If you like Walter Mosley…

Post by Molly

Walter Mosley is one of the most prolific and talented writers today in any genre, and he writes in enough different genres to make that a proven fact. His two mystery series are some of the most outstanding long-running series around. One stars Easy Rawlins: stand-up citizen, unlicensed private detective, and informal liaison between his diverse Los Angeles community  and LA’s virulently racist police and politicians of the mid-20th century. The other features Fearless Jones, a hero for the pulps, and is also set mid-century. For the fan of Walter Mosley, here are a few recommendations….

cotton comes to harlem1. Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes

This classic addition to Himes’ hard-boiled Harlem Detectives series has NYPD detectives “Coffin Ed” Johnson and “Grave Digger” Jones on the case for some funds stolen from a charlatan pretending to raise money for the Back-to-Africa movement. This was one of the books that Denzel Washington read to help prepare for his role in Devil in a Blue Dress.

 

the underbelly2. The Underbelly by Gary Phillips

Gary Phillips worked as a community activist for many years before going on to write mysteries, and The Underbelly draws deeply on Phillips’ connection to community and radicalism. In this short and immensely satisfying novel put out by PM Press, a homeless Vietnam vet goes searching for a friend and finds far more than he bargained for.

 

onion street3. Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman

One of Coleman’s more introspective installments to his Moe Prager series, Onion Street has the New York PI looking into the relationship between a camp survivor, an OD’ed junkie, an underground radical group, and his own Jewish identity in a complex and thrilling mystery.

 


You can find copies of the books listed above via bookpeople.com.

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.

 

MP Pick of the Month: ONION STREET by Reed Farrel Coleman

I’ve stated before that Reed Farrel Coleman is the greatest living private eye writer. We have watched his character, Moe Prager, struggle to find grace while dealing with moral compromise, and feeling every emotional bump along the way. Coleman has said he will be winding up the series with two more books. The second to last, Onion Street, takes us to the past, before Moe was a private eye or even a patrolman.

As with some of the Moe Prager novels, Onion Street is book-ended in a time long after the main story. Moe and his daughter, Sarah, attend the funeral of his friend Bobby Friedman. He tells Sarah that Bobby is the reason he became a cop. She she asks how that happened, Moe tells her they need to go back to his apartment and put on a pot of coffee for that.

We then go back to 1968 when Moe is a college student, still living at home. He and his girlfriend, Mindy, are dealing with the deaths of their friends, Martin and Samantha, Bobby’s girlfriend. The two were activists who apparently died when a bomb they built went off. After a night of desperate sex with Moe, Mindy isfound beaten into a coma. Moe goes out looking for answers, revenge, and Bobby, who has gone missing.

The story is probably some of the best plotting Reed has ever done. With the help of Lids, a burnt out prodigy turned drug dealer, young Moe finds links to Mindy’s beating and Bobby’s disappearance to a group of underground radicals, a holocaust survivor, and a local mafioso. The tale reflects place and time perfectly, with reveals that move at a strong pace, never seeming forced or contrived.

That said, we read the Moe books for detailed characters and emotion and Coleman delivers. With great, subtle skill he gives us a young Moe by doing more than just taking away his limp. He’s less grounded with less understanding of love and friendship, falling into their traps that many of us do at that age. We also get a better understanding of his obsession with getting a detectives shield. Once again, Moe is a personification of sins and sorrows we can identify with.

Coleman has created Onion Street as a young man’s story. It moves a bit quicker than most of the others in the series, set in a time in our country when the youth were finding their voice. In Onion Street Moe gains knowledge, if not wisdom. We know there’s a long road for that. Onion Street is a vivid account of his first steps on that road.