Author James Sallis has a wonderful series -- a favorite to hand-sell, but mostly out of print -- set in New Orleans. The stories he tells of Lew Griffin -- professor, criminal, father, drunk -- are not linear. A novel set in the present time might be followed up by one set 30 years before. In a disjointed way we might know what comes after the current tale because of a prior book, for all the good that does us. Coleman's series is similar. In the first book in this series, Walking the Perfect Square, we begin close to the present time, but the book is really about what happened twenty years before. Redemption Street is the second book in the series. It never alludes to what happens in the future, it is firmly grounded in 1981, a few years after the main story of Walking the Perfect Square. There are five books altogether so far, and in passing or in toto, they all refer to the first main story, the disappearance of a young college student in New York City. This is a difficult gimmick to sustain, this hopping around in time, but Coleman does it well enough to have garnered both critical praise and awards.
Moe Prager is an ex-cop, out of the force because of a dumb accident. He has a P.I. license but works instead with his brother in a wine store. Arthur, the bipolar brother of a high school crush, finds Moe and tries to hire him to find his sister. Moe knows that Arthur's sister died sixteen years ago in a fire at the Jewish summer resort where she had been working. It had been a major disaster at the time, claiming several lives. Suspecting Arthur is mad with grief, or just plain mad, Moe vehemently declines the job. After Arthur commits suicide, Moe finally ventures to the Catskill town where Arthur's sister died, which in its heyday supported many Jewish resorts and was the stomping ground of all the best talent in the Borscht Belt. Moe now finds it in sad decline and disrepair. As he delves deeper into the circumstances of the fire and deaths, he is encouraged, rather severely and punitively at times, to discontinue his investigation. But there wouldn't be much of a story if he stopped, would there?
Coleman's strength is in the way he deals with angst. His characters feel deeply, they're conflicted; resolution and redemption are always just out of reach. For everyone's own good, everyone else often keeps some dark secrets. Or maybe it's just a matter of self-preservation. A lot of no-goodniks are running around out there. Moe is Jewish but it's not a major part of his identity. Coleman makes Moe's Jewishness, or lack thereof, an integral part of Redemption Street, and this lent depth to the story.
The bottom line is Redemption Street is the proud bearer of the hard-boiled detective standard.
(Unfortunately, some of the books in this series are out of print, but we remain optimistic that David Thompson of Busted Flush Press will eventually have all the missing titles back in print.)