"I didn’t tell anybody what to write,"
Reed Farrel Coleman, editor of "Hard Boiled Brooklyn,"
told GO Brooklyn. "These are all their own ideas. I said,
’Here’s a word count; make it scream Brooklyn and do your best
The result of Coleman’s literary leadership is a collection of 17 chilling stories firmly anchored in the borough’s neighborhoods, which are more likely to be appreciated by natives and residents than, say, the Brooklyn Tourism Council.
"That’s why it’s called ’Hard Boiled Brooklyn,’ and not ’Bring Your Kids on a Sunny Sunday to Brooklyn,’ " said Coleman, the executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America. "It’s both a place of light and dark. I would never have chosen to grow up anywhere else than where I grew up. I love Brooklyn."
The Ocean Parkway native, who spent his childhood cavorting through Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island and Brighton Beach, has since moved to Long Island, where he lives with his wife and their two teenagers. But Coleman is able to return to his old stomping grounds with his award-winning mystery series character, Moe Prager, who "lives" in Sheepshead Bay.
"I love it, because I get to live there in my head again," said the 50-year-old author, who’s recently been avalanched by award nominations for his latest Prager novel, "The James Deans."
"Moe sort of takes the prototypical white guy-Christian-loner-alcoholic-private-eye and turns [the stereotype] on its ear, because he is a happily married, family man with a successful career. It’s very literate and philosophical, which means that the critics love it and fans won’t buy it," explained Coleman with a laugh.
And love it they do. "The James Deans" was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar, the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus, the Mystery Readers’ Macavity, Deadly Pleasures’ Barry, Bouchercon’s Anthony and Mystery Ink’s Gumshoe awards.
Despite the critical acclaim for the Moe Prager series, Coleman has invented yet another protagonist, Joe Serpe (pronounced SIR-pee) for his new series that will be launched this fall under the nom de plume Tony Spinosa.
Also under the Spinosa moniker, Coleman contributed the short story "Killing O’Malley" to "Hard Boiled Brooklyn," which is one of several stories in the collection that deals matter-of-factly with racism in Kings County.
"[When I was young,] racist code words weren’t used in my house, but next door, ’nigger’ and ’spic’ were commonly used words," recalled Coleman. "I suffered from anti-Semitism when I was growing up, but in Brooklyn, you weren’t as sensitive to it, because it was such a part of the fabric of life. People were not as highly charged by it. But that’s a long time ago.
"I’m not saying it was a good thing, but it wasn’t whispered about. People were just openly racist. It’s not a writer’s job to say whether that’s healthy or less healthy, but it’s our job to say it certainly existed."
Whether the stories in the anthology feature a heavily pregnant landlord being tormented by her tenant (Naomi Rand’s "House Envy" set on Bergen Street) or a divorced father who has custody of his son for the day and loses him on the F train to Coney Island (Peter Blauner’s "Going, Going, Gone"), "these stories hit home," said Coleman.
"Blauner is a very harrowing writer, and I felt that if I put his story first, people would feel, ’Oh my god, this is the first story? I won’t be able to read anymore,’ " said Coleman of the piece he chose to end the collection. "Because you’ve been built up to it by that point, it really finishes with a bang."
Blauner will join Coleman and fellow "Hard Boiled Brooklyn" contributor Gabriel Cohen (who curates the Sundays at Sunny’s author series in Red Hook), for a reading at Park Slope’s Night and Day restaurant on Sunday, Oct. 8.
"This is entertainment," said Coleman. "Even dark stuff should be fun and people should enjoy it. If they don’t, I’ll come and kick each of their asses personally. After all, you can take me out of Brooklyn, but it’s hard to take the Brooklyn out of me."
Editor Reed Farrel Coleman will read from "Hard Boiled Brooklyn" (Bleak House Books, $15.95) at Night and Day (230 Fifth Ave. at President Street in Park Slope) on Oct. 8 from 6 to 8 pm. Coleman will be joined by fellow contributors Gabriel Cohen and Peter Blauner. There is no cover but there is a $7 food or drink minimum. For more information, call (718) 399-2161.