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Gary Shulze, Once Upon a Crime
Writing for CrimeSpree Magazine

Some years ago, when we were first starting out in this business, I wrote what amounted to my first fan letter. We were about to host an event for Reed Farrel Coleman, and I pulled from a shelf a copy of Walking the Perfect Square, a book that had been sitting there, unread, for about two years. It was "homework", it knocked my socks off, and I wrote a note to Reed telling him what a gem of a novel it was. He wrote back to say that my note was a pleasant surprise, being a bit of a delayed reaction and all. I've since discovered many wonderful reads around here, and have written more fan letters. But Reed was my first.

That was always the test, I thought, not how good you were at avoiding the
blows, but how you dealt with them after they landed. -The James Deans

When I met Reed, one of the first things I'd said to him was that his, at the time, two "Moe" books reminded me of Lawrence Block's early "Scudder" mysteries. While reading blurbs on the "Moe" series, I found that several authors also had picked up on the Scudder comparison. Both are hard-boiled, with a flawed, compassionate hero, incredible sense of time and place, and compelling characters.

'There's only two things ex-cops go into with any chance of success -
bars and security.'
'Go home Bob. In the morning we'll flip a coin'. -Hose Monkey

Like Scudder, Moe has suffered from a fall. Scudder's came from accidentally shooting a child. He'd been drinking at the time, and then went on to make it a career. Moe's came by slipping on an errant piece of carbon paper while walking across the squad room. They used to be cops, now they're P.I.s.

We had to settle for 'Piano Man'. Well, it was nine o'clock on a Saturday.
-Redemption Street

Just the mention of carbon paper dates the "Moe" series' origin. I remember playing with carbon paper as a kid, and using it in high school, which dates me. This was a time when detectives actually had to detect, had to wear out some gumshoe leather. No *69, cell phones, fax machines, internet, email, GPS systems, caller ID…all nifty, and now indispensable, tools. Unfortunately for Moe, there was that damn carbon paper.

Moe is starting up a wine shop with his brother when he gets a call from his former partner Rico. It's 1978. Seems Rico is connected to Francis Maloney, a dangerous and powerful man, whose son Patrick has disappeared. While on the force, Moe achieved wide-spread notoriety for finding a missing girl. It was a blind hunch which miraculously paid off. Maloney wants Moe to do it again and find Patrick. In exchange, he offers to help Moe and his brother in obtaining a liquor license. The implication is obvious: accept the offer or kiss the license goodbye. Little does Moe know that the elder Maloney will eventually become his father-in-law from hell, but that's another story.

'Moe, come on, what's this about?' she asked again.
'It's about the past, and leaving it behind.' -Soul Patch

The past is never dead. It isn't even past - William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

All the books have ties to the past- a cold case that haunts Moe, and threatens his marriage. The reader, and eventually Moe, knows a secret that Moe keeps both literally and figuratively buried. I'll leave it to you to discover on your own.

I read this series in order. I was going to say "chronologically", but that would be misleading. The books are so intertwined, that any order works. This is convenient since Walking the Perfect Square will be the last title to be reprinted. The entire series is set in the waning decades of the 20th century, except for the opening to "Walking", which takes place in the present. All the rest is flashback; the reader is made privy to something that not even Moe knows throughout the rest of the series. Intentional or not, it is the work of genius.

But there's more. With the soon to be released Empty Ever After, Moe and Reed bring us back to the present. The BIG SECRET is about to come out. What we have been waiting for with mounting tension, and a sense of impending doom, is about to hit the fan. And we're promised that it's about more than just secrets. I can't wait. Will this spell the end of the series, or will Moe continue on in the present, tooling around town, armed with a new GPS and other assorted doodads?

In addition to The Moe Prager series, Reed wrote a three book series starring Dylan Klein, a bored and undistinguished insurance investigator. After his first case (Life Goes Sleeping), in which he teams with his best friend, ex-NYPD detective Johnny MacClough, Dylan finds himself with enough money in the bank to pursue his dream of being a writer. He soon finds that his investigative skills haven't gone to waste, as new troubles find him.

She passed her side of the table, put both knees on the blue vinyl, and put
her mouth softly on mine. For that second my life's focus was confined to the
anxious taste of Micki Korin's mouth and the perfume of her breath…
'Not here Dylan'…she whispered…'Yes, Dylan, but not here.' - Life Goes Sleeping

Yes, not here indeed. My Mom might be reading this. Again, this too is a terrific hard-boiled detective series, and erotic as the dickens. For some odd reason my copies open right up to some of the, um, better scenes. Must be binding errors.

Hardcover first editions of this series are difficult to find, especially They Don't Play Stickball in Milwaukee. All titles were published by Permanent Press, and continue to be available in trade paper format.

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose -Bob Dylan

Joe Serpe just assumed there was no more, that things had moved well
beyond loss and grief, beyond worsening. He was only about an hour from
learning there's always more and there's always worse. -Hose Monkey

In one of Reed's "forays into the real world", he delivered home heating oil. It's a dirty, physical, and smelly job. In the fictional world, Joe Serpe does just that. One morning, while draining a tank on one of the delivery trucks, he finds the body of a young retarded man he works with. He was a "hose monkey", the guy who rides shotgun and pulls the hoses. He was good at it. And there he lies, in the bottom of the tank.

A former cop, now disgraced, Joe lost his brother on 9/11, his partner to suicide, had a divorce, and acquired a cat. Joe goes on the case, wanting justice for the kid and possibly some sense of redemption for himself. He teams up with, of all people, Bob Healy, the former Internal Affairs officer who busted Joe for corruption. A great read, set in the present, Hose Monkey again demonstrates Reed Coleman's (writing as Tony Spinosa) mastery of place and character.

For quite some time now, I've been planning to write an article about series fiction. So far, I have a few notes and a title: "Out of Order?" It will deal with how authors structure a series, and with an ongoing debate I have with myself, and with customers, on whether it's necessary to read a mystery series from its beginning. It's a complex subject, and I don't know if I'll ever get all my thoughts in order. The "Moe series" will be one example, along with, for a variety of reasons, James Sallis, Daniel Judson, and the Star Wars movies. So far, the best answer I can come up with is "it depends". And with so many publishers letting early books go out of print, reading (and selling) a series can be frustrating.

Whenever our customers are looking for a new series to read, they often leave with a copy of Walking the Perfect Square, and come back wanting more. It has easily been our best selling backlist title. Thank you, Busted Flush, for bringing this classic "Moe" back into print - we were running out! And thanks too to Bleak House for continuing with the series; it is finally getting the attention it deserves. The James Deans picked up a hatful of awards, and Soul Patch has just been nominated for the 2008 "Best Novel" Edgar® Award.

Upon rereading parts of Reed's novels while preparing this piece, I found myself wishing I had the luxury of time to reread them all. But there are too many new books on the pile, and who knows how many more overlooked gems are still waiting on the shelves.


Dylan Klein novels

Life Goes Sleeping (1991) Permanent Press
Little Easter (1993) Permanent Press
They Don't Play Stickball in Milwaukee (1997) Permanent Press

Moe Prager novels

Walking the Perfect Square (2001) Permanent Press; (2003) Penguin; (April, 2008) Busted Flush
Redemption Street (2004) Viking; (2008) Busted Flush
The James Deans (2005) Plume
Soul Patch (2007) Bleak House
Empty Ever After (March, 2008) Bleak House

As Tony Spinosa

Hose Monkey (2006) Bleak House
The Fourth Victim (Fall, 2008) Bleak House

As editor

Hard Boiled Brooklyn (2006) Bleak House

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This page last updated February 11, 2008