7 Crime Novels that Show the Horrors of Addiction
Addiction has been a re-occurring theme in many works of fiction. It is a common human experience shared by many across the world, so it is no surprise that the theme appears in a large number of books. One genre that is partial to portraying addiction is the classic crime novel. Usually centered on detective characters with humanizing flaws, like Sherlock Holmes, crime novels make no attempt to shy away from the realities of addiction. They can take you on a journey that is both frightening and interesting at the same time.
When it comes to these all too common scenarios, many people find they may know someone who’s dealing with the horrors of addiction that are portrayed in these novels. If you know someone or you yourself are dealing with this, whether it’s an alcohol or opiates rehabs you’re looking for, you can get help. Let’s take a look at seven crime novels that show the horrors of addiction and see what happens to the main characters of each story.
7. Dope by Sara Gran
Dope revolves around an ex-heroin addict and prostitute turned jewelry thief named Josephine Flannigan. She has quit heroin and prostitution, but still steals jewelry from local department stores in New York City to get by. A strange and wealthy couple searching for their estranged and addicted daughter offers Josephine thousands to track her down and bring her back. She must navigate a maze of addict houses, whorehouses, and dance halls in order to solve the mystery. This book provides a harrowing portrayal of the dangers of heroin addiction and how it can ruin someone’s life, but it also illustrates a heroine who is human and has conquered her addiction. Opiate rehabs offer help for those addicted to opiates, such as Dope’s Sara Gran.
6. Inspector Morse by Colin Dexter
The Inspector Morse series of crime novels by Colin Dexter also feature an addicted protagonist. In this case, the eponymous Inspector Endeavor Morse solves murders in a series of investigations. The books were so popular a successful detective drama television series, Inspector Morse, was spawned and ran from for 13 years from 1987 to 2000. Inspector Morse himself is a flawed character, and he is addicted to alcohol. As we will learn later on further down the list, the alcoholic detective is a trend in literature. This is the result of many factors, but the primary factor is likely the fact that giving a character a tragic flaw makes them more human and realistic. Alcoholism is a believable and common flaw that many have, and by no coincidence, writers are infamous as alcoholics.
5. The Next Right Thing by Dan Barden
More likely a novel about addiction than crime, The Next Right Thing by Dan Barden tells the story of a Californian carpenter named Randy Chalmers. Randy Chalmers, a recovered alcoholic, owes his life to his Alcoholic Anonymous sponsor and ex-police officer, Terry Elias. Terry Elias helped Randy Chalmers quit alcohol and take control of his life, but he is suddenly and mysteriously found dead of a heroin overdose after fifteen years of assumed sobriety. Randy is launched into a fact-finding quest to solve the mystery of the death of the man who saved his life. This book provides a terrifying portrayal of the horrors of addiction and an all-too-human tale of redemption and intrigue.
4. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
A community of Jewish Holocaust refugees in the Alaskan panhandle is home to homicide detective, Meyer Landsman. Landsman leads a life of utter disrepair. He is addicted to alcohol, his marriage with his wife is a total disaster, and his career as a detective is fraught with lost cases and unsolved murders. After learning of a murder that occurred in the very hotel he is languishing in, he is spurned into a detective quest to redeem himself and solve the murder. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union offers the reader a sobering tale of alcoholism, a tale of love, a tale of redemption, and a tribute to classic noir novels. This book carries with it a gritty and realistic story of addiction and redemption that is sure to shock, intrigue, and enlighten the reader.
3. Flaggermusmannen by Jo Nesbø
Flaggermusmannen or The Bat is the first in a series of novels revolving around a Norwegian police investigator and alcoholic named Harry Hole. A young and famous female celebrity named Inger Holter has just been murdered in Australia and Harry Hole is called down to help solve the mystery. They eventually learn that the suspect is a serial killer and strangler who specifically targets women with blonde hair. As the plot thickens and more questions come up un-answered, Harry Hole falls deeper and deeper into alcoholism. The story, which was originally written in Norwegian and then translated into English, depicts a harrowing portrait of addiction and entertains with a suspenseful tale of murder and addiction.
2. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Any list of crime novels would not be complete without at least one Sherlock Holmes book. A Study in Scarlet is a classic detective novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that provides a gripping tale of a murder investigation by the famous detective. One striking feature of this particular Sherlock Holmes novel is the exploration of the detective’s addiction to an injected cocaine solution. Perhaps a more obscure flaw of detective Holmes is his addiction to cocaine. In this novel, Doyle describes Holmes lying about immobile for days and days on his sofa in the throes of cocaine addiction. His ever-faithful companion, Dr. Watson, eventually helps Holmes defeat his cocaine addiction, but he underlines his successes by saying, “the fiend was not dead, but sleeping;”
1. The Shining by Stephen King
A classic American horror novel and perhaps an even more famous Stanley Kubrick film, The Shining comes packaged with surreal, mind-bending horror, domestic abuse, family dysfunction, and the perils of alcohol addiction. Jack Torrance is an alcoholic on the road to recovery who must watch over a remote and enormous property with the company of his wife and children. As time progresses, Jack falls prey to a supernatural terror, relapses on his beloved gin martini, and is sent into a murderous rampage against his own family. There is no doubt that Stephen King has incorporated themes of alcoholism and the destructive effect it has on families.
Sharon Torres is a freelance writer who focuses on addiction and recovery. Her favorite author is Phillip K. Dick. You can find her blog here: