Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

Love and Fear is the fourth in the Gulliver Dowd mystery series (after Dirty Work, Valentino Pier and The Boardwalk) of ‘high interest-low reading level’ books by Reed Farrel Coleman. I give Coleman a lot of credit for (a) catering to a neglected segment of the reading population and (b) writing something interesting for them to read. Mystery readers, in general, will enjoy the book, regardless of reading level.

Gullier Dowd is no ordinary man. He is short (under five feet). His body is mismatched, almost grotesque, and totally opposite of his handsome face. He refers to himself as God’s Little Joke. A private investigator, he is in between jobs when there is a knock on the door…from someone he’d rather not see-crime boss Joey Vespucci’s number one enforcer, Tony. Dowd and Tony do not get along, at all.

Tony using his own initiative tells Dowd that Vespucci, unbeknownst to himself, needs Dowd’s help in finding his missing daughter, Bella. Dowd is the best person-finder money can hire and all the other investigators Vespucci hired have failed. Dowd, using a bit of psychology on Vespucci, gets his buy-in and off he goes with Ahmed, his right hand man, and Tony as Vespucci’s eyes and ears.

In a mere 150 pages, Coleman put together an interesting mystery with twists and turns and logical thinking. It certainly helps with the backstory to have read the previous books as Love and Fear does refer to the death of Dowd’s sister, Keisha, and to his current amore. Either way, Love and Fear is an enjoyable read.

As an aside, if you haven’t read Coleman’s new Gus Murphy series, book one Where It Hurts is waiting for you.



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I’m a Reed Farrel Coleman mystery fan, especially the Moe Prager WhereItHurtsseries. So I was saddened when that series came to a sad but honest end. But Coleman has followed it up with a new protagonist, different but equally as good, Gus Murphy. While Moe was based in Brooklyn, Gus is based in Suffolk County, Long Island, much closer to my home and much more familiar, which always makes for fun reading.

Gus is ex-Suffolk County police. It’s been two years since his son suddenly died and Gus’ life has been a disaster. He dealt with bouts of depression. His marriage collapsed. His daughter, Kristy, once a ‘good girl’, has been acting up. He lives in the low class hotel for which he drives the van to and from the Long Island Railroad Station. Things really couldn’t get much more depressing.

When, an ex-con, Tommy Delcamino, who Murphy arrested several times, approaches him to find the killers of his lowlife, druggie son, TJ, because the police haven’t followed up on any leads, Murphy thinks he’s playing the ‘dead son’ card and tells him to fuck off. However, after ruminating over it and discussing it with his therapist, he realizes Delcamino had no one else to turn to. So, he decides to apologize to Delcamino for his insensitivity. However, arriving at his trailer, Murphy finds it tossed and Delcamino brutally murdered. So, of course, Murphy has no option but to pursue both Tommy and TJ’s murder. Being warned off by both policemen and drug dealers alike only reinforces Murphy’s resolve.

Murphy is a real person in the sense that he goes through a range of emotions. He’s lost his faith in God. He’s been wallowing in self pity for the past two years. And when his investigation seems to give him renewed life, he doesn’t understand it and finds it hard to swallow.

I particularly like Murphy’s cynicism regarding God and religion, the various inequities on Long Island, police corruption and life in general. His descriptions of various Long Island neighborhoods, the rich ones and the poor ones, is spot on, cynicism included. The ancillary characters are a mixed bunch, from honest to corrupt police, savage drug dealers, and folks down on their luck. All of this makes for good reading. I’m trying to think of who to compare Gus Murphy to, but can’t come up with anyone.

After reading the Moe Prager series, I read all of Coleman’s other series, which is probably something you should do. It won’t take long to read, but the enjoyment should keep going for a long time.

According to Coleman’s website, this is Book 1 of the Gus Murphy series. That’s good to know. It gives me something to look forward to.

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is the 2014 BrownGirlDreamingwinner of the National Book Award for Young Adult literature. In this novel in free verse, Ms. Woodson takes us on a tour of her childhood in Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY. In the same soft voice with which she speaks, she tells of her loving family in South Carolina, her grandfather Gunnar who acted more as her father, her Jehovah’s Witness grandmother, her brothers and sister and her dreams.

In both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the former a recently desegregated Southern state and the latter a theoretically liberal minded Northern borough, she felt the impact of racism. In South Carolina, Blacks still went to the back of the bus to avoid conflict. There were stores that Blacks didn’t enter because they were ignored or because they were segregated prior to desegregation. In Brooklyn, there were streets Blacks didn’t cross because they took them into the white neighborhoods.

Ms. Woodson talks about her feelings of inadequacy when compared with her older sister who was considered gifted. She talks about wanting to be a writer, but reading initially didn’t come easy to her. And, as the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, a young Ms. Woodson was caught up in the idea of “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and the ideals of the Black Panthers.

Brown Girl Dreaming is eloquent. Her life and emotions, such as being sad when the Woodson children had to go in earlier in the evening than other children in the neighborhood, come to life. There are vivid images of both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the contrasting surroundings, soft cool green grass vs. hard, sharp concrete sidewalks, the sweet smell of rain vs. the non-smell of rain. Through it all, it is the bond of family that shines.

Many times I’m not in agreement with the judges of book awards, but Jacqueline Woodson, author of such Young Adult classics (or just classics) as If You Come Softly, Miracle’s Boys, Hush, and Locomotion, is a worthy recipient of the National Book Award Prize. Readers of all ages will get lost in the story telling of her books.

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TheBridgeThis is the revised edition of The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by Gay Talese, honoring the 50th anniversary of the opening of the bridge on November 21, 1964. The original book was published in 1964. As Mr. Talese says in his introduction, the book is more a testament to the men who built the bridge than it is a history of the bridge.

In the beginning, Talese talks about the 800 buildings destroyed and 7,000 people displaced in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn to make way for the on/off ramps to the bridge. I immediately thought of the portrait of Robert Moses painted by author Robert Caro in his book The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. In it, the reader gets the impression that Robert Moses cared about no one and nothing other than his projects. The fact that people would be uprooted and their lives totally disrupted, sometimes for the worse, cared little to him. I got this same exact feeling while reading The Bridge. But this is ancillary to the story.

The power of The Bridge are the stories of the men who built it. Generations of families worked construction on high rise towers, bridges, etc., showing no fear of heights, no fear of accidents that could main or kill a man. The pride that these men showed in their work seems unparalleled. Talese talked about a group of Canadian Indians who drove 400 miles home every Friday from Brooklyn after tossing back untold numbers of beers, and who then drove 400 miles back every Sunday to work on the bridge.

He talks about families who have seen accidents cripple or kill family members and their sons or brothers reporting back to work the next day, despite their loss. He talks about men who go from boom town to boom town in order to work on the next bridge or high rise. Quite incredible.

The photos of the bridge under construction add to the awe I have of those men who can work 70 stories up, whether over dry land or water. It’s a fearlessness that I never had.

Talese ends the book with a note that the next big projects are the renovation of the upper deck of the Verrrazano which will begin shortly and the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the construction of which began in 2014. He includes an artist’s rendering of the bridge. Although no one who worked on the Verrazano will be working on the Tappen Zee, you can rest assured that sons or grandsons of those Verrazano workers will be involved with the new Tappen Zee Bridge.

The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was an interesting and eye-opening book and well worth the short time it will take you to read it.

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By now I’m sure you know that I like Reed Farrel Coleman as a mystery writer. His standalones as well as his series, HollowGirlDylan Klein and Moe Prager are well written, action packed and fun reading. So, it is with both joy and sadness that I read Hollow Girl, Coleman’s latest. It is a great read, but also the last in the Prager series.

Moe’s fiancee, Pam, was killed in a freak auto accident a month earlier and Moe has been drunk ever since. He’s awakened one morning by his brother, Aaron. Nancy Lustig, a women Moe met on a case 35 years earlier wants to meet. Moe reluctantly agrees. It seems Nancy’s daughter, Sloane (aka Siobhan) has been missing. While she’s been out of touch for several weeks at a time previously, this is the longest period of silence. The mother and daughter seem to have a love-hate relationship and Sloane seems to live to torture her mother.

Sloane had passing notoriety a decade earlier as the Hollow Girl, an internet sensation performing ‘real life’ performance art, which included an fictional suicide. As Moe pursues the case, he uncovers Sloane’s sordid life. He also begins a relationship with Nancy that, kept silent all these decades, was simmering in both of them.

I really enjoyed Hollow Girl. And why not!!! He mentions two of my favorite things: Katz’ Deli in lower Manhattan and the Allman Brothers. Moe Prager is the guy next door. He suffers the same things we all do: loss of friends, cancer, failed relationships. And he waxes philosophical about all of these things. He has hunches that sometimes work out and sometimes don’t. The Prager books have a lot of action, countered by Moe’s reminiscing. They explore how people feel. They are well written, as well.

Reed Farrel Coleman packs a lot into his books about life and love. It’s not just the mystery that captures you, it’s the people.  I will admit that there was one of his books I didn’t like at all…Gun Church. I couldn’t even finish it, so I’d suggest you skip it. But, other than that, I’d read all of his other books.

I’m sure there’s something new on the Coleman horizon that will thrill fans. I can’t wait to find out what it is. In the meantime, enjoy Hollow Girl.

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I’ve been reading mysteries for decades and I’ve yet to come across a body found 50 feet upInvisibleCity in a crane in the midst of a salvage yard…that is until Invisible City, a debut novel by Julia Dahl. Rebekkah Roberts, a stringer for the New York Tribune is sent to the scene.

Nobody is talking but she gets the crane operator to describe seeing a leg dangling out of the scrap in the crane. The  salvage yard is owned by a Hasidic Jew, Aron Mendelssohn. The police converge as does the M.E., an ambulance and an ambulance with Hebrew lettering on it…which is the one that carries away the body.

According to Jewish law, the dead are buried very quickly. With the help of a rogue cop, Rebekkah is allowed to see the badly bruised body in the funeral home prior to burial. It is murder. There are no two ways about it. And it turns out to be Aron’s wife, Rivka.

There are two stories going on in Invisible City. The first is Rivka’s exploration outside of her Hasidic roots. The second is Rebekkah’s mother, Aviva’s similar exploration, which resulted in a liaison with her father, the product of which is Rebekkah. However, Aviva abandoned her child and returned to her family, something that Rebekkah has yet to come to terms with.

There are many (well, maybe several) series about newspaper reporters solving crimes. This is a new spin with the fact that Rebekkah is a rookie and she’s dealing with the very insular Hasidic community. Dahl has created a great set of characters in Rebekkah, her friend Iris, her boyfriend Tony and rogue cop Saul Katz. The Brooklyn locale always interests me. This is not as gritty as Visitation Street by Iva Pochoda, which takes place in Red Hook, very close to the Gowanus locale of Invisible City.

I’m assuming this is going to be a series and I look forward to the next installment. I highly recommend both of the books mentioned: Invisible City by Julia Dahl and Visitation Street by Iva Pochoda.






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Visitation Street is the second book published under Dennis Lehane’s new imprint at Harper Collins. My feeling: VisitationStreetif it’s good enough for Dennis, it’s good enough for me. That can be a dangerous philosophy but in this particular case, it worked quite well. I don’t think I’m ruining anything by saying that two fifteen year old girls take a rubber raft out on the bay at the end of Red Hook in Brooklyn and only one comes back.

Is there a mystery? Sure. But is that what makes this story so good? Not at all. Ms. Pochoda has explored a way of life; the life in Red Hook through several characters that interact with and have an impact on Valerie, the girl who returns. Through these characters, Ms. Pochoda portrays the evident racial divide in Red Hook, the secrets that people hold inside and the reasons for their actions, and the yearnings that they have for a life different than the one they’re living.

As in life, some of the characters are sad examples of what we do to ourselves, some striving for better and some are just so lost.

I started reading this book in fits and starts but that wasn’t doing it justice. When I finally had time to sit and really read, I got sucked in big-time. I didn’t want to put this book down. I suggest that you do the same…find a length of time to read.

Ms. Pochoda can certainly turn a phrase. For instance, describing what a summer’s night in Red Hook is like, “It’s a hot night in a calendar of hot weeks.” Describing a ceiling in the projects, “He opens his eyes to the water map on the ceiling, the brown and yellow bubbles tracing the pathways of his upstairs neighbor’s leaky plumbing.” Or describing Valerie at the entrance to the Tabernacle Church, “They take in her uniform and her lanky frame–her pale skin and unremarkable hair. A drab piece of flotsam lost in a sea of Sunday color.”  To me, that’s good writing.

My only criticism, and it’s minor. There’s a small map of Red Hook at the beginning of the book. I figured that bigger is better so I did an internet search for a street map of Red Hook. However, with the map in hand, I still couldn’t quite grasp which way the characters were going and what was where in Red Hook. Was it important? Probably not, but as an anal-retentive, and since the book was equally about the place as well as the characters, I wanted to get the entire experience. Don’t let this bog you down, though.

As an aside: I didn’t realize that I travel through Red Hook when I go visit the kids in Brooklyn. Who woulda thunk?

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When I reviewed Sara Gran’s previous book, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, I described the main character as: ClaireDeWitt“She’s rough, tattooed, pot smoking, gritty and unorthodox.” Well, in Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, she’s graduated to a full fledged drug addict, constantly snorting coke, popping pills and drinking. The constant references to these activities detracts from what could have been a really good book.

Having moved from New Orleans in the first book to San Francisco in the second, Claire is trying to find out who killed her friend Paul, someone she’d been with before she relocated suddenly to Peru. Knowing Claire you’d realize that relationships are not her thing and she and Paul were getting too close for her comfort level. During her stay abroad, Paul started going out with Lydia, who he ultimately married. Along with Paul found shot to death in his den, it was discovered that several of his guitars were missing. And the search begins.

Along with this storyline are flashbacks to Claire’s teen life in Brooklyn, NY where she, Tracy and Kelly were detectives. One day, Tracy disappeared and has not been heard of since. Kelly has never given up trying to find her and occasionally Claire or Kelly uncover clues as to Tracy’s whereabouts.

Lastly, Claire reminisces about a case that she and Tracy worked on, the disappearance of their friend Chloe.

I really like the way Sara Gran writes. The interweaving of current and past are done artfully. The plot is interesting and the characters are so in keeping with Claire’s lifestyle. Her references to Jacques Silette, the greatest detective ever, continuing from her previous book, add an unusual element. I would have loved to read his book, Detection, if it existed. It would be a mind blower.

But, if you added all the drug/alcholol references in the book together, I’d estimate that they make up 25-50 of the slim 280 pages. A little too much, in my opinion. We know Claire is like no other detective. That’s she’s pretty screwed up emotionally. And we still love her. No need to dwell on drugs.

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OnionStreetIf you’re a Moe Prager fan, you’ll know that in the last book he found out he has cancer. In his latest, Onion Street, his daughter, concerned about him, is visiting and asks why he became a cop. That’s the end of the present day. He then begins a long story leading up to his applying to the police academy. The story includes bombs, drug smuggling, beatings, drives through Brooklyn and more.

Reed Farrel Coleman’s books are always a good read and this is no exception, once you get past the implausibility of the situations Moe, as a college student, gets into and the actions that he takes. No college student I know or knew back in the day would do any of the things he did, let alone all of the things he did.  But then again, I grew up in Queens, which although geographically close, psychologically is a long way from Brooklyn. Maybe they did things differently there.

Anyway, as I said, once you get past this, it’s a fun read. Coleman brings up locales and TV shows from the period. Some of them are vivid. Any of you who routinely took the Belt Parkway past the garbage dumps can, even now, visualize and actually smell the noxious fumes. The rumble of the elevated trains never leaves you. The book brought back memories of me and my grandparents walking in Brighton Beach, getting Mrs. Stahl’s knishes, the shadow of the El darkening the street.

So, now that I think about it, Onion Street was more a walk down memory lane for me than a believable mystery. But, so what! I really enjoyed it. That’s what counts.

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