(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

RUMMIES is a cautionary tale about a well-respected New York editor, Scott Preston, who is called to task by his boss and his family about his alcohol problem. Though he refuses to admit that he has a real drinking problem, Scott agrees to go to a rehabilitation center, where he comes up against his counselor, Marcia Breck. The anticipated clash of wills takes place in a group counseling meeting, where Scott meets some fellow addicts, such as a fat Mafia man who is there to clean up his drug problem or be put on ice by his fellow hit men.

The clinic is run by an aging film star, Stone Banner, a veteran of the old Westerns. The mystery itself begins when another aging film star, Natasha Grant (an Elizabeth Taylor type), turns up dead at the foot of a nearby mountain. She had only recently been discharged from the Banner Clinic after beating her own addiction problems. Along the way to solving the mystery, Scott helps his fellow addicts with their self-esteem and comes to terms with his wife’s defection.

The weakness of the book lies in Benchley’s inability to devote himself fully either to the mystery or to the social problems about which he is writing. Scott’s battle with alcohol is never portrayed as a battle; occasionally, he seems to have twinges of need, but most of the time it seems as if he what he has said all along is true: He is not an alcoholic, merely someone who sometimes drinks too much. His “cure,” therefore, is more of an anticlimax than the resolution of the novel.