Elizabeth Zelvin brings back recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler, and his friends, Jimmy and Barbara, immediately thrusting them into the middle of a murder investigation in Death Will Help You Leave Him.
When Barbara's Al-Anon sponsee, Luz, calls for help, she said she returned home to find her lover, Frankie, stabbed to death. The police suspect Luz, so Barbara drags her boyfriend, Jimmy, and his best friend, Bruce, along to the apartment. It's a three-ring circus there, where Luz' Puerto Rican aunts console her, and try to invade the crime scene. Since Luz is the primary suspect, and Barbara doesn't believe she killed the man she loves, Barbara agrees the three will investigate.
Investigation leads to the funeral home, where the friends meet Frankie's pregnant widow, his mourning parents, his relatives, and friends from rehab. They suspect everyone, and their investigation leads them all over the poorer sections of New York.
At the same time Bruce and his friends look into the life of a two-timing, abusive druggie, Bruce has to deal with his ex-wife, Laura. She's bipolar, and threatens suicide, or demands sex. She's still Bruce's worst addiction, although she torments him, and is dating an abusive man. And, he can't break away from her.
Psychotherapist Elizabeth Zelvin handles Bruce's feelings, and the recovering addicts and alcoholics with gentleness and care. The personalities in this mystery are more interesting than the mystery itself, since Frankie was scum, and most readers won't really care who killed him, except as it threatens Luz. But, readers will care deeply about Bruce, and his feelings and relationships.
Despite the fact that Zelvin understands AA and Al-Anon members, I found one aspect of this story very disturbing, and unrealistic. I can't accept that Barbara, as a counselor, would take her sponsee to visit a drug dealer, knowing the two of them had to get high in order to even have a conversation with him. This chapter was totally unacceptable with the role of the counselor. I understand Barbara is sometimes pushy, forcing Bruce and Jimmy to assist her, but no counselor would take a sponsee to a dealer, knowing they'll all use drugs.
Death Will Help You Leave Him does a very nice job exposing abusive relationships, physical and psychological ones, showing the effect on others. Those readers who feel compassion for Bruce and Luz will appreciate Zelvin's second mystery.
Elizabeth Zelvin's website is www.elizabethzelvin.com
Death Will Help You Leave Him by Elizabeth Zelvin. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312582661 (hardcover), 288p.
***Full disclosure - Review copy