Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Death Will Help You Leave Him"

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York city psychotherapist and author of a mystery series featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler. Her debut mystery, Death Will Get You Sober, was nominated for a David award for Best Mystery Novel of 2008 and for an Anthony award for cover design.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Death Will Help You Leave Him, the second Bruce Kohler mystery, and reported the following:
In Death Will Help You Leave Him, recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends Barbara and Jimmy have to find a killer when a friend becomes the prime suspect in her abusive boyfriend’s murder. Bruce must juggle the investigation, his sobriety, a crush on the bereaved girlfriend, and the lure of his compelling but destructive ex-wife, who’s on a collision course of her own.

Readers of the first in the series, Death Will Get You Sober, were drawn into the quirky relationship between Bruce and his friends. Barbara especially aroused strong reactions, which ranged from admiration of a strong woman to finding her “a hoot” to inquiring whether anyone had told the author they’d “like to smack her.” She’s a world-class codependent who can’t resist helping and minding other people’s business. These traits serve her well as an amateur sleuth but get her into a lot of trouble.

At the bottom of page 68, Barbara wants to pursue a contact with a drug dealer who might know something about the murder.

“Barbara,” Jimmy said, “these are dangerous people.”

“But if we’re careful—I mean really careful, Jimmy—it’s just talking.”

He shook his head and spoke to me.

“She doesn’t get it.”

That’s Barbara. One minute it’s drug dealers, the next, it’s the Sopranos. On page 69, Jimmy spots a website for an Italian bakery run by the victim’s family.

“Iacone’s Bakery. Making Brooklyn lick its lips since 1946. Nice Web site.”

“That doesn’t sound much like organized crime, does it?”

“Not connected, just cannoli,” I said.

“It doesn’t prove anything,” Jimmy said. “Crime families nowadays go in for legitimate businesses. They could be laundering money as they make the biscotti. Hey, these look good. Il pasticciotto, il bocconotto, la sfogliatella.” He rolled the words out sonorously. “Nice pictures.”

“Show me,” Barbara said.

“What about work?”

“It’s okay if I’m late. ...Hey, these look good,” she said. “That settles it, this is my assignment.”

Page 69 is and isn’t representative of the book as a whole. Between the banter and the cannoli, you might think it was a cozy. It’s not. The grim realities of alcoholism, drug dealing, addictive relationships, and domestic violence are central to the story. But the overall theme of the series is not addiction itself, but recovery. And the essence of recovery is hope. The grit and the fun are inextricably mixed, just as they are in the church basements of AA.
Learn more about the author and her work at Elizabeth Zelvin's website, her MySpace page, and the group blog, Poe's Deadly Daughters.

The Page 99 Test: Death Will Get You Sober.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue