Monday, May 19, 2014

Best Book of the Season: THE HOLLOW GIRL, Reed Farrel Coleman

Thanks to an early review copy, I read THE HOLLOW GIRL a couple of months ago. It's my custom to review when a book becomes available, for the sake of readers -- just my way of doing it -- but a quick tally of the days of waiting since then would probably show that I've only had one or two days when I did not think of THE HOLLOW GIRL at some point.

Yep, that's how good it is.

First, if you're a Coleman fan already, you probably know this is the ninth and last in the Moe Praeger series; the private investigator has turned 65, and the author is taking him off the job at last. Moe's been ill, he's had major personal losses, he's ready for something gentler. (Check out Coleman's earlier ruminations on this, at the "Type M for Murder" blog, here.) And if you're new to this skillful storyteller's work, yes, you can definitely read THE HOLLOW GIRL without having consumed the preceding eight books. In fact, you won't be as distracted that way by the appearance of Nancy Lustig, a figure from Moe's past, from his first case as a PI. Still, it makes a fine circle of tension right off the bat, knowing Moe is only agreeing to step away from his blossoming alcoholic routine, in order to commit to a situation where he has amends to make and leftover doubts to resolve, as Moe recognizes:
Siobhan's scalpel cut her mother deep, yet Nancy's distress was a portal through which I eagerly swam. I had a lifetime full of my own disasters, great and small. A life full of small victories and guilty defeats. Wounds, desperation, and sex make a potent, explosive cocktail. I hoped this one wouldn't blow up in our faces.
In addition, Coleman creates an entirely up-to-date "missing persons" situation -- one that includes web videos, a blog, a sense of Internet life for Nancy's missing daughter Siobhan that could be fraudulent as heck ... or could mean the rebellious young woman is still alive. But alive and free, or alive and captive? Torturing her mother, or being tortured by the videographer?

As Coleman becomes enmeshed in the Internet publicity on the case, and shackled by the crime's increasing horrors, there's as much suspense over whether he can survive this case as a healthy adult or a personal wreck, as there is suspense over whether he'll force a break in the case in time for the probable victims.

And about those other Coleman books in the Moe Praeger series? No sweat. After you've read this one, odds are, you'll be stocking up on the others. Moe Praeger's investigations were always worth reading; now, with the finale, they're all the way to classic. Move 'em onto the re-read shelf. I like Dennis Lehane's comment on the series: "These are soulful, beautifully written investigations into an American Dream that slipped through our fingers when no one was looking."

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