Friday, July 16, 2021

nip nip moray

A couple of whisky items in the cupboard to catch up on - I had a gratifying number of bottles for Christmas and my birthday, as I often do, and what then generally follows is me trying (usually unsuccessfully) to eke out the (relatively) lavish late-February whisky situation for the rest of the year. I think you would have to say that last year's selection probably included some more interesting stuff, or at least more stuff that I hadn't tried before, but there were a couple of new ones here, and I present them here for your perusal and edification.

Firstly, here's a Glen Moray. We've had one of these before but that one was a special edition finished in Chardonnay casks (but actually a good deal better than that makes it sound). This one, though labelled Elgin Classic, seems to be just the bog-standard edition and as such is very cheap in most supermarkets (typically around £20). The distillery is situated just outside the town of Elgin, smack dab in the middle of the Speyside region, on the banks of the River Lossie. A couple of things to note about that, firstly that Glenlossie might have been a more obvious name but by the time the Glen Moray distillery was founded in 1897 that name had already been taken. Secondly, while most Speyside whiskies take their water from rivers and streams that flow into the River Spey, it's not a condition of being a Speyside whisky (as I lazily implied it was here) - the Lossie flows directly into the sea at Lossiemouth.

Secondly, here's a bottle of Bunnahabhain StiĆ¹ireadair, which despite its fancy name (which means something like "helmsman" in Scots Gaelic) is the no-age-statement entry-level Bunnahabhain, enabling them, one might cynically say, to bump up the price of the 12-year-old version. Bunnahabhain hasn't featured on this blog before as you don't see it in supermarkets all that often, but it did get a mention here alongside the Allt-a-bhainne with which it shares some etymological roots. Coincidentally, while the Allt-a-bhainne makes much mileage out of its being unusual among Speyside whiskies in being lightly peated, Bunnahabhain's USP has always been that it's an Islay malt but (special editions aside) unpeated.

As with many coastal whiskies including Old Pulteney and Aerstone the claim is made here for a "brackish" or "briny" or "salty" tang to the whisky, a claim I expressed some mild scepticism about here, and the reviewer here expresses a similar slightly eye-rolling scepticism about as well. I think what he's basically saying is: if this is salty, I'm a Dutchman.

Anyway, let's get in there. The Glen Moray has the classic no-age-statement whisky thing of a big heady solvent-y whack of pear drops and magic markers when you have a sniff, and it's hard to penetrate to any actual whisky smells under that. That stuff all falls away when you have a taste, leaving only a bit of "hotness" that presumably derives from the young age of the whisky, and a general unthreatening Speysidiness that we've seen before in everything from the Tormore to the Tomatin. It's perfectly nice but relatively unmemorable and there are probably several things in a similar price bracket that would give you more bang for your buck. I mean, I know it's a single malt and all, but if you were to ask me if it compares to something like Johnnie Walker Black Label at a very similar price, I would say: no, not at all. 

The Bunnahabhain is pretty similar when you stick your nose in the glass: if anything at a robustly artisanal 46.3% (the Glen Moray is a bog-standard 40%) it's even more forbiddingly reminiscent of nail polish remover, though there is perhaps just a hint of something sweet and woody underneath. A different story when you have a taste, though, as there is a bit more depth here, with something a little bit earthy and vegetable-y underneath. As with a lot of whiskies at around the 46% mark this is one that might benefit from a splosh of water to open it up a bit.

Anyway, it's interesting from a purely academic standpoint as an unpeated Islay malt - unique as a standard offering though Caol Ila for one do occasionally knock out an unpeated malt as a special edition - and if you want a winner from this particular head-to-head match-up the Bunnahabhain would definitely be it. Both featurees here are a little polite for my taste, though. 

Thursday, July 08, 2021

the last book I read

A Mind To Murder by PD James.

The Steen Clinic is a reputable psychiatric institution in central London, a venue of choice for the well-heeled but troubled to come and either pour out their marital and sexual woes in the traditional couch-based environment, or, for the more severely afflicted, to undergo either the strapping on of the electrodes or being dosed up with LSD.

So while there's a certain amount of acid-induced shouting from time to time, not to mention the occasional sound of sizzling frontal lobes, it's a surprise to everyone at the clinic when a scream rends the air. The scream turns out to belong to Jennifer Priddy, a junior typist - she's absolutely fine, but the chief administrator, Enid Bolam, has been murdered by a combination of being clonked on the head with a large wooden carving and then having a chisel driven through her heart. The screaming is because it was Jennifer Priddy who discovered her body, sprawled across a pile of medical records in the basement archive.

Fortunately Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh is reasonably close at hand, as he's attending the launch of a slim volume of his poetry at his publisher's premises nearby. Yes, he's a cop, who seems to adhere reasonably closely to established police protocol, but is also a published poet, which makes him something of a maverick, policemen not being generally given to poetry. Also, dammit, he gets results. And surely a result here will not be too difficult to come by, as the clinic isn't the sort of place you can just wander into, do a bit of the old murdering and then wander out of again, and the murderer must surely be among the group of a dozen or so psychiatrists and administrative staff who are on the premises when Dalgliesh arrives. 

And so begins the round of interviews between Dalgliesh and the prime suspects, and, as always, some interesting details emerge that provide motives for a surprisingly large number of them. It becomes clear that Enid Bolam was a highly efficient administrator, and a person of rigid moral rectitude, but somewhat prickly and difficult to get along with. That in itself probably wasn't enough to motivate someone to kill her, but other factors emerge as well: did her probable successor as administrator Mrs. Bostock knock her off to accelerate her succession? Did her cousin Marion, a nurse at the centre, knock her off to accelerate her inheritance of her money? Did either Miss Saxon or Dr Baguley knock her off as revenge for her going to Dr Baguley's wife to reveal the details of their affair some months previously? Did general handyman Peter Nagle knock her off for some as-yet-unknown reason? The chisel came from his toolbox, after all, though it was accessible to anyone who knew where it was kept.

Dalgliesh's finely-honed detectorial instincts soon sniff out some more intrigue: Peter Nagle, in addition to possibly knocking off Miss Bolam, has also been, hem hem, "knocking off" Jennifer Priddy while using her as a life model for his fledgling painting career. Also, Miss Bolam had a couple of mysterious cryptic messages on her desk jotter, one of which appears to have been the precursor to an urgent phone call to the head of the centre's management committee requesting an urgent meeting, a meeting which never happened as the murderer got to her first.

Dalgliesh deduces that someone had been blackmailing one of the centre's previous patients, one who had been in for some treatment for some problems of an, erm, "sensitive" nature - shame if those were to somehow become public, right? Obviously it must have been someone who had access to the centre's confidential medical records, and therefore one of the same group as the murder suspects, and, moreover, and I'm sure you're ahead of me here, probably the same person. 

Dalgliesh realises that he needs to intercept the murderer before he has a chance to cover his tracks, and he and his stolid sidekick Detective Sergeant Martin rush over to the Steen Clinic just in time to prevent a second murder from happening and collar the perp, though not without a final twisty-turny shock revelation.

This was PD James' second novel, published in 1963, and so is a pretty early one from her long writing career (she died in 2014 at the age of 94 and was publishing novels well into the 2000s). It's a classic locked-room mystery and quite reminiscent of the Agatha Christie novels I read a lot of in my teens (my maternal grandmother had a massive collection), just with a bit of extra sexual frankness as befits the early 1960s. The hunt for the perpetrator follows the classic pattern of: well it must have been this guy - no wait it must have been someone else - no wait it actually was the first guy after all - HOLY LAST-MINUTE PLOT TWIST IT WAS SOMEONE ELSE. Dalgliesh's intuitive leap to realising it must have been blackmail-related and his mental reconstruction of the blackmailer's victim selection process enabling him to find the victim within about five minutes by consulting the patient card index is all a bit of a stretch, plausibility-wise.

This is the first PD James novel I've read, but I get the impression her later novels pushed at genre boundaries a bit more (this would include Children Of Men which is proper dystopian science fiction and was filmed in 2006). This is a pretty orthodox whodunit, though none the worse for that. It grabs your initial attention, holds onto it with a bit of twisty-turny misdirection and then delivers some exciting revelations at the end, all in just over 200 pages. As such it was like catnip for those looking for material for TV adaptations and was (fairly loosely, by the look of it) adapted in the 1990s as one of the series of Adam Dalgliesh mysteries broadcast on ITV and starring Roy Marsden as Dalgliesh.