MysteryPeople Q&A: REED FARREL COLEMAN

Reed Farrel Coleman’s Onion Street, is our Pick of The Month for good reason. Both well plotted and poignant, it takes Reed’s Moe Prager character and gives us his coming of age in 1968 through an involving mystery. We got a chance to ask Reed a few questions about the book, the Sixties, and Moe, for a fun and interesting MysteryPeople interview.

MysteryPeople: In the Moe series, he refers to his past, but there isn’t much detail. Were you waiting to do this book?

Reed Farrel Coleman: I never planned the books in the series. I never sat down and said, “This is going to happen then,” or “Such event will be revealed in book 7.” It’s just not my nature to write that way. I wrote the Moe books as a kind of reflection of where I was in my life and where I had been. That is not to say they are strictly autobiographical. They aren’t. I just liked seeing where I was, the world was, and what I felt like exploring at any given time. Having said all that, I knew there were only going to be nine books in the series and that next year’s The Hollow Girl would be a book that took place in the here and now. It occurred to me that I had never really explored Moe’s becoming an adult. I thought the time had come for that because I’d just watched my children pass through that stage and I was nostalgic for that time period in my own life. It was a dangerous thing to do, to tackle a prequel and the 60s because they are often done so badly. But what the hell, right?

 

MP: Onion Street and Walter Mosely’s Little Green, which also deals with the late sixties counter culture, both came out this week and other crime fiction writers of your generation like Libby Fischer Hellman (Set The Night On Fire) and Edward Wright (From Blood) have used it lately for their novels as well as Robert Redford in his new thriller. Other than it being a the time period of Moe as a young man, what prompted you to look at that era?

RFC: Well, I think most things written about the 60s focus too much on the incredible chaos of the times and not the lives of the people who actually lived through them. I lived through them as a child and as a young teen, so I tried to see that time through the eyes of my older brothers and their pals. It also made me go back and look at Brooklyn not through my world wearied eyes, but my fresh eyes. I wanted to remember Brooklyn as I first saw it, long before it became the coolest place to live. Do you know that in France when they think something is hot or chic, they call it Tres Brooklyn or very Brooklyn. That was unimaginable to me in the Brooklyn I grew up in. I wanted to look at that world.

MP: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the period?

RFC: Great question. As I was telling my kids recently, just in the first 6 months of 1968, the following events happened: the Pueblo Incident, the Tet Offensive, Apollo Missions 5 & 6, Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. 6 months! Are you kidding me? Yet in spite of that, my dad got up every morning and went to manage his grocery store. My mom still shopped and cooked and sent us off to school. My brothers went to college and I went to PS 209. I played stickball after school. Life went on. That was the thing. Life went on. Not everyone wore love beads, granny glasses, bell bottoms and long hair. Life shouldn’t be reduced to cliché and neither should books.

 

MP: I thought Lids, the burnt out prodigy turned drug dealer who helps out Moe, is one of your best supporting characters. He seemed so painfully real. Was he inspired by some of the people you grew up around?

RFC: I went to high school with some totally genius kids who never seemed very happy. I mean, is anyone very happy in high school? In any case, it was easy for me to remember those kids and extrapolate a character like lids. Lids, by the way, for those of you who didn’t live through the 60s, was a term for an amount of marijuana. You bought lids, not ounces or nickel bags. Research. I swear. I was too young to know that myself back then.

 

MP: Many of the Moe books take place in recent history. What is a key thought to have when writing about a period the reader may have lived through?

RFC: As I referenced earlier, make it about the characters’ lives, not about the historical touchstones. Don’t be heavy handed in your depiction of an era. Allude to it without shoving it in your readers’ faces. In the early books I did this by having Moe make predictions about the relevant new technologies and always getting it wrong. I do it in Onion Street as well. I think I learned that lesson because I grew up reading a lot of sci-fi and many of the predictions those writers made were totally erroneous.

 

MP: Can you give a hint about what you have in store for Moe in the last book?

RFC: I’d be glad to. In The Hollow Girl, Moe is in a bad way. A woman out of Moe’s past hires him to find her missing daughter, but he’s not convinced she’s even missing. As Moe tries to pick up her trail, he confronts some hard questions about his past and about the rest of his life. I dare not say more. I can tell you I think it will be a fitting end to the series.

 

HARD WORD VISITS A WICKED CITY

In preparation for Ace Atkins May 31st signing of Wonderland and The Broken Places, The Hard Word Book Club is looking at his second historical crime novel, Wicked City. Atkins looks at Phenix City, Alabama, a town that was so corrupt, General George Patton wanted it leveled because of the affect it had on the nearby army base. When the newly elected, reform minded DA was was shot in front of his home, a group of citizens took matters (and guns) into their own hands.
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In many ways the story is as much western (Hard Word’s other favorite genre) as much as crime fiction, with a pretty clean line of good guys and bad guys, with a few ugly ones operating between. It’s also a great example of Atkins ability to create a world. He evokes time and place with fun dialogue, great characters, and a sweaty, Southern feel.

This Hard Word is all out, including a conference call-in from Ace for the discussion and a viewing of Phenix City Story, the Phil Karlson directed movie inspired by the same events. We’ll be meeting at 7PM, Wednesday, May 29th. Copies of Wicked City are 10% off for those who attend.

New Releases In MysteryPeople: May 14th 2013

Here’s your weekly dose of new releases. Easy Rawlins is back!

Little Green by Walter Mosley

When Walter Mosley burst onto the literary scene in 1990 with his first Easy Rawlins mystery, Devil in a Blue Dress—a combustible mixture of Raymond Chandler and Richard Wright—he captured the attention of hundreds of thousands of readers (including future president Bill Clinton). Eleven books later, Easy Rawlins is one of the few private eyes in contemporary crime fiction who can be called iconic and immortal. In the incendiary and fast-paced Little Green, he returns from the brink of death to investigate the dark side of L.A.’s 1960s hippie haven, the Sunset Strip.

We last saw Easy in 2007’s Blonde Faith, fighting for his life after his car plunges over a cliff. True to form, the tough WWII veteran survives, and soon his murderous sidekick Mouse has him back cruising the mean streets of L.A., in all their psychedelic 1967 glory, to look for a young black man, Evander “Little Green” Noon, who disappeared during an acid trip. Fueled by an elixir called Gator’s Blood, brewed by the conjure woman Mama Jo, Easy experiences a physical, spiritual, and emotional resurrection, but peace and love soon give way to murder and mayhem. Written with Mosley’s signature grit and panache, this engrossing and atmospheric mystery is not only a trip back in time, it is also a tough-minded exploration of good and evil, and of the power of guilt and redemption. Once again, Easy asserts his reign over the City of (Fallen) Angels.

Angel Baby by Richard Lange

A woman goes on the run in this intense and cinematic thriller by an award-winning writer. To escape the awful life she has descended into, Luz plans carefully. She takes only the clothes on her back, a Colt .45, and all the money in her husband’s safe. The corpses in the hallway weren’t part of her plan. Luz needs to find the daughter she left behind years earlier, but she knows she may die trying. Her husband is El Principe, a key player in a high-powered drug cartel, a business he runs with the same violence he has used to keep Luz his perfect, obedient wife. With the pace and relentless force of a Scorsese film, ANGEL BABY is the newest masterpiece from one of the most ambitious and talented crime novelists at work today.

Inferno by Dan Brown

In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno. Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

I Hear the Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty

A torso in a suitcase looks like an impossible case. But Sean Duffy isn’t easily deterred, especially when his floundering love life leaves him in need of distraction. So, with Detective Constables McCrabban and McBride, he goes to work identifying the victim. The torso turns out to be all that’s left of an American tourist who once served in the US military. What was he doing in Northern Ireland in the midst of the 1982 Troubles? The trail leads to the doorstep of a beautiful, flame-haired, twenty- something widow, whose husband died at the hands of an IRA assassination team just a few months before. Suddenly, Duffy is caught between his romantic instincts, gross professional misconduct, and powerful men he should know better than to mess with. These include British intelligence, the FBI, and local paramilitary death squads, enough to keep even the savviest detective busy. Duffy’s growing sense of self-doubt isn’t helping. But, being a legendarily stubborn man, he doesn’t let that stop him pursuing the case to its explosive conclusion.

New in MysteryPeople: April 23rd 2013

Here’s your weekly dose of new releases. Get em’ while they’re hot!

The Hit by David Baldacci

Will Robie is a master of killing. A highly skilled assassin, Robie is the man the U.S. government calls on to eliminate the worst of the worst-enemies of the state, monsters committed to harming untold numbers of innocent victims. No one else can match Robie’s talents as a hitman…no one, except Jessica Reel. A fellow assassin, equally professional and dangerous, Reel is every bit as lethal as Robie. And now, she’s gone rogue, turning her gun sights on other members of their agency. To stop one of their own, the government looks again to Will Robie. His mission: bring in Reel, dead or alive. Only a killer can catch another killer, they tell him. But as Robie pursues Reel, he quickly finds that there is more to her betrayal than meets the eye. Her attacks on the agency conceal a larger threat, a threat that could send shockwaves through the U.S. government and around the world.
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Kaleidoscope by Gail Bowen

 A Globe and Mail bestseller in its first week, the thirteenth in Gail Bowen’s beloved Joanne Kilbourn mystery series is the best of them all: very bad things happen very close to home, and Joanne may never be quite the same again.

“Security for any one of us lies in greater abundance for all of us.” For many years, this was the core of Joanne’s political beliefs, but for a number of reasons, she has drifted away from it. But soon after she retires from her university teaching post, Joanne is forced to experience its truth. Two groups — developers with a vision for a revitalized neighbourhood on one side, protestors who fear gentrification will further marginalize their community on the other — are close to war and Joanne and Zack have loved ones on both sides. One night their house is blown up, and that is only the first of several terrible incidents that force Joanne to consider what it means to live in a world where she can count on nothing.

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

This contemporary coming-of-age story centers upon Maya Vidal, a remarkable teenager abandoned by her parents. Maya grew up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandmother Nini, whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973 with a young son, and her grandfather Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer. When Popo dies, Maya goes off the rails. Along with a circle of girlfriends known as “the vampires,” she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime–a downward spiral that eventually leads to Las Vegas and a dangerous underworld, with Maya caught between warring forces: a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. In the care of her grandmother’s old friend, Manuel Arias, and surrounded by strange new acquaintances, Maya begins to record her story in her notebook, as she tries to make sense of her past and unravel the mysteries of her family and her own life.

New Releases in MysteryPeople: March 26th 2013

As always, here’s what’s new this week in MysteryPeople.

Last Call for the Living by Peter Ferris (paperback release)

For bank teller Charlie Colquitt it was another Saturday. For Hobe Hicklin, an ex-con with nothing to lose, it was another score. For Hobe’s drug-addled, sex-crazed girlfriend, it was more lust, violence, and drugs. But Hicklin’s first mistake was double-crossing his partners in the Aryan Brotherhood. His second was taking a hostage. He and Charlie could hide out for only so long before Hicklin’s past catches up to them. Hot on Hicklin’s trail are a pair of Brotherhood soldiers, ready to burn a path of murder and mayhem to get revenge. GBI Special Agent Sallie Crews and Sheriff Tommy Lang catch the case, and soon Crews is making some dangerous connections. For hard-drinking, despondent Lang, rescuing Charlie might be the key to personal salvation.

Frozen Solid by James Tabor

The South Pole’s Amundsen Scott Research Station is like an outpost on Mars.  Winter temperatures average 100 degrees below zero; week-long hurricane-force storms rage; for eight months at a time the station is shrouded in darkness. Under the stress, bodies suffer and minds twist. Panic, paranoia, and hostility prevail.  When a South Pole scientist dies mysteriously, CDC microbiologist Hallie Leland arrives to complete crucial research. Before she can begin, three more women inexplicably die. As failing communications and plunging temperatures cut the station off from the outside world, terror rises and tensions soar. Amidst it all, Hallie must crack the mystery of her predecessor’s death.

In Washington, D.C., government agency director Don Barnard and enigmatic operative Wil Bowman detect troubling signs of shadowy behavior at the South Pole and realize that Hallie is at the heart of it. Unless Barnard and Bowman can track down the mastermind, a horrifying act of global terror, launched from the station, will change the planet forever—and Hallie herself will be the unwitting instrument of destruction. As the Antarctic winter sweeps in, severing contact with the outside world, Hallie must trust no one, fear everyone, and fight to keep the frigid prison from becoming her frozen grave.

Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski

Occupied Breslau, 1933: Two young women are found murdered on a train, scorpions writhing on their bodies, an indecipherable note in an apparently oriental language nearby …Police Inspector Eberhard Mock’s weekly assignation with two ladies of the night is interrupted as he is called to investigate. But uncovering the truth is no straightforward matter in Breslau. The city is in the grip of the Gestapo, and has become a place where spies are everywhere, corrupt ministers torture confessions from Jewish merchants, and Freemasons guard their secrets with blackmail and violence. And as Mock and his young assistant Herbert Anwaldt plunge into the city’s squalid underbelly the case takes on a dark twist of the occult when the mysterious note seems to indicate a ritual killing with roots in the Crusades …

The Bone Man by Wolf Haas

The wry and rueful Columbo of Austria investigates a grisly murder at a beloved restaurant where snooty Viennese gourmands go to eat … fried chicken. At a wildly popular chicken shack in the Austrian countryside, a gruesome discovery is made in the pile of chicken bones waiting to be fed into the basement grinder: human bones. But when former-police detective now private eye Simon Brenner shows up to investigate, the woman who hired him has disappeared …

Brenner likes chicken, though, so he stays, but finds no one will talk. And as he waits for the disappeared manager, there’s one ghastly find after another. Perhaps the most raucous book in the series, The Bone Man manages to make fun of institutions from high cuisine to soccer while nonetheless building relentless suspense based in all-too-real social issues. Smart, tense, and funny, the book makes clear why Carl Hiaasen called Wolf Haas “the real deal.”