New York State of Mind

1378587383hzom3

Our Pick Of The Month, Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara, uses New York City as a rich canvas. His hero, Ray Donne, is a man involved deeply with his city and its citizens. When we asked Tim to give us five of his favorite New York novels, his respnse was, “Only Five?” Here they are in no particular order.

purchase here12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose, David Mamet

“Not a book, but a play, which we still teach at my middle school — 12 Angry Men. Reginald Rose created a dozen NY men who could not be more different than each other and stuck them in a hot jury room to decide the life and death of a kid they didn’t know. In the midst of this drama, the city is calling to each of them from outside; some hear the call as a reason to just get through the decision as quickly as they can and others as a call for justice. You never “see” the city in the play, but it’s there inside each of these men.”

purchase hereWhen the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

“When the Sacred Ginmill Closes was my introduction to Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder. There are bodies, thieves, New York baddies and weirdos galore, but it’s a story of a man who begins to realize he doesn’t like himself when he’s drinking–and he’s always drinking. I admire the was Block shows his respect for this deeply flawed character; and throughout the story, and other Scudder books that followed, slowly allowed Scudder to redeem himself.”

Slow Motion Riot by Peter Blauner

Peter Blauner’s Slow Motion Riot floored me. His “hero” is a probation officer–with a liking for the booze, as well–who gets caught up in an out-of-control situation involving one of his parolees, who just happens to be a violent sociopath. Blauner gives us an insider’s view into one of NYC’s more dysfunctional agencies and the politics behind it.

purchase hereBodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez

Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez taught me not only how to write cliché-free about life in the projects, but also how to make fiction read like memoir. Quinonez poured his heart and soul–corazon y alma–into this book and I’d love to sit with him one day and talk about the “real” parts of this book and those he made up.

purchase herepurchase hereFranny and Zooey  and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger

And, to get away from the crime stuff, JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Short stories by one of the masters of the form. These stories are better–more laser like–than Catcher in the Rye. Here Salinger’s taking snapshots of the people and the places–mostly wealthy–he knows well. Not all the stories take place in NYC, but the city runs through these characters’ blood.

Crime Friction Friday: CHARACTER STUDY by Tim O’Mara

0c836e44421e0ad8956e30.L._V383643139_SY470_

Tim O’Mara’s Crooked Numbers is our pick of the month for October. In it, he shows a great feel for his New York streets. He was kind enough to share this shorter tale from the Big Apple that makes us here at MysteryPeople wonder about his “technique”.

_____________________________________________________________

CHARACTER STUDY
by Tim O’Mara

“I knew it,” he said aloud to no one as he examined what used to be the rear passenger-side window of his car and looked at the broken glass littering the empty seat that had earlier held his laptop. “Leave something out in the open like that and it’s just a matter of time.”

He removed his cell phone from his jacket pocket, found the GPS app, and turned it on. Within thirty seconds, the GPS had locked onto the device he’d installed on his laptop for just this occasion. Whoever had it, was moving west—a blue dot—towards the Hudson River, a few avenues away from where he’d parked on a Hell’s Kitchen side street. As he walked passed the Midtown North precinct, he caught himself smiling. Sure, it would be easy enough to go inside, explain to the uniform working the front desk what had happened, and sometime within the next hour or so one of the bored cops might head over to the river and look into the matter. By that time, the laptop thief would be long gone, as would his laptop.

No, this was something he needed to take care of by himself. After all, he was the one who’d left the damn thing right out in the open. Like he’d been asking for it. He zipped up his jacket, put a glove on the hand that held the cell phone and put the other hand in his pocket.

******

A wintry breeze was coming off the Hudson making the already chilly air feel about ten degrees colder. The tiny park he had entered was officially called Clinton Cove, but nobody called it that. It was usually just referred to as the Hell’s Kitchen Pier. There was a group—a gaggle, he remembered—of geese hanging out on the lawn eating what was left of the brown grass and crapping all over the “No Dogs Allowed” area. Come springtime, the grass would be green again, benefitting from all that free fertilizer.

The Circle of Life.

Sitting on a bench facing the water, was a solitary figure: the blue dot was now humanized. As he got nearer, he saw it was a guy in a hood-less winter jacket. Both the guy and the jacket had seen better days. He went over to a bench about twenty yards away and sat down, slipping both hands into his pockets. He looked over after a while and saw that the guy had a bulge under his jacket. If the GPS on his phone was right, the bulge was his laptop. He took in a couple of deep breaths from the cool Hudson River air and stood up.

He walked over to the guy and took a seat on the bench next to him, careful to keep the metal armrest between them. No reason to be stupid about this. The guy didn’t acknowledge his presence or even take his eyes off the river. He seemed to be in some sort of trance. High, probably. Even in the breeze, the smell of smoke could be detected coming off the guy and it wasn’t from Marlboro Country.

“Pretty cold day to be sitting along the river, huh?” the man said. He waited thirty seconds for a response, and when none came he said, “Feels good, though. Makes you feel more alive.”

The guy slowly turned his head, careful to keep his hands in his pockets protecting the bulge. He whispered something that sounded like “Duck Soup,” but probably wasn’t. The man smiled. That was good.

“What do you got there, friend?” he asked. “Under the jacket.” The guy blinked three times and turned back to look at the river. “How much you get for something like that?” “Like what?” the guy said.

“Like that.” The man motioned with his head at the bulge. “Couple of hundred?” The guy moved his head slightly and said, “Whatta you know about it?” “I know I just had my car broken into and my laptop was taken. It’s not a great laptop, about five years old, but it’s got some stuff on it that’s important to me.” The guy smiled. His adult teeth were not all present and those that were needed some serious whitening. “Not sure what you’re talking about, Mister, but why would you leave something important in the backseat of your car?”

Now it was the man’s turn to smile. His teeth were perfect. “Who said it was in the backseat?”

The lesser of the smiles disappeared and was followed by those two words that were definitely not “Duck Soup.”

“So, really,” the man said. “Whatta you hope to get? Two hundred? Three?”

The guy with the bulge under his jacket made a move to stand up. The man next to him reached out and grabbed him by the wrist.

“We’re just talking here, pal,” he said. “Shooting the breeze.” The double meaning of that made the man smiled harder. Good stuff.

“You don’t wanna be touching me, man,” the guy said. The man laughed. “What are you going to do? Call the cops?”

“Maybe.”

“With what?” the man said. “You can’t possibly have a cell phone. You broke into my car and stole a laptop from me. People like you don’t have cell phones.”

The guy shook the man’s hand off, squinted into the man’s face and said, “People like me? The hell you know about people like me?”

“I know you’ll take fifty bucks for what’s under your jacket. You’d probably take twenty, but I’m in a good mood.”

“What even makes you think it’s yours?” the guy said. “I mean, if I do have a laptop under my jacket?” The man took his phone out, showed the map on the GPS to the guy and pointed to the blue dot. The guy looked at it as if it were the designs for a nuclear submarine. He squinted again.

“Take it out,” the man said. “I’ll show you. It’s got a short story I’m working on.”

The guy gave the man the same confused look he had just given the map on the phone. “You a writer?” He sounded close to impressed.

“Yep. Almost done with this piece. I needed a little more research.”

“Writers do research? About what?” The man leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “In my case, about what kind of scumbag breaks into someone’s car and steals a laptop. I mean, seriously, you gotta have pretty low morals to pull something like that, right?”

“I got morals.”

“We all have morals,” the man said. “Yours are just lower than most.”

The guy wiped a wind-driven tear from his eye and said, “Just ’cause I need money don’t mean I don’t got no morals, man. It means I don’t got not money.”

“And I’m sure that’s someone else’s fault right. Not a result of any decisions you’ve made over the last few years?”

“I take what I need. No more.” “You got healthcare?” “Huh?” “What do you do when you get sick?” the man asked slowly. The guy laughed like that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard. “I go to the doctor, man. Plant my ass in the ER ’til someone comes to look at me.”

“And who do you think pays for that?”

“I don’t know. Jesus?”

“Me. The taxpayer pays for that. That’s just as bad as you breaking into my car and stealing what’s mine.”

The guy thought about that for a bit, looking for something to say. What he cameup with was, “My parents pay taxes, so I’m just taking my inheritance early.” That was good, too.

“When’s the last time you were in jail?” the man asked.

“Hey, Mister. I do drugs, not time. I shoot junk, not bullets.”

The man smiled. This guy was great. “Okay if I steal that from you?”

“For one of your stories?”

“For this story.”

Confusion once again took over the guy’s face and he went back to squinting. “This ain’t no story, man.”

“Sure it is. I had something you wanted. Now you have something I want. The fact that it’s the same thing connects us.” He did that back and forth thing people do with their index fingers to signal making a connection. “That’s what makes this a story. Our wants are not only the same they’re in conflict. It’s beautiful.”

The guy thought about that and then allowed the laptop to slide out from under his jacket. “That mean you gonna give me two hundred for this?”

The man laughed. “I said fifty.”

“You also said you had important stuff on here.” For a junkie, this guy was a good listener.

“Let’s make it a hundred then.” Bargaining. As if he had any real intention of paying this guy anything. The man pulled out the five twenties he had in his jacket, fanned them out, and let them flap in the breeze.

The guy was mesmerized by the five bills waving back and forth, and handed over the laptop. When he reached for the money, the man pulled it back.

The guy stood up on wobbly legs, listed slightly in the breeze and mumbled something that sounded like “Gimme the duck and money.”

The man stood also. “You’re kidding, right? You think I’d actually pay for something that’s already mine? That’s your view of how the world works?”

“You said you would. You said this was a conflict. I was helping you with your story. That’s worth something, right?”

The man nodded. “It is.” He looked around—there was no one else in the park except him and the guy—and pulled something out of his other pocket. “It’s worth this.”

The guy looked at it and said, “What’s that? A comb?”

“Hardly.” The man pressed a button and a blade appeared. “I know it’s a bit old school— always reminds me of Twelve Angry Men —but still a useful tool.”

The look on the guy’s face as he stared at the blade was one of confusion: Move forward or backward? He chose the first, as did the man with the knife. They met each other halfway and the blade sliced through the guy’s coat and entered his stomach. There was no more confusion on the guy’s face anymore. The look was now one of certainty. And dull pain.

The man twisted the knife, held it for a three count, and then pulled it out. He looked around again and found the park still empty except for the gaggle of geese and the guy. The guy fell to his knees and looked up at the man.

“Why?” the guy whispered.

The man looked down and smiled. “No, I’m done with motivation,” he said. “I just needed your help with character. The dialogue was a nice surprise. Thanks.” He took a few steps toward the railing, closed up the knife and flung it twenty feet into the Hudson River. When he turned back, the guy was lying on his side, trying desperately to stop the blood flowing out from under his coat onto the white pathway. Nice imagery.

This was good stuff.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim O’Mara

0c836e44421e0ad8956e30.L._V383643139_SY470_

MysteryPeople’s Pick Of The Month, Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara, released today and is on our shelves.

It features teacher and ex-cop Ray Donne as he looks into the murder of a former student. This latest in the series delves into race and class issues in New York City. It’s suspenseful and poignant, with a hard boiled warmth that comes from our hero, his family and his friends.

We caught up with Tim to ask him some questions about Crooked Numbers.

crooked numbers

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What was the biggest difference from working on the second book in the series as opposed to the first one?

TIM O’MARA: I was much more confident with Crooked Numbers after going through the editing process with my agents and Matt Martz from St. Martin’s. I knew how to look more at the “big picture” and make sure I earned the reader’s suspense.

Crooked Numbers also took 1/20th of the time to finish than Sacrifice Fly. Deadlines and advances, man. Two great motivators.

I’m also getting to know Raymond more each time I sit down to write. I like him.

MP: Crooked Numbers has a more melancholy feel than Sacrifice Fly. Was that the intent?

TO: I did want Crooked Numbers to be a bit darker than Sacrifice Fly. I have personally lost students to the streets of Williamsburg; and I wanted to explore those feelings with Raymond.

I’ve often joked with cops that I make their job easier by helping to keep kids on the right path. Even with that, some can’t help but succumb to the lure of the streets and some–like Dougie in Crooked Numbers–get caught by surprise.

MP: Even though Ray has a lot of friends and a relationship with Allison Rogers, there is a lonesome quality to him. Where does that come from?

TO: Ray’s lonesomeness (is that a word?) comes from my own. I’ve always been the guy who’s “on,” and the one people expected to be “up” all the time. That’s exhausting and when the crowd–classmates, students, audience members–are gone, it can get kinda lonely. I’m becoming a lot more mindful of the feeling these days. I’m learning to be comfortable [in understanding] the difference between lonely and alone: alone is good. Lonely is more of a choice.

MP: There is a lot about the victim’s prep school and the class politics he was thrown into. Why did you want to investigate that world?

TO: Since I’ve moved from teaching in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I’ve had a real dose of reality in what our next mayor is calling “the two New Yorks.”

When I taught in the “Willy B”, those kids were truly disadvantaged: socially, academically and emotionally. They had real issues with their families–and [a lack of family support]. Some kids didn’t have their own beds, did not eat three times a day and couldn’t play outside after school because of the dangers of the neighborhood or family obligations.

I love teaching on the Upper West Side, [where I am now], but some of these folks need to see more of the city around them. A kid gets an 80 when his overachieving sibling gets a 95; something must be wrong. I’ve worked with a lot of parents on the UWS who know how to work the system. If that doesn’t work, they have the bucks to lay out for “special schools.” I’m constantly amazed what some of these folks consider a “problem.” I’d love to walk them through the projects around my old school in Williamsburg, and see what they still want to complain about.

MP: The main character’s relationship with Allison is engaging and real. What do they provide to one another other than information?

TO: Ray and Allison are both damaged goods. They’ve had both physical and emotional traumas, and they’ve used them to keep others at a distance. I think they met each other at the right time. They both used to be perfectionists and are now coming to terms with their own fallibility and foibles. When you learn to accept your own faults, it’s easier to accept those of the people you are close to, or want to be close to.

MP: What do you think drives Ray to go out of his way to do good for others?

TO: Even though Ray and his dad had a rough relationship, Ray knew his dad helped people as a lawyer (to the detriment of his own family). My own dad was like that. He worked way too many hours, but many of his students–yes, I went into the same business as my father–admired him and many kept in touch years after graduating.

Ray, like me, tries to look out for those who need some looking out for. So many of the troubled boys I’ve worked with over the past 26 years in New York City have not had a dad at home. Ray and I both realize that having a flawed dad around the house is usually better than not having one at all. I think Ray’s dad was the same way and taught Ray to give back however he could.

______________________________________________

Copies of Crooked Numbers are available on the shelves here at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: CROOKED NUMBERS by Tim O’Mara

MysteryPeople Pick for October: Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara

Last year’s Sacrifice Fly was one of those debuts that sowed both the promise of a new writer and his series character. The book, featuring ex-cop-turned-teacher Ray Donne, is both gritty and warm, showing its Brooklyn’s sense of community as well as its tough streets. O’Mara is delivering on his promise with the follow up, Crooked Numbers.

Donne looks into the murder of a former student who made it into a private school and was repeatedly stabbed. To find out what happened, he navigates a New York of male and female gangs, class difference, and race, where it can be difficult to know which group protects and which preys upon. His inquiries take him to people struggling to make a life, some bravely weathering their circumstances, others completely lost in the cold city wind. An encounter with the victim’s father is truly heartbreaking.

It’s Donne’s circle of friends and family that make this book and Sacrifice Fly an engaging read. His uncle Ray, a tough and politically savvy police captain, shows up to help him in a particular subplot and chews him out. The senior officer’s dressing down of a young thug is one of the more entertaining and insightful passages. His sister Rachel shows up for one of their dinners which I’m glad to see seems to be a part of each book. There’s also the gang at the cop bar where he moonlights, and his friendship with reporter Allison Rogers has both the strength and fragility of a burgeoning relationship.

O’Mara realizes it’s people, not plots, that make a good mystery series. He’s developed a lead and supporting  characters who I’ve gotten to know and am looking forward to discovering more about. Ray Donne is a great everyman hero, both descent and complex, searching for a place in his life and his city. I’m rooting for his peace of mind and look forward to his next steps toward it.

______________________________________-

Copies of Crooked Numbers are available on the shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.