There’s few P.I.’s that have been put through the emotional ringer more than Moe Prager (Alright, Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor has taken more than his fair share of bumps) and just when you think there’s nothing else Prager’s creator, Reed Farrel Coleman, can do to the former Brooklyn beat cop and current wine jockey, Colman throws him into the meat grinder again. Here’s from Coleman’s newest, Innocent Monster.
Seven years have passed since the brutal murder that tore Moe Prager’s family apart and it’s been six years since Moe’s brushed the dust off his PI license. But when his estranged daughter Sarah comes to him with a request he cannot refuse, Moe takes a deep breath and plunges back into the icy, opaque waters of secrets and lies. Sashi Bluntstone, an eleven-year-old art prodigy and daughter of Sarah’s dearest childhood friend, has been abducted. Three weeks into the investigation, the cops have gotten nowhere and the parents have gotten desperate. Desperation, the door through which Moe Prager always enters, swings wide open. Just as in Sashi’s paintings, there’s much more to the case than one can see at a glance.
With the help of an ex-football star, Moe stumbles around the fringes of the New York art scene, trying to get a handle on where the art stops and the commerce begins. Much to Moe’s surprise and disgust, he discovers that Sashi is, on the one hand, revered as a cash cow and, on the other, reviled as a fraud and a joke. Suspects abound beyond the usual predators and pedophiles, for it is those closest to Sashi in life who have the most to gain from her death. Cruel ironies lurk around every corner, beneath every painting, and behind every door. Almost nothing is what it seems.
Beware the innocent monster, for it need not hide itself and it lives closely among us: sometimes as close as the mirror.
I’ve been a fan of Coleman’s since I started reading crime fiction and whenever I get the chance to interview the man, I jump at it. I hope you enjoy
After the jump check out the interview with Reed.
Keith Rawson: With Innocent Monster you set the novel in the New York art world, what made you want to tackle this particular culture?
Reed Farrel Coleman: For many reasons. First of which is that my son, now in his freshman year at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, is an illustrator and wants to make the art world his world. I also wanted to say something about all artistic endeavors and how perilous a life it can be. It’s particularly perilous for a little girl being manipulated by people she should be able to love and trust. I have the good fortune of knowing artist and novelist Jonathan Santlofer pretty well and he volunteered to help me navigate around the fringes. This novel is not about the NY art scene per se, but about the fringes where the legitimate art world and the commercially taste-free art worlds collide. It is not dissimilar from what goes on at the fringes of the publishing world. The story features a child in danger, yes, but there are many dangers beyond physical harm. I wanted to explore those aspects of danger as well.
What kind of research went into Innocent Monster? Did you visit galleries and artists do get a feel for the current art scene?
I drank a lot. No, seriously, I’m not big on research. Jon Santlofer helped me to understand where serious artists draw the line(no pun intended)between pretty pictures done by naives and serious art done by people with a deep understanding of where art comes from. The rest of it comes from things I’ve picked up living in New York. And there are always the old and very fundamental questions about what defines art and beauty. They are questions worth asking and exploring.
Your victim in the novel, Sashi Bluntstone, is a child prodigy, did you mirror the character off of any real life figure?
Well, I am always fascinated by the concept of prodigies and child actors. Life is hard enough when you grow up at a normal pace, but I can’t imagine the stresses childhood prodigies must face, especially if they are the source of a family’s wealth. Can anyone say the name Michael Jackson? How must it skew their world views and self-images? I also saw a documentary a few years ago about a childhood art prodigy and saw that this upending of the usual family order takes a toll on parents as well as on the prodigy.
Do you find using a child as a victim difficult to write?
I generally don’t put children in danger in my novels. It was a delicate balancing act for me and really struggled with it. What I determined was that I would not do any harm to the child, if any, “on camera”. I think people need to read the book in order to see if I handled it as well as I thought I did. But, let’s face it, children often are victims and victims of the most awful things. Like everything else, it’s not the subject itself that really matters, but how you handle the subject. No one can accuse me of being gratuitous about how I dealt with the subject.
Many critics and reviewers believed that Empty Ever After was the final Moe Prager novel, what made you want to continue on with the character especially after the explosive events of the last book?
Empty Ever After was unique because I was in a unique position. When I was writing it, I didn’t have a contract to continue the Moe Prager series. I did, however, think that Moe was popular enough that I would find a publisher for him. So I had to write EEA in such a manner that would satisfy Moe fans if it were the last in the series, but at the same time leave room for the series to continue. I guess I pulled it off as Tyrus Books is doing Innocent Monster and a follow-up Hurt Machine. Will Hurt Machine be the last of the Moe books? Who knows?
With each new Prager novel you age Moe dramatically, why do this? Why not go the same route Lee Child uses with Jack Reacher and keep Moe perpetually youthful?
Did you know that Lee keeps a portrait of himself as a suave forty-ish man in a secret bank vault? Actually, it’s a matter of taste. While as a reader I don’t mind keeping up with a series where the protagonist barely ages, I don’t enjoy it as a writer. Aging Moe keeps him fresh for me and for the readers. I think it adds greatly to Moe’s depth as a character and it’s a reflection of the processes we all go through. But I am thinking of having a mad scientist with a time machine appear in one of the Moe books. What do you think?
I don’t know if I like the idea of you going all Sci-Fi with Moe. But have you ever considered writing a prequel with the character? Maybe Moe in the police academy?
Klaatu barada Moe Prager. Actually, I’ve considered doing prequels if I were to extend the series several more books. He’s getting to a ripe age now and continuing a detective series if he gets much older will border on silliness. We’ve known Moe from his 30s to his 60s, but I am curious to explore what Moe was like on the job in his 20s or even before, when he was a bit of a radical bumming around the city university system in NY.
Have you ever considered writing in another genre other than crime fiction?
Funny you should ask that. I, in fact, do write in other genres. I write sci fi short stories. If you pick up the Once Upon A Crime Anthology, you’ll see I have a story in there called “Jibber Jabber” that is very Rod Serling. And when the new edition of Soul Patch hits the stores in October, not only will there be a new intro by Craig Johnson, but it will contain an original short story entitled “Gobble” that is sort of sci fi and meta. The short story at the end of the new edition of Empty Ever After entitled “Feeding the Crocodile” borders on, dare I say it, straight literary fiction. Of course, I also write poetry and essays. I love to write. When I worked a straight job, I loved writing business letters. Go figure. That said, I am very proud of my roots as a mystery writer.
In the past few years there seems to have been a backlash in publishing against the P.I. novel, why do you think Prager has endured for so long?
Because I’m a stubborn bastard. I do think that’s part of it. PI novels are simply out of fashion because PI novels are not action oriented. For all of the rep that goes with them—the violence, the drinking, and the hundred other clichés and conceits—they are in fact often cerebral and philosophical. They ask a lot of the reader, where as a thriller is very action oriented and breathless. The characters move all over the place, hunting and being hunted. But if a detective novel comes out soon that sells a bazillion copies, they will get popular again very quickly.
Soon you’ll have all of your books back in print at once, how does that feel? Also, what was your reaction to Tyrus Books acquiring Busted Flush Press after so many years of working with both publishers?
It’ll be great to have all my work in print at once. It’s been many years since that’s happened and it has really hindered my career. For making that happen I owe more than I can say to the late David Thompson. He was my greatest advocate and always felt my work suffered for not being available all at once. One of the last things he did on this earth was to get my books ready to be sent to the printers. For me, the impact was minimal. I have good relations with Ben LeRoy and David and I were very close. With David’s passing, I can repay the debt I owe him by helping Ben to understand David’s aesthetic and why he founded BFP to begin with.
I inevitably have to ask what next? What projects are you working on? What’s the next novel to be published?
Well, at the moment, I’m working on a project to honor David Thompson. Tyrus Books will announce the project at this year’s Bouchercon. That’s all I can say about it for now. I’m working on the next Moe Prager novel, Hurt Machine. In it Moe faces the toughest thing he’s ever had to face. I’m also a co-editor of The Lineup and I’ve handed in a story for the upcoming Long Island Noir. Besides that, I’ve got nothing doing.