On Christmas Day, Bruce Kohler wakes up in detox on the Bowery in New York City. He knows it’s time to change his life, but how can he stay sober without dying of boredom?
When homeless alcoholics start to die unexpectedly, Bruce is surprised to find he cares enough to want to find out why. Most of them had been down and out for many years, but Bruce’s friend Guff was different: a cynical aristocrat with a trust fund and some secrets.
Two old friends give Bruce a second chance and agree to help him with his investigation: his best friend, Jimmy, a computer genius and history buff who’s been in AA for years, and Jimmy’s girlfriend Barbara, a counselor who sometimes crosses the line between helping and codependency.
Barbara works a night shift at the detox and confronts a counselor who might still be dealing drugs. Bruce gets a job temping for Guff’s arrogant nephew. Between the three of them, suspects start piling up. The trail leads back to the detox. Or does it?
In Death Will Get You Sober, Bruce discovers that the church basements of AA are a small world in the big city of New York. As he grapples with staying sober, he finds that not drinking is only the beginning of coming back to life-a life he finds he wants to keep when it’s threatened by a killer.
Debut author Elizabeth Zelvin has used her expertise as an addiction councilor to pen a riveting mystery filled with memorable, realistic characters who are as flawed as they are heroic.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.16(w) x 8.24(h) x 1.14(d)|
About the Author
Elizabeth Zelvin is a psychotherapist. She has directed alcohol treatment programs, including one on the Bowery, and has written and lectured widely on addictions, codependency, and online therapy. She lives in New York City.
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Death Will Get You Sober
By Zelvin, Elizabeth St. Martin's Minotaur
Copyright © 2008 Zelvin, Elizabeth
All right reserved.
I woke up in detox with the taste of stale puke in my mouth. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see twinkling lights. This had happened before as I came out of a blackout. I rolled my head heavily sideways on the pillow. The light came from a drooping strand of blinking bulbs flung over a dispirited-looking artificial pine. A plastic Santa, looking as drunk as I remembered being when I went into the blackout, grinned at me from the treetop. I had an awful feeling it was Christmas Day.
The ward was quiet, but from my other side came the weak sound of coughing. I rolled my head the other way. That hurt. A skinny black guy lay huddled in the next bed, shaking the mattress with his puny but convulsive coughs. I waited for him to get it down to a wheeze.
“Yo,” he said. “Know where you are?”
“Not a clue,” I admitted. “Detox for sure.”
“It ain’t Paree,” he agreed. His cackle shook the bed and started him wheezing again. Between gasps, he said, “You’re on the Bowery.”
“Oh, great,” I said.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, and laughed so hard, he coughed up blood. I didn’t need a degree from Harvard Medical School to diagnose TB. I hoped he hadn’t been lying next to melong and that they’d move him out soon.
The next time I came to, an even skinnier guy lay in the next bed. The smell of his cigarette woke me. Long and white as a skeleton, with sunken cheeks and shadowed eyes, he looked like someone the Headless Horseman might enjoy chasing. I mentally named him Ichabod. Ichabod lay there sucking up smoke. It sounded like he was working on a case of emphysema. So far, nobody in that detox was built like Santa Claus or breathed silently.
As I lay there, not doing much but breathing along, a small, pale female hand stuck a paper cup of juice under my nose. A sweet, cool voice commanded, “Drink!” To my roommate, she said, “Put that out, sir! You know better. And offer one to the new man.”
Looming above us, she bored into him with a gimlet eye until he stubbed out his smoke on a plastic pill bottle and offered me the pack. I thought I was hallucinating because she seemed to be dressed like a nun. But I never said no to a cigarette.
“Thanks, bro,” I said, taking two. “And thank you, sister. You’re an angel.”
“It’s for later,” she snapped. “Smoking room only.”
Ichabod laughed until his dentures popped. When the nun trotted off to get him some water, he said, “Your first time here, huh? That’s Sister Angel.”
Sister Angel moved so quickly that she was back before I could ask him to explain. With her fresh pink skin and retro habit, she looked like the result of a penguin’s night on the tiles with a particularly clean pig. After handing Ichabod his water, she turned on me. Her round blue eyes bulged slightly.
“How are you feeling?” she demanded.
“Just fine and wonderful,” I said with weary irony. To tell the truth, I felt like hell. My mouth tasted like a garbage scow, my memory was on lockdown, and I bitterly regretted not being dead by thirty, the way I’d always thought I’d be.
The next time I surfaced, Ichabod had vanished. The guy in the next bed now couldn’t have been more different. Well fed. Groomed, even. I decided that it would be a good idea to make friends. Not only did he look like a fellow who had at least one whole pack of cigarettes but he probably smoked an expensive brand and might consider it noblesse oblige to give a few away. Except, of course, that at the moment, he was puking his guts out. Sister Angel held the basin.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Bruce, and I’m an alcoholic.” This is how people introduce themselves at AA meetings, of which I’ve been to a few in my time. He looked like a guy who might appreciate irony.
“Ggggggaaahhhh,” he said. “Jesus Christ. Oh, Christ, my head.”
I knew how he felt. There’s a very specific kind of headache that you get only when you’re in withdrawal and puking at the same time. It feels as if somebody has inserted a particularly sturdy crowbar in between two neurons in your brain that are extremely close together and is using the lever principle to pry them apart.
Sister Angel held a damp cloth to his forehead. Now she straightened up and let go of the basin, which she had been steadying against his knees.
“Don’t drop it, now. I’ll go wet the cloth.”
Half-falling out of bed as he sat up, he did almost drop the basin. I decided it was not quite the right moment to bum a cigarette. He retched, but nothing much was happening anymore. He lifted his head very, very carefully and gave me a sickly half smile.
“Hi, I’m God.” He paused, either enjoying the flummoxed expression on my face or forgetting where he was going with the remark. That happens frequently when you’re detoxing. Then he added, “Alcoholic.”
It wasn’t much of a résumé, but it told me he wasn’t a virgin. He’d seen the inside of more than one AA meeting. Probably dozens, if not hundreds. You can’t mistake that perky introduction. It would make you feel like an asshole the first time you raise your hand and say it, except that the first time you’re usually shaking. If you’re not crying.
Anyhow, this yo-yo made quite a first impression. Hi, I’m God. Maybe this wasn’t detox after all, but the loony bin—all right, inpatient psych unit—a place I had so far managed to avoid.
“Are you delusional, or should I be genuflecting?” I guess my skepticism showed.
“Godfrey Brandon Kettleworth the Third,” he amplified. He rolled his bleary eyeballs up past exhausted lids and threw his hands in the air in an “I surrender” gesture. “Blame my parents.”
“What are you in for?” Joke.
“Ninety days with time off for good behavior?” A wit. Maybe I would have to forgive the guy his Harvard education. Contrary to legend, not too many déclassé rocket scientists end up on the Bowery. It was Princeton, he told me later. Whispered. Little boys grow up, but we never get over wanting to be cool. Ivy League was not cool on the Bowery.
By evening, Godfrey’s guts were behaving a little better. After lights-out—did I mention being in detox is humiliating?—we exchanged some basic information. Preferred brand of gin—Tanqueray. Favorite Scotch—Chivas Regal, both of us, though he had probably been able to afford a lot more of it than I had. What bars we drank in. He had started out on the Upper East Side at the Bemelmans Bar in the Hotel Carlyle and worked his way down to some dive on Tenth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. All right, fashionable Clinton. New York, always reinventing itself. Hi, I’m Clinton, I’m a grateful recovering neighborhood. Compared notes on what the hell we were doing in a place like this. He couldn’t remember, either. Kindred spirits.
Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth Zelvin. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from Death Will Get You Sober by Zelvin, Elizabeth Copyright © 2008 by Zelvin, Elizabeth. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Until reading Death Will Get You Sober, my favorite fictional recovering alcoholic was Matthew Scudder, Lawrence Block¿s flawed hero. But Scudder¿s continuing sobriety did not make him a better or more interesting character. As the books rolled on, Scudder became (in his eyes anyway) more god-like, deciding who would live and who would die based on his own brand of morality. I don¿t think sobriety will affect Bruce Kohler that way. I figure he¿ll just get more interesting. Bruce wakes up on Christmas morning at a detox center on New York City¿s Bowery ¿ not somewhere Santa would have found him. When his roommate ¿Guff¿ dies, Bruce suspects foul play. He calls on two pals, Jimmy ¿ also a recovering alcoholic -- and champion co-dependent Barbara, to look into Guff¿s death and that of another resident of the detox center. For Bruce, the investigation is a way to stave off the boredom that scuttled his previous recovery efforts. What the friends uncover are several startling secrets, including one that could prove dangerous to all three.Elizabeth Zelvin, a psychotherapist before she became an author, has created three realistic and very sympathetic characters. Readers will want to form a cheering section for Bruce as he navigates his 12-step program. He¿s got a cynical, wise-ass approach to life that is tempered by a kind heart. The writing and plotting in Death Will Get You Sober are top notch ¿ characteristics recognized by the bestowers of the awards and nominations this first-time author has garnered.Although Death Will Get You Sober is too dark (but not overly so) to be called a true ¿cozy,¿ Ms. Zelvin avoids the coarse language and graphic violence that many cozy readers also eschew. But her emphasis on character development will please any cozy fan who reads Death Will Get You Sober. Book two, Death Will Help You Leave Him, comes out this fall.By Diana. First published in the Cozy Library July 16, 2009. Review based on publisher- or author-provided review copy.
Bruce Kohler has been in and out of detox centers most of his adult life. On Christmas day, he isn¿t too surprised to find himself in another center, this one on the Bowery in New York City. Bruce quickly befriends fellow patient Godfrey Kettleworth, III, a man on the outs with his rich family and not too popular with the staff. While in detox, an alcoholic with terminal cancer is found dead in the laundry room and Godfrey dies right before Bruce¿s eyes. With the help of his lifetime friend Jimmy and Jimmy¿s girlfriend Barbara, a counselor who has worked at the Bowery before, Bruce begins his own investigation into these two mysterious deaths, which unravels a murderous pattern among detox centers in New York and places his own life in jeopardy. Zelvin¿s debut novel provides the reader with an insightful peek into the mind and life of an alcoholic trying to stay sober, as well as AA¿s 12-step program. The characters are intriguing and well-developed, especially alcoholic Bruce who faces a continual battle to refrain from drinking, and Barbara, a codependent counselor with a witty sense of humor. The plot moves at a fast pace with plenty of twists and turns and suspicious characters lurking about, all set within the glorious backdrop of New York City. This entertaining mystery is sure to draw fans anxious to read future books by this talented author.
Excellent whodunit with a side order of the struggle to keep sober, especially after watching a friend die. Strong characters and difficult situations are important to the steady plot. I wanted to read this one after reading Death Will Help You Leave Him, and found it hiding in the TBR pile since May 2015! Glad that I unearthed it! Mark Boyett did a great job as narrator.
On Christmas Day, Bruce Kohler awakens in a Bowery detox cell. He is greeted by ¿God¿, fellow alcoholic Godfrey Brandon Kettleworth III. Not long after the pair meets and forms a friendship, God is dead.--------------- Bruce¿s best friend and former drinking companion, AA crusader Jimmy and Jimmy's girlfriend crusading detox counselor Barbara suggest he investigate the murder of God. They hope a bit of harmless sleuthing will keep Bruce away from alcohol as all three of them know he is a drunk and needs something to occupy his mind. As other alcoholics are murdered the risk-free inquiry they make proves dangerous to the three amateur sleuths by a serial killer at the top of their murdering game.---------------- This is an enjoyable tale unless you¿re a lower Manhattan AA participant or detox temp. However, the underlying rationale to investigate takes a plausibility stretch longer than the ferry ride to Staten Island especially with Barbara being a professional. Bruce almighty saves the tale as he is a likable shlump who knows he has no sleuthing skills, but finds DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER quite exhilarating as he and his companions remain detached from the victims by seeing their inquires as a sort of video game. Although inane in terms of the reason Bruce turns detective, readers will enjoy this detracted unemotional look into homicide as a means of sobriety.------------- Harriet Klausner