05 March 2024

"The Colonel"

When Sleuthsayers settled on Murder Neat, with stories set around watering holes of all kinds, I had a problem: I don't drink. I find beer, which smells so interesting, disappointing, while hard spirits bring up reminders of childhood illness.

I was susceptible to colds as a kid – possibly our drafty one room schoolhouse had some part in that – and my Scots immigrant parents were convinced of the medicinal powers of their national beverage. Rightly so, perhaps, because my mother brought Punch, our beloved parakeet, back from paralysis and near death by administering whisky and water.

In any case, the hot toddy of my childhood, whisky, hot water, lemon, and honey, served to inoculate me against a taste for alcohol save for the occasional glass of wine or cider. Glass, singular, as any more and I fall sleep.  Participation in Murder Neat, therefore, called for imagination.

Fortunately, my childhood, which clearly hampered a career as a writer of the hard drinking tough guy school, provided alternative sources of inspiration, including a couple of road houses. Yes, the same sort of isolated drinking establishments that Raymond Chandler found so inspiring in California.

These were in rural Dutchess County, N.Y., and we regularly passed the roadhouse that appears in "The Colonel" on the way to music lessons. The tavern was on a bare open stretch of state highway, fields and pastures on every side.

The dark brown, one story bungalow sat alone on top of a hill at the juncture of a county road. A lonely place, a lonely building, on the unlit roads with its lighted sign, it became The Huntsman in my story, a little nod to the fox hunting that so many of the rich estate owners loved.

The Huntsman was an odd place for a man of wealth and culture like the Colonel, who came to drink inferior spirits when he undoubtedly had better at home. But who knows what people need? I surely did not as a child in the late 40's and early 50's, though I was aware of troubled people who could not find happiness, despite possessing everything that should have made their lives good. 

But after Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, we all have a better grip on post war costs. There are wounds that nothing can heal, and in the late 40's and early 50's there were a lot of veterans for whom time had not done even the smallest work. The Colonel was one of them. I recognize that now.

The tavern, that from its architecture began as an ordinary dwelling, may have been established with just such folks in mind. It was quiet and out of town and out of sight with its parking lot tucked in the back.

What ideas might come in such a place to some wounded soul? The title, Murder Neat, says it all.


  1. Author copies just arrived! I shall look forward to reading The Colonel tonight, Janice. Found this really poignant in your post today: "for whom time had not done even the smallest work." I will remember that. Melodie

  2. I'm like you, Janice, table wine on rare occasions. As a kid, I sometimes smelled grain rotting, so beer holds no attraction. But it doesn't mean we can't write! I haven't received the book yet, but I look forward to your roadhouse story.

  3. There's a General in "The Quiet Man" (John Wayne, etc.) who has almost no lines, but is always sitting in the bar, having a quiet drink of what must have been inferior liquor to what he had at home. He doesn't even leave the bar when everyone else does to watch the great fight between Thornton and Danaher. From now on when we watch the movie (St. Patrick's Day), I'll think of "The Colonel".

  4. I will have to see The Quiet Man!


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