Alcoholics write books, too.

Sometimes they write crime fiction. Sometimes they write literary works. No matter what form the novel takes, the real dark star is the bottle.

Think of Dr. Strangelove riding the bomb out of the bomb hatch and into oblivion. Substitute a bottle for a bomb and you find a metaphor that unites a number of books in this genre: The drunken hero/anti-hero. Drinking is not just a life style; it form, shapes, distorts the human condition. Like a moth to flame, we can’t take our eyes off the flutter of wings as they close in on the fire. What is not terribly surprising about these books is their semi-autographical nature. Where the drinking takes place the strip joints, bars, nightclubs, and back alleys also transports the reader into the environment where the drinking takes place. Not every writer who creates a drunk for a hero is an alcoholic. Though looking at the record, it would seem that such a writer is rare.

I’ve been reading James Crumley’s Dancing Bear. His private investigator, Milodragovitch or Milo, moves between a snort of coke and gulping down shots of schnapps. He battles his addiction to booze and drugs as he solves crimes. Sometimes a case of drugs falls into his lap and he struggles between the desire to consume the whole lot and selling the cache. Milo also uses the magic dust with women in the books. Crumley captures the utter despair, loneliness and ennui of a private investigator. As one Amazon reviewer put it, this series is beyond noir, and enters a new level where the darkness of the void emits no light. His turf is the Pacific Northwest. Think Montana and Washington States, the back roads, the small towns, petty jealous over women and money.

I've blogged about a number of books that fit into this category: blog: It is surprising the number that have been made into films.

Has anyone else read Crumley's private eye books?

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I read the Last Good Kiss. Decent book, though, it made me wanna drink.
Don't know the author but have no objection to characters who struggle with their private demons.
Tony Black's new crime novel, PAYING FOR IT, features protagonist Gus Dury, a down and out journalist, who is fueled by the bottle. It's a good read that would easily translate to film.
Ice cubes in wine???? That's adding water! Hardly an example of hard drinking or of loving wine.
But your theory about writers is fascinating. I suppose many do put themselves into the book.
If the hero in a crime novel is an alcoholic he has an addiction, and his condition will color both his thoughts and actions. Whether he/she is a cop or private investigator, the sub-plot inevitably revolves his/her desire for the next bar, drink, or waking up hung-over and trying to piece together evidence with a throbbing headache.

This isn’t about whether alcohol is good or bad. It is judgment about whether alcohol as a character becomes a crutch to the main story.

In other words, the booze in the story – the quest, the ordering, the drinking -- makes the hero predictable, and that will guarantee a double shot of boredom served up to the reader. If the only time the hero is off guard is when he’s misplaced his bottle or his favorite bar is closed, then both hero and reader no longer much care about the crime under investigation. Alcohol becomes the story by default.
That depends entirely on whether the character nevertheless causes the reader to identify. If the reader rejects him as just another knock-off of the more famous detectives (Morse perhaps), then the book fails.
That's a relief. :)
Crumley's a wonderful writer.He's part of that pacific northwest group of writers like Jim Harrison and Thomas Mcguane. All great writers. Try his first novel 'The Last Good Kiss", it has a different P.I.. Also his non-fiction book 'Whores'. As for alcohol and writers it seems to go with the territory. Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lowery, all drunks. As George Jean Nathan said; "I drink to make other people more interesting".
I prefer Dr. Johnson's explanation that people drink to forget the pain of living.
Dan, what makes you think your character is not an alcoholic? As a long-time addiction professional, I'm tempted to volunteer to do an assessment. ;) I've joined this conversation with Chris elsewhere, so I'll just say here that I'm more interested in the drama of recovery than I am in the drama of alcoholism, which--probably because I'm a long-time addiction professional--I find rather predictable. That's not to say some writers don't do it brilliantly. Ken Bruen, for example, makes Jack Taylor a tormented soul while making it perfectly clear (at least to this reader) that he understands the nature of the disease and doesn't glamorize it. I get irritated when a character is obviously alcoholic and it's equally obvious the author doesn't know it. An example springs to mind that's non-mystery and not a novel: Lanford Wilson's play Burn This, in which the hero who's been getting drunk and doing coke throughout the play comes back to the heroine at the end and announces he's been sober for three days. Happily ever after? I don't think so.
I think I agree with that. Much hard-core alcoholism (or drug abuse) is personality-related. In other words, there are people who never become addicted because they simply don't cross the line, by choice or because they aren't that interested. Wine, especially red wine, has been shown to be beneficial in reasonable amounts. I sometimes think that the idea that drinking is forbidden in this country (shades of the prohibition) fuels the interest in it.
Not at all sure that ice-chilled wine is the best way to alcoholism. I've always associated that with hard liquor and beer. Or possibly with drinking cheap hooch by the gallon. Your character sounds a bit like Byron who used to drink Rhenish (white wine) mixed with water, possibly as an aid to dieting.


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