I found this quite a challenge, and took just over 30 minutes to complete. I gained the impression that there were rather more first and last letter bits of wordplay than we normally get, and a decent number of reverses to go with them. The vocabulary is interesting, and includes both virtues and vices jostling for space in the grid Definitions range from the broad – “food” in 3d, “several Asian countries” in 24a and “works” in 1d - to the “you what?” school, such as “accoutrement” in 19a and (in a different way) “address” in 18a. But there are some fine surfaces: I especially liked the religious text books in 26a, 16d and 17d.
Here’s how I see it all, with clues, definitions and SOLUTIONS[click to open]
1 Ruler knocked back a drink with a piece of meat (8)
MAHARAJA The version without the final H, which looks slightly odd. A drink: JAR and A piece of meat: HAM all reversed, or knocked back
5 Feverish, eating old tropical root (6)
MANIOC Feverish supplies MANIC, insert O(ld)
9 Antiquated writer, nearly on time, stood still (8)
TRANQUIL the aged writer nearly give QUIL, Time provides the T, and stood produces RAN, as in stood for president. Assemble in a believable order.
10 Iron Lady felt accoutrement (6)
FEDORA Accoutrement is just (about) a posh word for something to wear. Chambers gives no less than 4 spellings and “dress or other items for a particular activity” which here, together with the felt (as in material) is meant to suggest FEDORA. Just as well the wordplay, iron: FE plus random lady DORA is easier.
12 What bird’s brought back as an offering (5)
TITHE What as in “pardon” gives EH, and the bird is a TIT. Conflate and reverse
13 A garment jockeys ultimately knit for nag (9)
TERMAGANT Anagram (jockeys) of A GARMENT plus the ultimate in knit. The word derives from a name for a supposed Muslim deity turning up in medieval morality plays and by transference to any violent or quarrelsome person, eventually applied to shrewish women, hence the nag bit. Look, I only report this stuff, I’m not making any value judgement. An easy word to misspell, so be grateful for (and careful with) the wordplay.
14 Crook I detect pinching crockery is keen to have it (12)
CONCUPISCENT Needed all the checkers to give up the idea that crook was an anagram indicator. Crook is our beloved CON, I detect is not anagrist but I SCENT, and together they bracket CUP as a representative piece of crockery. The whole is one of today’s collection of deadly sins, lust.
18 First class mail: a fellow’s put in guy’s address (12)
S In an address, suddenly takes a side turning onto a different subject, digresses, like the American Bishop at the wedding of the year. The structure is first class: A, mail: POST, (belonging to ) a fellow: HIS contained in guys ROPES.
21 Soccer pitches around the side get noisier (9)
CRESCENDO Full marks to the setter for getting the definition right. Everybody else (especially soccer commentators) thinks it’s something you rise to. It’s an anagram (pitches) of SOCCER set around END for side.
23 Rival soldiers retreating in case of emergency (5)
ENEMY Soldiers are MEN (other genders are available) and they retreat into the “case” of EmergencY
24 Several Asian countries rating boring stage number (6)
ARABIA The rating is our A(ble) B(odied)
S(eaman) and the (opera) stage number an ARIA. One bores into the other.
25 Thus doctor's about to crack clue, the last (8)
HINDMOST Thus: SO, doctor MD , together reversed (about) into clue: HINT
26 Religious text books, unspecified ones (6)
LITANY A set of prayers and responses which has also become in contemporary parlance a list of complaints (so not that different, then). Books are LIT(erature) unspecified: ANY
27 Afflict one woman after a lot of hassle (8)
AGGRIEVE Our second random (or perhaps quintessential) woman is EVE, coming after 1 (one) and before that most of AGGRo hassle.
1 Little piece by Tallis wanting content for works (6)
MOTETS The little piece is MOTE, and TalliS wanting content provides the TS
2 Man, pretentious or friendly? (6)
HEARTY Maybe a bit of a step from friendly, via a more dated meaning of cordial, from the heart. Man is the generic HE, ant pretentious: ARTY
3 Food from queen breaking eggs with a lot of strength (9)
ROQUEFORT The eggs are/is ROE, Queen supplies the QU. Strength is FORTe, (one’s premier skill, perhaps), of which you only need a lot, but not all.
4 Where people save reefer jacket for aristocratic noble (5,7)
JOINT ACCOUNT Mrs Z and I have one, but it’s hardly for savings, though we’ll let that pass. Reffer is JOINT, jacket for AristocratiC provides the AC, and the noble here is a COUNT.
6 Palm wrapped in threadbare cambric (5)
ARECA Today’s hidden (thankfully, it may not be all that common a word) in threadbARE Cambric. Thanks to the setter for reminding me of my camberwick debacle of a couple of days ago.
7 Motto of procrastinator who's obsessed by image? (8)
IDOLATER An oldie but goldie. I DO LATER.
8 Avoiding relations in populous area without a lot of hurry (8)
CHASTITY The relations being, you know, thingy. The populous area is CITY, and a lot of hurry is HASTe. Insert one into the other, or in this case, don’t.
11 Mouths laughing noisily in sport (12)
TRAPSHOOTING Surprisingly (to me anyway) not hyphenated. TRAPS from mouths, and the noisy laughing is HOOTING
15 Buyer tours empty units one keeps stocking up (9)
SUSPENDER Buyer is SPENDER, and once again we have a first /last letter combination, empty UnitS.
16 Jeer welcomes Head of Harrow in comprehensive (5-3)
CATCH-ALL Jeer is CATCALL, and the head of Harrow is inserted.
17 Desire to receive family member's agreement (8)
COVENANT (To) desire is to COVET, our second deadly sin, and it embraces NAN as a family member.
19 Put down journalist holding printed work up (6)
DEMOTE Journalist is almost always ED, today holding TOME for printed work and all reversed “up”
20 Plant borders in mainly radiant landscape (6)
MYRTLE Not just one but three words provide their first and last (borders) MainlY RadianT LandscapE
22 Man in Genesis covering Queen or The Stones? (5)
CAIRN Your man in Genesis (chapter 4, as it happens) is CAIN, firstborn of Eve and fratricide. Queen this time is just R.
Phil Collins (Genesis) played drums with Queen for Radio Gaga at the Party at the Palace 2002. Both Phil Collins and the Stones covered the Temptations’ Ain’t Too Proud to Beg. So the surface isn’t completely farfetched, and no doubt our more erudite crew can supply more connections. Fun.