Review – Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman
Hurt Machine (Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK) is the 7th book in the Moe Prager series from Reed Farrel Coleman, and it comes with quite a pedigree with three of the preceding books having garnered Shamus awards: The James Deans (Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK), Soul Patch (Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK) and Empty Ever After (Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK).
Personally I’ve read the first two entries in the series [Walking the Perfect Square (Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK) and Redemption Street (Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK)] but unfortunately the following one, The James Deans, has been languishing in my TBR pile for quite a while, and that has led me to neglect the series as a whole. So even though it meant reading the series out of order, I welcomed the chance to reacquaint myself with Moe.
From the opening chapters, there are multiple references to previous events and characters that make it obvious that this is the latest novel in a series. It made me wish that I had read the intervening entries so that I could more fully understand these references, but that impression fades relatively quickly as the narrative takes hold.
Recurring twin themes of mortality and redemption are evident throughout as Moe undertakes an investigation on behalf of his ex-wife, NYPD colleague and former PI partner, Carmella into the murder of her estranged sister. The case stands out on the basis of the marked lack of sympathy for the victim in a murder case. This is due to New Yorkers giving a collective shrug of their shoulders when they realised she was the same woman who as a FDNY EMT had refused to treat a man who subsequently died resulting in a widespread and public vilification from both inside and outside the FDNY.
Moe’s problems go far beyond a jealous girlfriend hurt by the sudden reappearance of his ex-wife days before his daughter’s wedding as it also re-opens old wounds for Moe who gets to see the stepson he helped raise for the first time in ten years. Through the case, he also comes into contact with other former colleagues and shares recollections about others and what befell them. Traces of his former colleagues can be seen in the current police detective who assists him, but will he fall prey to the same vices of greed and ambition that seduced his friends?
Moe is Jewish but doesn’t really believe in a god and the title of “Hurt Machine” relates to Moe’s view of I guess both god(s), humans and even himself (in his melancholic moments) in that they visit hurt upon his fellow humans whether intended or not. An alternative title might equally be “Scar Tissue” recalling past pain and suffering as well as friendships lost.
Reminiscent of peeling an onion as the author slowly reveals additional layers in the narrative and the case gets more complex and sidetracked by tangents, he seems to take a fiendish delight in setting up a suspect to be guilty of numerous offences but innocent of the murder. Along the way, we intersect with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” date rape drugs & internet sexploitation.
Highly recommended. I, for one, didn’t anticipate the conclusion and this will almost certainly be one of my top ten books for 2011. I can see myself adding some of the Moe Prager books that I’ve missed out on to my reading list for 2012.
The Moe Prager Series:
2006 Shamus Award – Best Paperback Original
2008 Shamus Award – Best Novel
2009 Shamus Award – Best Hardcover