Thursday Reviews: Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman

Onion Street

Reed Farrel Coleman

At what may be the end of Moe Prager’s life, he recounts for his daughter an incident from the beginning of his adult life. Onion Street is framed by Moe and daughter Sarah attending the funeral of Bobby Friedman, one of Moe’s oldest friends. Moe is surprised Bobby had died, since he’s just finished killing a tumor in his gut with several rounds of chemo. But Moe is amused when he leaves the cemetery. Sarah wants to know why. So Moe tells her, and that is the entree into the very moment Moe Prager became a man.

It’s 1967, and Moses Prager is an aimless Brooklyn College kid happy to bang his girlfriend, drift from class to class, and occasionally smoke the odd joint. Hey, it’s the sixties, and Moe’s sticking it to the man the way boys of my generation raised to an art form: By slacking.

But Mindy is upset about something and warns Moe to stay away from Bobby, his best friend, for a couple of days. This after Moe bails Bobby out. Bobby has been jailed during a radical demonstration, one over the bombing death of his girlfriend some months earlier. Moe can hardly stay away. He spots him at the Burgundy House, what passes for a fraternity at Brooklyn College, and stops him from being killed. When Moe decides he needs to know why, he shadows Bobby and discovers a body. While that happens, Mindy is rushed to the hospital in a coma. Soon, Moe finds himself in over his head, entangled with the mob, communist radicals, and possibly drug smugglers. He also seems to have a talent for finding things out that law enforcement struggles with. More than one person, including a detective, points this out to him.

In the end, Moe realizes he never knew the people around him (besides his parents, brother Aaron, and little sister Miriam). He also realizes where his purpose lies – on the NYPD.

In all the other Pragers, Moe is a responsible businessman who misses his police days. He has been married twice, once widowed and once divorced, and is still reeling from the events of his debut (Walk a Perfect Square) and of the murder that came back to haunt him later (The James Deans). This is a bit different because we see a child named Moe Prager who has to grow up very fast as people around him start dying, and in some cases, a few try to kill him.

Thursday Reviews: The Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Hurt Machine

Reed Farrel Coleman

Death is very much on the mind of Moe Prager. As we meet him at the beginning of The Hurt Machine, he has just learned that he has a golf ball-sized tumor in his stomach. He refuses to begin treatment until his daughter Sarah is married. But Moe can’t stop thinking about the end. He feels an enormous amount of guilt over the death of his first wife, Katy, who was murdered by a man he fingered as the killer of a young girl twenty years earlier. He feels the weight of the lies he told about Katy’s brother, whose disappearance marked the beginning of his career as a private investigator. And he feels a debt to ex-wife Carmella.

This last one has Moe looking into the recent murder of Carmella’s sister, Alta. Alta is one of two EMT’s who watched a man die with the excuse that they were off-duty. As with any Moe Prager novel, there’s more here than meets the eye. Alta and her partner are pariahs in the FDNY. A few really angry hardcases are openly thrilled Alta is dead after making the department look bad. A lead that points to a recent fallen hero in the department triggers violent reprisals. But it also uncovers much more than a screw-up by two paramedics. Moe uncovers a web of blackmail, bigotry, and hypocrisy that leads him to discover that no one is what they seem to be.

As disgusted as he gets with the case, Moe can’t let it drop. It soon becomes more than tying up loose ends with Carmella. As with all his cases, Moe is unable to let it go well past the point other PI’s would have dropped it. Cancer, however, adds a new dimension to it. When Moe is wrapped up in the case, he’s not thinking about his possibly imminent demise. Even without the cancer, Moe has a sudden realization that he is sixty, and he is not going to be around forever.

Fortunately, Coleman assures us that he is around for two more books.

Save Moe Again!

A Moe Prager Mystery Empty Ever After: A Moe Prager Mystery by Reed Farrel Coleman

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The latest in the Moe Prager series brings our reluctant PI to the near present. It’s the turn of the century. The Twin Towers still stand, George Bush is a non-entity, and Moe Prager is suffering from a nineties hangover. His daughter is grown. His hated father-in-law is dead. His wife has left him. Moe finds his only solace in running a chain of wine stores with his brother, a business he seems to hate, but takes refuge in anyway. He also keeps his feet wet as a PI by running an agency with former NYPD detective Carmella Melendez.

Just as Moe is getting used to being a bored divorced man in his middle age, the ghost of Patrick, his ex-wife’s brother, begins haunting the former Mrs. Katy Prager. To the point of driving her insane.

Moe makes it his mission to find out who is impersonating Patrick and why. The scheme sounds a bit far-fetched, but skillful writer Reed Farrell Coleman is, he makes that a plot point. Someone has gone to considerable expense and effort to make Katy think she is seeing her dead brother to the point of desecrating his grave and getting an actor a tattoo identical to Patrick’s. Even the sister of Patrick’s late gay lover is involved as someone apparently has vandalized his grave, too.

But if there’s one tragedy in all this, it’s that the person behind this charade isn’t just robbing Katy of her sanity. He is destroying what’s left of the Prager family. Not even halfway through the book does it become clear that Moe and Katy will never be friends again, let alone reconcile. And the secrets Moe held for so long thinking they’d protect his family only serve in the end to break them irrevocably apart.

This is dark, painful closure for virtually all Coleman’s Prager stories. Moe is left utterly alone at the end and yet…

And yet he is still in the wine business with brother Aaron. He is still not only Carmella Melendez’s partner, but someone she knows she can turn to in the wake of an unwanted pregnancy.

This could easily be the end of the Prager series. It can also be the start of the next chapter. Reed Coleman doesn’t let Moe get off that easy. He doesn’t let the reader, either.

Nor should he.

View all my reviews.

Attention, Slackers…

I have finished Neil Smith‘s Yellow Medicine and hereby order all of you to do the same.

I am now reading Victor Gischler‘s Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, possibly The Great Gatsby of our generation.  Make your children read it.  In fact, pregnant women should read it to their fetuses*.

Then I’m gonna read Reed Farrell Coleman‘s Empty Ever After, because dammit, a man’s got to know his limitations.  And who better to show me those limitations than Moe Prager?

Now you know how to spend your summer vacation.  Get crackin’.  It’s almost August.

*Warning:  May cause irrational pre-natal fear of lemurs in newborns.  Consult your physician or Steve Wilkos before reading to unborn fetuses prior to third trimester.  Use only as directed.  Terms and conditions may apply.  See dealer for details.  Offer void in Albania, Dubai, and the parts of Pakistan both Obama and McCain want to bomb.