Worlds Collide: Martin Cruz Smith and the killer vodka

In my non-spiritous life, I write about mystery and thriller novels and the people who create them. There is a lot of crossover between the world of thrillers and the world of spirits, both among the characters and stories, and among the authors themselves. (Yes, a lot of writers really do drink as much as reported.) I thought it would be fun to chronicle that intersection in Worlds Collide (with a hat tip to Seinfeld for the name).

Here is an amusing story from Martin Cruz Smith’s Polar Star (1989), a thriller featuring his series character, Arkady Renko (first introduced in Gorky Park):

Arkady sat at the edge of the flames, arms out to cup the heat. He remembered a picnic he’d once had in Siberia of frozen fish whittled into shavings, frozen reindeer sliced into strips, frozen berries formed into patties and Siberian vodka that had to be constantly turned, first this side and then that, towards the fire. The year before, an Intourist guide had taken a group of Americans into the taiga and laid out an even more splendid lunch but had forgotten to turn the bottle. After many toasts with warm tea to international friendship, mutual respect and closer understanding, the guide poured glasses of nearly frozen, almost congealed vodka and showed his guests how to drink it in one go. “Like this,” he said. He tipped the glass, drank it and fell over dead. What the guide had forgotten was that Siberian vodka was nearly two hundred proof, almost pure alcohol, and would still flow at a temperature that would freeze the gullet and stop the heart like a sword. Just the shock was enough to kill him. It was sad, of course, but it was also hilarious. Imagine the poor Americans sitting around their campfire, looking at their Russian guide and asking, “This is a Siberian picnic.”

I’m not sure that would actually happen, but I’m with Arkady — it is hilarious.