James Ulysses S. Grant Murphy, aka Murph, is a homeless alcoholic who lives in Venice, California. At one time in his life he was on the brink of an NFL career after playing football for Notre Dame. Now he limps amid the filth and decay of the alleys, beaches, and byways of Venice, sometimes alone but for his dog Betty, sometimes with other homeless folks, his gang of druggies, crazies, eccentrics, and fellow drunks. A car accident and subsequent bills mean that Murph must somehow raise some cash to save a friend, so he decides to investigate a six-month-cold homicide case with a $25,000 bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer.
Don't read this book expecting sunshine and rainbows, because it's dark. To be clear, Webster's defines noir as "crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings." Some of the characters in The Long Drunk are so hard-boiled they're pulp--barely human refuse--and sleazy doesn't quite cover the squalor on these pages. Not to mention puke, crap, blood, and other assorted bodily fluids. But (you could feel that word coming, right?), unbelievably enough, the humanity of the characters shines through it all, and they are incredibly sympathetic--and at times comic--, even in their worst moments (and there are many). Although the story nominally revolves around Murph's attempt to solve a murder and get the reward money, it's the characters and their lives, in all their seamy glory, that make this novel so compelling. The social critique inherent in the contrast between the homeless and the wealthy denizens of Venice propels The Long Drunk into the realm of the extraordinary. Highly recommended for adults only.