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The International Writers Magazine
: Review: The Moe Prager PI stories

The James Deans
By Reed Farrel Coleman

ISBN 0-452-28650-6
Publisher: Plume
A Laura Jones review
'...a rare talent for capturing everyday human traits.'

It's 1983, and once again we join ex NYPD cop Moe Prager, back in Coleman’s third instalment and raring to go – and sure enough within the first two pages his P.I skills are to be put back into practice as another case that needs solving is bestowed upon him.
Prager is approached at a wedding by the bride’s father, Mr Geary, who enlightens him on an unsolved mystery concerning a missing girl.

Two years ago Moira Heaton, a young intern, disappeared without a trace. Moira had worked for State Senator Steven Brightman, who had been tarred with a brush of suspicion and contempt since her disappearance, something that could ruin his political career unless his name was cleared. Everyone wanted answers.
Prager delves around and unveils interesting new truths about Moira's disappearance, which had initially been overlooked by the police and Brightmans other hired investigators. During his investigation he is given a chance to rejoin the NYPD, a seemingly exciting offer, but also suspiciously convenient to distract him.
A perfect suspect is found who admits to murdering Moira – mystery solved – or is it? The solution seems just too easy, too perfect, and Prager quickly guesses that he’s been led astray and wound up with the wrong culprit.

Moira's father is avoiding him, and his so-called associates are telling him lies. Prager soon discovers that a much more sinister secret has been hidden by a powerful group of friends for many years, who will stop at nothing to keep him quiet. As he nears the discovery of the true killer, tensions rise and gunshots soon echo around Miami’s streets. Pragers ingenuity is tested to the extreme as he battles to unveil this conspiracy.

THE JAMES DEANS takes us from New York to Jersey, in and out of back street alleys and seedy strip joints and to meet an array of characters; from the sarcastic Klaus to the feisty local stripper, Domino. It is inspired by the Chandra Levy case, which creates an air of authenticity. Coleman must be commended for so effectively managing the difficult task of creating a convincing sense of place, set in Middle America in the 80’s.
There is also an underlying subplot of parental loss, which adds a somewhat elegiac feel throughout the book, showing us the pains and tribulations of those who experience it. After the recent loss of their child through miscarriage, both Prager and his wife, Katy, are struggling to cope – Prager is in silent turmoil, Katy is openly distraught, whilst Moiras father has been shattered by the loss of his daughter and has turned to drink to dull the memories.

Moe Prager is a believable character who you enjoy getting to know – he struggles to deal with his own personal problems and earns the readers' compassion. There is no deliberation whether he fits the stereotype of a troubled cop – always torn between his job and his family, never missing a trick, never disheartened by a few setbacks, mind over matter…you get the picture. He’s also never short of a cringe worthy catch phrase; ‘Maybe I wouldn’t be clever enough to figure it out, maybe no one ever would, but I'd taken notice of her and wasn’t likely to forget.’ You just gotta love the guy.

One setback I will have to highlight is how painfully the story drags itself out; despite the credible content you will find yourself wondering where the plot is going - Prager is too preoccupied talking to old colleagues and associates, re-evaluating his life and lingering on trivial events. It's unclear whether Coleman was aiming to keep the reader in some kind of agonising suspense for 150 pages, but it all became rather tedious - at one point I would have rather let Prager run off to Coney Island whilst I waited for him back in Brooklyn, where he could simply report back to me on what else he’d found out, instead of dragging me along for another three chapters.

However eventually you start to see that the storyline is going somewhere – hurrah - things start to get a little more exciting, secrets unravel, the long-winded beginning finally starts to catch up with itself.
Read THE JAMES DEANS for some easy reading P.I. adventures and some cleverly thought out twists; also to enjoy Colemans polished prose and his ability to create such solid characters – he certainly boasts a rare talent for capturing everyday human traits and injecting it into each one. Although it’s hardly riveting, it’s an enjoyable read - just don’t expect it to have you gripping the edge of your seat for what could possibly be coming next. Case closed.
© Laura Jones March 2005

Laura is a Creative Writing student at Portsmouth University

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