"The Hollow Girl"

By Reed Farrel Coleman

Review by Ron DeSourdis

The Hollow Girl is the ninth in author Reed Farrel Coleman's Moe Prager series. The first, originally published in the early years of the twenty-first century, took place in 1978. Since then (with the exception of the penultimate novel, Onion Street, which flashes back to 1967), each installment has leapt ahead by considerably more years than occurred between books, with Moe aging at the same pace. It is now in 2013, and the natural toll of the intervening thirty-five years has been exacerbated by cancer and personal tragedy. And we are at the at the end of the series.

Say it ain't so, Moe!

Although the plot is solid enough, the great joy to be gained from the 300-page read is in Moe's ruminations on everything from relationships to society to religion to 21st-century show business. Coleman/Prager's observations are often humorous, as frequently bleak, and equally effective. Here, Moe goes through the day's mail:

"That particular day's charity requests claimed that my contribution would cure pancreatic cancer, diabetes, AIDS, and autism. My donation would feed the poor of Africa, continue to reconstruct Long Island in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and rebuild the lives of our wounded veterans... Sometimes it became just so much noise that translated into Give money, stop death. It was the biggest lie we shared. That if we only gave a few dollars more, we could all spread lamb's blood above our thresholds and the angel of death would walk on by."

As if the "big lie" needed more disproving, there are deaths aplenty in this story, by causes natural, accidental and otherwise. And Moe's spontaneous reaction in each circumstance betrays the stoicism which permeates his intellectual reveries.

The Hollow Girl opens with Prager at perhaps the lowest emotional state of his existence as he attempts to drink himself into oblivion in response to a recent loss. As in previous installments in the series, Moe is surrounded by ghosts: of friends, lovers and family, as well as memories of prior decisions which continue to plague him with doubt, guilt and/or pain. One of the ghosts, though, is very much alive, and it is Nancy Lustig's reappearance that begins his redemption (although that is too strong a word for Moe, who as ever is intrinsically aware that each step may result in a broken leg, or worse -- he prefers "distraction").

Transformed by wealth, determination and "the next great innovation in plastic surgery" from the unattractive but appealing young woman he met on his first case into a beautiful though superficial grande dame, Nancy has sought Moe's help locating her daughter, Sloane Cantor, the "hollow girl" of the title.

Sloane had become an Internet phenomenon fourteen years earlier before her fame burned itself out; since then, both her acting career and her relationship with her mother have been tenuous at best. Despite their differences, Sloane has always maintained communication until recently, but now Nancy has not heard from her in a month. And she's worried.

Moe will use all the contacts and experience he has accumulated as cop and private investigator to find the answers his client, and he himself, desperately need. He may follow some wrong trails, but his professional savvy and natural curiosity make him determined to continue the search until he reaches the truth, even though bitter experience has taught him that "the truth hurts" can be a colossal understatement.

I resist any temptation to describe Moe Prager as the hero -- he is too real for that designation to fit comfortably. In fact, all Coleman's characters, whether cops, killers or collateral damage, strike me as immensely believable. Although I have found the mysteries in all the series' entries to be serviceable on first readings, I noticed that while story lines from earlier adventures have faded from my own memory, the characters remain vividly alive. In addition to all the "ghosts," notable new participants include an amoral and avaricious doorman, a weathered and blunt-spoken theatrical agent, a fairly obnoxious attorney who also happens to be Sloane's father, and his "chief investigator," who quickly finds himself in over his head in Prager territory.

Something I cannot resist is another excerpt of Moe's internal musings, which tells us something about the detective, and more about the type of writing we can expect from this author. In this case, Moe pontificates on one of the landmarks of his beloved Brooklyn in the off-season:

"The Coney Island boardwalk at dusk could be a desolate place. Once fall opened its arms to the heartless Atlantic winds, the death of the season was at hand. When those cruel winds whistled through the salt-rusted bones of the dinosaur rides, when they picked at the flaked paint and plywood scabs of shuttered food stands, hope was exposed as folly. I suppose that deep within me I loved its desolation more than the mirage of hope that was Coney Island in summer. This, I thought, looking out over the guardrail at the empty beach and cold, blackening ocean beyond, is what lay ahead of us all. Not summer. Not crowded beaches and sun block and teenagers riding the waves wreathed in seaweed and children shrieking on rides. This. "

I wholeheartedly recommend reading the entire Moe Prager series, from beginning to (much as I hate to say it) end.

* * * * *

The Moe Prager Novels

Respectfully submitted by Ron DeSourdis, June 2014.

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