REED FARREL COLEMAN
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Gary Shulze, Once Upon a Crime
Writing for CrimeSpree
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
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.
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
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'
'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
Joe Serpe just assumed there was no more, that
things had moved well
beyond loss and grief, beyond worsening. He was only about an
learning there's always more and there's always worse. -Hose
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®
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
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
Hard Boiled Brooklyn (2006) Bleak House