Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman

Hurt Machine
by Reed Farrel Coleman
Tyrus Books, 2011

Reed's website.

Hurt Machine is being offered as a FREE eBook download from 12/20 - 12/24 on Amazon,  Barnes & Noble and Other eBook sellers.

Two reactions on reading The Hurt Machine: Wow, I'm glad I read this book; and Why did I wait this long to start the series?

First sentence: Death, not time, is probably the only lasting remedy for hurt and even that's just an educated guess.

Hurt Machine is an excellent hardboiled detective novel and one of my favorite reads of 2011. Normally I am fanatic about reading a series in order but I was offered a review copy of this seventh Moe Prager story. I've had the series in mind for a while and decided to chance starting at the end; I have no regrets. Coleman gives a new reader enough information that references to past events are not an obstacle to following the story. In fact, they make me want to start at the beginning to see how Moe gets to this point.

The Story
Moe Prager is under a lot of stress. His has been diagnosed with stomach cancer and this clouds the joy of his daughter's upcoming wedding. Moe doesn't want anyone to know until after the wedding and this includes Pam with whom has has a serious relationship.

Into this mix comes his ex-wife Carmella Melendez who he hasn't seen for 10 years. Carmella tells him that her estranged sister, Alta Consecos, was murdered, stabbed to death outside a night club. The police are not making progress finding the murderer and Carmella asks Moe to look into it. Moe hasn't been an active detective in years —he doesn't know where he put his license—but he can't say no to Carmella though it adds another level of stress since Pam isn't very happy about it. The case promises to be interesting as Alta was on suspension from her job as an EMS technician after she and her partner let a man die without rendering aid.

Moe comes from the same line of hardboiled detective as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe—pretend you know more than you do, poke around, piss people off, see what happens. And like the classic hardboiled detective, Moe makes pithy, humorous, and sometimes somber observations. If you read the comments sections on the Internet web sites you will appreciate Moe's thinking about hate mail: " occurred to me that people with hearts so full of hate must have no room in their brains for spelling or syntax."

With Moe not knowing exactly what he is looking for, he tries to find connections, figure out which events are related, who are the players. I can't say much about Moe's investigations without delivering spoilers but I will say that the author is a master at setting up situations that come to a head later in the story. I had several "OK this makes sense now but I didn't see it coming" moments.

There is a lot going on in the story and these other elements — Moe's health, his daughter's wedding, his relationship with his ex-wife, his current relationship with Pam —add layers and complications to the investigation. They are not a distraction though, they make Moe human, someone the reader can relate to.

What I didn't expect from Hurt Machine was the unexpected emotional response I have toward Moe. He and I are about the same age. With a cancerous tumor in his stomach, Moe can't help but think of life, death, things he's done in the past, what he will leave behind:
When you reach a certain stage in life, you do a lot of wondering about the people who've passed in and out of it. Soon enough, I realized, I'd be someone's absent friend. You add alcohol to thoughts like that and you get tears.
Time to think is life's Petri dish. It's the medium in which a random twinge of anxiety morphs into debilitating self-doubt, where a passing regret grows into paralytic guilt.
The way Coleman overlays the story with Moe's reflections adds a dimension to the story that sets it apart. Moe's thoughts can be brutally honest but the author doesn't let them turn maudlin or morbid. Rather, he has found a way to sum up the life of his character, a character in which he has a lot of emotional investment. I read somewhere that this is the last Moe Prager book. If so, the author has delivered a satisfying conclusion and one that is going to send this reader back to the beginning.