Review: Private investigator Sunny Pascal is hired to provide "personal security" to the cast and crew on the set of the filming of John Huston's 1964 film The Night of the Iguana — the storyline takes place in late 1962 — only to discover that the job is far more demanding that he was led to believe, in Bitter Drink, a short stand-alone novel by F. G. Haghenbeck. It was first published in Spanish in 2006 as Trago amargo.
Sunny understands immediately that his primary job is to deal with — read bribe — the local authorities when things inevitably get out of hand. After only a day or so on the job, however, he comes to realize his "expense" budget is woefully inadequate. The production site on the west coast of Mexico, south of Puerto Vallarta, is overrun with not only everyone involving in filming, but with tabloid reporters trying to get the latest gossip on the stars, in particular Richard Burton, who has invited his soon-to-be-wife Elizabeth Taylor. (Both were, of course, married at the time.) Add to the mix a set of handguns: "The director was so sure [the principal actors] would end up killing each other that he'd had five golden pistols made, each loaded with five silver bullets, a different name, including the producer's, engraved on each one. The director was a cautious man; he didn't include any bullets engraved with his own name." Sure enough, one of those bullets eventually finds its way into "a body so dead not even the flies would land on it." Sunny is in hell. But at least he has plenty star power and "bitter drink" to keep him company.
Bitter Drink is an odd little crime novel. That's not meant as a negative criticism, but is almost certainly the most likely reaction of readers upon finishing it. The murder mystery plot is whisper thin and is probably beside the point anyway, serving primarily as a means for Sunny to interact with the stars and crew of the film … and to socialize therewith over one of the many cocktails served to the characters on a seemingly nonstop basis. Indeed, each of the 26 chapters opens with the name of a cocktail, its ingredients, its preparation, its history, and a recommended way to enjoy it. Once read, the book could readily be used as a handy bar guide, complete with trivia questions to keep guests interested (and drinking). Uniquely entertaining — but also educational and informative — Bitter Drink is one of the more unusual crime novels to be published this year.
Acknowledgment: AmazonCrossing provided a copy of Bitter Drink for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Bitter Drink: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
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Bitter Drink by F. G. Haghenbeck
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: July 2012
List Price: $14.95