“Dinner was okay, if you were fond of starvation. 10-9-8’s chef’s favourite ingredient seemed to be big, mostly empty plates. Clearly, he had read too much French existentialism and wanted to make a statement about the importance and isolation of the individual in a starkly judgemental world. Who knows, maybe Camus wasn’t dead, but cooking in Manhattan.”
How’s that for a description of a restaurant meal in the 1980s?
I came across it in Reed Farrel Coleman’s novel ‘The JamesDeans’. It’s the third of the Moe Prager series.
It’s one hell of a good book, written with a smooth style that’s faultless to the end.
Moses Prager (ex-cop, wine shop owner, family man and a detective for hire) is persuaded to take on the job of clearing the name of a politician suspected of committing more than a little hanky-panky with one of his staff. The rub is that if he doesn’t help out, bad things will happen.
Off he goes on the trail of the victim, attempting to find out all he can that the police and a top-notch firm of detectives couldn’t find before.
In the course of his travels we get to see him traverse political terrain, the world of strip-clubs, old-school journalism, the police force, small-town America and Brooklyn.
The worlds that he enters are painted beautifully, with just the right amount of introduction. The same can be said of the back-stories that are subtly drip-fed where others might have simply chucked in big slices of indigestible material.
Of course our man Moe gets the job done. He accepts his rewards, is invited to take his dream job of detective and basks in the limelight of success while it lasts.
Problem is that this point comes only half-way through the book. When I reached it, I was wondering how such a perfect tale could be further extended without damaging what had gone before.
I needn’t have worried.
What follows is an even more tautly written prose that takes the reader to the end of the book in the way that one of his favoured Coney Island rides might have done.
The plot is wonderfully paced. I loved being taken on the ups and downs of the case and could never quite see where I was going next until I’d rounded the corner.
The characters are so 3 dimensional that if they chose to make the movie, there’d be no need for glasses to get them to leap from the screen.
The settings are superbly drawn and make me want to go on the Moe Prager tour of New York should I ever get there (if no one has set one of those up, it might be a hell of a business idea).
Best of all is the man himself. Moe is deep thinking, caring, unselfish and full of wisdom, his own and that of other people.
“Life is hard for us all. It’s not a contest of whose life is worse. When the Gettys are sad, their misery is as real as mine or yours. Money is a retreat not a fortress.”
for example, or
“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.”
(Amen to that) and that’s before you get to page 9.
Add to that the great name and a cover that is out of the top drawer and you have more than enough on your plate, even if you’re eating at 10,9,8s.
The James Deans is my kind of book by my kind of author. I can’t wait for the next in the series, Soul Patch. The order’s made and should be in transit as I write. God’s speed to the postal service is all I can say.
Hard-boiled with a soft centre. Highly recommended.