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ONION STREET by Reed Farrel Coleman: Book Review


Life in mid-sixties Brooklyn was tough, especially for the lower middle class.  Like Haight-Ashbury, Brooklyn had hippies and drugs.  But it also had bombings and murders.

In 1966, Moe Prager was a student at Brooklyn College, an urban commuter school that was one of New York City’s prestigious tuition-free colleges.  You had to be smart to gain entrance into Brooklyn College, and Moe is smart.  But he’s unhappy too, unhappy with his uninteresting social life, unhappy to be still living with his mother and father and two siblings while he knows that other, more fortunate twenty-year-olds are living in dorms on green campuses and having a true college experience.

Moe’s closest friend is Bobby Friedman, another Brooklyn College student but one who’s not as serious or rule-bound as Moe.  Bobby is out to make money, lots of money, as quickly as possible.  Bobby had been dating the beautiful Samantha Hope, another college student, when she and a friend were blown to pieces in an explosion.  The police believe that the two were killed when a bomb they were planning to throw exploded too soon.  But none of their friends in the college leftist movement believes that their two friends would have been planning to injure innocent people.

Then Moe’s girlfriend tells him to keep away from Bobby, that Bobby’s in danger.  Moe doesn’t believe her, but the following night a car tries to run Bobby down.  Moe pushes him out of the way, and Bobby makes light of the situation in his usual style.  Was it an accident caused by the icy streets, or, impossible as it seems, did someone deliberately try to run the man down?

Moe Prager is a wonderful protagonist.   Onion Street is the eighth book in this series.   There’s always a lot of backstory by the time there are seven previous books in a series, but because this novel is told in flashback, except for the first and last chapters, it will tell you all you need to know about Moe and his relationships.  He’s actually telling this story to his daughter Sarah after they’ve been to Bobby’s funeral, where the rabbi has given the departed a fulsome sendoff.  Obviously, the rabbi didn’t know Bobby as well as Moe did.

Sarah has asked Moe numerous times why he became a cop in the first place, and he’s always avoided telling her the reason.  After the funeral he finally does, starting with the events of 1967.  When he’s finished telling Sarah his story, she says, “I guess those were very different times.”  Moe’s response is succinct:  “Sometimes, when I think back to those days, I can’t even imagine I lived through them.”

I gave a rave review to Innocent Monster, the sixth Moe Prager novel, on this blog in July 2010.  I missed reviewing Hurt Machine, but I’m back in the Moe Prager fold once again.

You can read more about Reel Farrel Coleman at his web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.