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(a Moe Prager mystery)
By Reed Farrel Coleman

Tyrus Books, F+W Crime, 2011 ($)

ISBN 10: 978-1-4405-3202-8 (hardcover, $24.95)
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-3199-6 (paperback, $15.95)
Kindle eBook: ($8.77)

Reviewed by Sam Waas

HURT MACHINE is an exceptional novel. It deftly covers both extremes of the PI genre by presenting a rough, experienced, and somewhat retro detective but also a protagonist who reflects intelligently upon the difficulties and contradictions in our modern society. Moe Prager is a traditionalist, yet he's a superb commentator on the world around him, some of it incomprehensible to his sense of values. Nevertheless, he's a skilled observer and his narrative gives us clear pictures of today's New York City.

The novel itself is comprehensive in its scope as well. It contains a fair dollop of violence and mystery, enough to please readers who're looking for some old-fashioned crime. But the book also provides literate and effective portrayals of characters, scenes, and situations that create a rich fabric into which the story line is woven. The book therefore combines both action and thought expertly.

Moe Prager is a former Brooklyn cop who's recently retired from his PI career. He meets with his former PI partner (and ex-wife), Carmella Melendez. Carmella's sister Alta has been murdered but the police don't seem interested in solving the crime. Why? Alta and her partner Maya, both New York EMTs, were at an upscale restaurant for lunch when they refused to render first aid to a kitchen employee who collapsed and subsequently died. The EMTs were ostracized in the press and by their first responder colleagues. Now that Alta's dead, Carmella asks Moe to investigate. She was estranged from her sister, which renders Moe's trail cold from the beginning.

No one's eager to help, either, including Alta's EMT partner Maya, which seems to make little sense. Why doesn't she at least wish to clear her own name from the stigma of refusing aid to a dying stranger? But she stonewalls Moe, too.

Something's just not right, and when Moe presses the issue, threats and violence soon surface. He's begged off the case but he persists, and the search for answers drags him deep into corruption and shadowed relationships. The moment Moe thinks he's put his hands on a solution, it's jerked away and he's sent reeling in a new direction.

HURT MACHINE is an engaging read. The mystery is expertly plotted, with twists and false leads that rival any story I've encountered. Characterizations are solid and believable, the book realistic and in sync with today's society. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who desires a literate, entertaining, and mature mystery.

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