Books by Orrin Onken

Orrin Onken has written three works of fiction. His novels are The Holders of Helmut Street, The Duke of Morrison Street  and Malady Manor.

In The Holders of Helmut Street, the struggling lawyer, Leopold Larson returns to the pages. He is a little older and a little wiser after the events described in The Duke of Morrison Street. Into Leo’s life comes the aging Ben Holder holder and his four failure-to-thrive children. Ben is slowly disappearing into the fog of age-related dementia. As he comes to know the family, he must stay sober and protect Ben from the well-intentioned grasp of a court system intent on protecting him to death. With the help of his legal assitant, Peggi, and the hinderance of his outside-the-box AA group, Leo must save his client, make sense of a family, and maybe even solve a murder.

The Duke of Morrison Street is the first of the Leopold Larson books. It is a detective story featuring the alcoholic and sometimes recovering lawyer, Leopold Larson, as he tries to avoid disbarment and stumbles into corruption at the highest levels of the Portland legal community. His client is the buxom and dangerous hot dog vendor, Daisy Twill. His assistants are the members of the toughest and craziest AA group in the city. It is a rollicking ride through the recovery and legal communities in the great Northwest.

Malady Manor is one man’s grumpy trip through drug an alcohol treatment as it existed in the the eighties. Against his better judgment the narrator is probed and prodded toward sobriety. If you have ever gone through addiction treatment you will recognize the characters. The book is comedy with an edge  that will touch the heart of anyone who has gone through or lives with someone who has gone through addiction treatment.

The Alcoholic in Fiction

One of the things I discovered in sobriety was that I like alcoholics. When I drank I liked them in bars. When not drinking I liked them in twelve-step groups. And I liked reading about them. Below are some of my favorite books with alcoholic characters.

Emile Zola: The Drinking Den

This book is the seventh book in Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series of novels. It is also known as The Dram Shop and L’Assommoir. Zola writes nineteenth century realism at its best. I am on my way to finishing all twenty in his series. The Drinking Den is the story of a laundress in Paris whose successful business is brought down by her husband’s, and eventually her own, alcoholism. This book is not for the squeamish. It describes the descent into alcoholism in excruciating detail, and is a reminder that alcohol addiction and the damages it causes is neither new or American. The story of Gervaise and her journey to squalor and end-stage alcoholism is little different from the stories told in recovery communities today.

I do have a warning about Zola novels. In the beginnings of his books he brings on characters quickly and it is easy to get lost. Do not worry. Just read on and it all clears up soon enough.

John O’Hara: Appointment at Samarra

Some claim that John O’Hara, if not for his own cantankerous alcoholism, would have been America’s Fitzgerald instead of Fitzgerald, but that is now all water under the bridge.

Appointment at Sammara is set during prohibition and follows the alcoholic descent of a socially prominent small town Cadillac dealer. The book reminds us that alcoholism kills us in many ways, not simply by physical deterioration. Among the various alcoholic misbehaviors described in the book is a brilliant scene containing a conversation with a very drunk person. It is hard to write a scene like that and O’Hara did it better than anyone.

If you are not familiar with the underlying ancient story of the “appointment at Samarra” I reprint the Summerset Maughn version below.

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

Lawrence Block: When the Sacred Ginmill Closes

The alcoholic ex-cop is a classic character in murder mysteries — the damaged and flawed detective still holding on to a firm moral compass. It has been done a million times, but I sill get a sense of ease and comfort when I start another novel featuring one of these.

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes is the third in Lawrence Block’s series featuring the detective, Mathew Scudder. It is my favorite of the Scudder books due to its rich descriptions of underground after-hours drinking establishments and the people who drink there. Scudder Knows how to drink, and the book brings out both the odd romanticism and the ugly desperation of late state alcoholism. It is an easy and entertaining read.

About Orrin Onken

I live in Fairview, Oregon with my wife, Cheri, and my dog, Bob. In August of 2017, I turned sixty-six years old and qualified for Social Security. I am rather proud of making it. There was a time when I wasn’t so sure I would.

I didn’t take the Social Security and plan to wind up and close my law practice in the summer of 2020.  I drew from my experience practicing law to write The Duke of Morrison Street, but the protagonist, Leo Larson, is not me. I drew from my experience of alcoholism treatment in writing Malady Manor, but the protagonist in that book is not me either.

I have a claim to fame. As far as I can tell I am the only lawyer in the 150 history of Oregon to be disbarred, get reinstated, and return to the practice of law.  That whole story can be found here.

Contact Orrin Onken


Salish Ponds Press
Orrin R. Onken
21901 NE Halsey Ste 202
Fairview, Oregon 97024