Welcome to Dallas, double vision and all…

If you like your serial killer murder mysteries served up with a double shot of bourbon, a dash of bitterness and a chance for redemption, drop everything, head for the supermarket and get yourself a copy of Howard Swindle’s high octane paperback “Jitter Joint.”

This feisty Texas tome, complete with rich playboys, down-and-out homicide cops, lots of dead folks, giant cockroaches and the detox blues, is an obvious candidate for Best Alcoholic Supermarket Paperback Murder Mystery of 2000.

Take it from me, amigos, “Jitter Joint” (2000, St. Martin’s Press, $5.99, 260 pages) simply has no peer on today’s supermarket shelves.

I should also point out that Mr. Swindle’s two-fisted tale is “SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING SYLVESTER STALLONE!”
(Hey, it says so on the cover …)

“Jitter Joint” is the sometimes disjointed story of veteran Dallas homicide detective Jeb Quinlin, a police officer with a lot of problems, most of which seem to emanate from the nearest thirst emporium.

He, er, drinks.

A lot …

And he’s just gotten an ultimatum from his estranged wife and his superior: Sober up or lose both his marriage and his badge.

After consulting with concerned colleagues over a judicious number of Wild Turkeys at the seedy Probable Cause tavern, Jeb saddles up and heads less-than-steadily for the Cedar Ridge Hospital Substance Abuse Unit, informally known as the “Jitter Joint.”

Does it take very long for things to start getting weird?

Not long at all …

The Detox Unit is filled with colorful characters, starting with the sadistic and confrontational Dr. Wellman Bergoff III who has just a bit of a problem with lipstick.

Then there’s Zoe Zowie, an alcoholic amphetamine fancier who tries to drown a fellow patient in a vat of steaming chicken a la king over a perceived slight during a therapy session. And a swimsuit model and a missile systems engineer and a computer software designer …

And then they start dying, one by one, each of them tagged with one of the Twelve Steps we chemically challenged folks follow to help us maintain our balance.

Man, talk about stress. Sobering up is tough enough, but when you’re a recovering alcoholic homicide detective and somebody starts methodically offing everybody on the ward, we’re talking some major anxiety.

And just to keep the mystery in our murder mystery, the best forensic minds in Dallas can’t seem to figure out exactly what is being used to drastically shorten the lives of Jeb Quinlin’s ward mates.

Before long, the police captain who was threatening to toss Quinlin off the force is telling him he’d better get to work and corral the phantom of the detox unit before any more lives are lost and the police department is left with a black eye.

Unfortunately, our industrious Twelve Step killer has already taken his act on the road and is leaving victims scattered throughout Dallas, dropping appropriately labeled bodies in mortuaries and topless bars with giddy abandon.

Is Quinlin up to the chase?

Are you?

The answer’s about four aisles over from the tortilla chips and bean dip. Just steer clear of the Wild Turkey, pilgrim …

Originally published April 09, 2000

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