Ken Honeywell's Reviews > The Next Right Thing: A Novel

The Next Right Thing by Dan Barden
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's review
Apr 08, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: crime-mystery
Read in March, 2012

From Punchnels.com:

If you’re not a heavy drinker or drug user, the prospect of spending nearly three hundred pages with a cast of characters comprised almost solely of alcoholics may seem depressing. The prospect of spending all those pages with mostly recovering alcoholics who made their acquaintances and forged their friendships in Alcoholics Anonymous–well, that may seem even more depressing. If the characters are reformed and all their self-destructive behavior takes place in the past, what fun is that?

Fortunately, we’ll never have to find out. Because in Dan Barden’s novel The Next Right Thing, there’s plenty of self-destructive behavior for everyone–including and especially our hero Randy Chalmers, who hasn’t had a drink in 15 years.

Randy is a SoCal ex-cop with a dark past who’s wracked with guilt and anger over the death of Terry Elias, his best friend and longtime AA sponsor. Terry apparently ODed on heroin after decades of sobriety. Randy’s not sure he believes it; Terry was AA royalty, a big, unrelenting son of a bitch whose foul-tempered brand of tough love saved more than one life, including Randy’s.

Randy needs closure, and he doesn’t care who he has to punch to get it. His simmering anger is prone to sudden eruption. That helps keep things lively in a mystery where there’s always some new twist–and usually some new AA-connected character–around every corner.

That these characters are all so compelling is no minor feat. But that’s what Barden has accomplished. The action never lags, but it’s the complicated relationships among the addicts that keep The Next Right Thing interesting. They’re all living on, and ofttimes over, one edge or another: the edge of addiction, of violence, of the law, of compassion. The novel’s great strength is the way it makes us see the inherent unpredictability of people with addictive personalities and the necessity of AA. Addiction isn’t something you ever get over. If the addicts don’t watch out for each other, they’re doomed.

The story is told by Randy, who’s unsparing in his assessment of himself and everything in his life–even the things (his Eames chair) and the people (his friend Wade, his daughter Crash) he loves. It’s why Randy is so likable and believable–in spite of, even because of, being a crazy loose cannon.

It all adds up to a novel I couldn’t put down, almost literally; I found myself sneaking sentences at traffic lights, jonesing for it when I didn’t have the book in my hand. To say The Next Right Thing is addictive may be ironic. But it’s also true.
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