Thursday, October 08, 2009

Death Will Help You Leave Him by Elizabeth Zelvin

Protagonist: Bruce Kohler
Setting: New York City
Rating: 4.5

There’s always been a long tradition of detectives with alcohol and other substance abuse issues (even Sherlock Holmes!), but Zelvin serves up something completely different: an amateur sleuth who is a recovering alcoholic.

In her second Kohler book (the first was Death Will Get You Sober), Bruce Kohler gets swept up in a murder investigation, pulled in by friends Jimmy (also a recovering alcoholic) and Jimmy’s girlfriend Barbara, an addictions counselor. One of Barbara’s clients, Luz, is suspected by police of killing her boyfriend, the married Frankie, a one-time drug dealer. The foursome team up to find the real killer. Their first stop: the wake at the funeral home, a scene so funny it’s worth the price of the book alone. From there, it’s subways and taxis across Manhattan and Brooklyn, and a few other escapades.

The book does have its dark side. While the first book dealt with alcoholism, this one turns the focus on unhealthy relationships. Even Kohler struggles with this, yo-yoing back and forth whenever he gets a call from his ex-wife, who is bipolar, unmedicated and in an abusive relationship. Some scenes are so wrenching you want to reach out and slap the ex – or Bruce himself.

Zelvin is a psychotherapist, so she knows what she writes about. But her ability to bring us both tragedy and humor, sometimes in the same sentence, shows she’s a talented writer as well. Zelvin already has a third book in the works. Will I be reading it? Oh yes, you can say I’ve become a bit addicted to the series.

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