Raymond Chandler in Brooklyn: An Interview with Reed Farrel Coleman
Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes we tag ourselves as a couple of PIs who also write…but today make that a couple of PIs who dig the writing of Reed Farrel Coleman. His PI Moe Prager hits the mark. A blue-collar private eye with street smarts and a heart on his sleeve. A number of you reading this blog are followers of Colleen’s romance novels, so to all of you: Want a great read with a hero who not only understands women, but can make your heart soar in the course of a nail-gripping crime story? Check out Reed Farrel Coleman.
But don’t just listen to us. Below are some quotes from other fans of Reed Farrel Coleman:
“Moe Prager is my kind of private eye.” -Michael Connelly
“If you’re a fan of Ross Macdonald, Laurence Block’s Matt Scudder, Peter Spiegelman, Lehane, Pelecanos, Connelly…you gotta try Coleman…start with Walking the Perfect Square.” -David Thompson, Busted Flush Press
“Coleman may be one of the mystery genre’s best-kept secrets.” Sun-Sentinel
Reed’s writing has won the Shamus, Barry, and Anthony awards, and has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, and Gumshoe. Barbara Peters, owner of Poisoned Pen Press and Bookstore has referred to Reed as “Raymond Chandler in Brooklyn.” So we’re pleased to have had the opportunity to interview him this week, in anticipation of his book tour for Tower (by Reed and Ken Bruen, Busted Flush Press, available September 15). A link to Busted Flush Press follows the interview, below:
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: We loved the quote on your website from Maureen Corrigan of NPR referring to you as a “hard-boiled poet.” Jack Bludis recently commented on DetecToday that you write ”the cleanest prose of those still doing PIs.” Is this a result of your early love and writing of poetry?
Reed: Last things first, my professor at Brooklyn College was David Lehman, who, if I’m not mistaken, is now the chair of the English Dept at the New School in Manhattan. Ginsberg, Ashbery, and Lehman would sometimes combine classes for lessons and readings. Not a bad trio. It’s true that I began my writing career as a poet. I think I’m the only person who ever quit his high school football team—I was a weak side tackle and long snapper—to write poetry…well, the only one who admits it. I have published about ten or fifteen poems over the years and co-edited a poetry journal—Poetry Bone—for about three years. But even as far back as college, I knew there was no real future in it for me. I was good, but not great and to survive in that world, good isn’t good enough. After college I was working at Kennedy Airport in the cargo business and I decided to take a night class at Brooklyn College just to keep my mind active. The only class that fit my schedule was a survey course on detective fiction. I immediately fell in love with Chandler and Hammett. I saw the poetry—though very different from each other—in their prose and thought I might be able to do that in a more modern way. I think, to some extent, I’ve been successful. The thing about poetry is that it forces me to be clear and economical in my imagery and helps enforce a kind of unconscious rhythm in my writing. I don’t count beats, but if you read my work, the meter is definitely there.
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Your writing reflects a clear understanding of the day-to-day experience of the average blue-collar PI. We know you worked closely with your friend from the NYPD, but did you also work closely with any PIs to help you understand the profession?
Reed: I take that as high praise. Thank you very much. I have to confess that I have never worked for a single moment with a PI, not a real one. My professors on this subject were Matt Scudder, Philip Marlowe, the Continental Op, Sam Spade… Writer see, writer do. As to the blue-collar aspect, that comes from personal experience. While I have had many many jobs in my life, the ones I have enjoyed most, the ones most meaningful and most gratifying to me have been the blue-collar jobs. In fact, up until a few years ago, I delivered home heating oil. I still have a valid commercial Class B license with haz mat, air brakes and tank endorsements. The thing about blue-collar work is that it gives a person a measuring stick. You go out in the truck with twenty deliveries and at the end of the day, you know what you’ve accomplished. When I worked in an office, the rules always changed and there was no objective way to measure performance. PIs, they can measure themselves. They have tasks and they either do what they’re hired to do or fail. And anybody who has worked any kind of blue-collar job understands what the day to day grunt work is like.
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: What poets affect your hardboiled writing?
Reed: TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Raymond Chandler, William Blake, Samuel D. Hammett
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: You may want to take the fifth on this (so as to not inadvertently step on anyone’s toes), but what writers in today’s PI genre do you consider excel at the craft?
Reed: There are many, but of my contemporaries I love SJ Rozan, Peter Spiegelman, and Ken Bruen.
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. We look forward to meeting in person on your book tour.
Blurb for Tower: In the tradition of The Long Goodbye, Mystic River, and The Departed, Tower is a powerful meditation on friendship, fate, and fatality. A twice-told tale done in the unique format of parallel narratives that intersect at deadly crossroads, Tower is like a beautifully crafted knife to the heart.
To order Tower, go to http://www.bustedflushpress.com/index.php