who is, in fact, willing and able to pay a large sum of money for bumbling, drunken detective Bill Crane and his bumbling, drunken idiot colleagues to stumble their way through every bar and old-timey strip club in town on their way to catching the true murderer.

It’s a comedy, at least under some definitions of the word.

Actually, Headed for a Hearse really should get points for originality. It completely evades the usual trope of the dour, genius detective and replaces it with humor and long, Dickens-worthy descriptions of food and drink (more of the latter than the former). In fact, Crane is probably the most likable sleuth we’ve met so far, because of the fact that he is so very, very, very, very flawed.

Although published in 1935, Headed for a Hearse feels like a modern person’s impression of the 1920’s.  Excessive partying is interrupted by gangster shootings on the regular in William Crane’s world, and Latimer actually was a crime reporter during the Al Capone era before he turned his pen to fiction. Hearse is also probably the raciest book I’ve read after Tobacco Road, but this one is definitely meant to titillate rather than disturb.

The plot is probably the weakest part of the book. It all revolves around white-collar crimes: blah blah blah stocks, blah blah blah hidden bank accounts, blah blah blah don’t really care. And Latimer goes for the obvious twist for the resolution.

Forgotten Classic or Better Left in the Past?

headed-for-a-hearse-digest-covLow humor and unnecessary sexuality aside,  Headed for a Hearse is probably the most ambitious of the mystery novels we’ve looked at. It successfully juggles multiple tones and points of view and tries to give a grittier, more sobering view of the crime with some harrowing death row scenes and choice language.

So if that kind of retro, hard-boiled mystery is your bag, I think you’ll enjoy both this and Caretaker’s Cat. The Kindle intro to Hearse points out that both authors were able to combine fun Agatha-Christie-drawing room-plots with a cool Dashiell-Hammett-noir crime attitude, which is a pretty great my-chocolate-your-peanut-butter situation if you ask me.

Headed for a Hearse is available on Amazon in used and Kindle form. 

Next time: A rum that took this rum-lover three years to track down. And I also might read something.

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