Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Redemption Street"

Reed Farrel Coleman has won the Shamus, Barry, and Anthony Awards and his writing has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, and Gumshoe Awards.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Redemption Street, the second of his Moe Prager novels, and reported the following:
“I don’t know the man you described personally, but I think he belongs to a…to a… I guess you’d call it a cult. We call ‘em Yellow Stars…”

It’s 1981 and Moe Prager, ex of the NYPD and a freshly minted PI, is up in the Borscht Belt looking into an old fire that killed seventeen people, his high school crush among them. The Borscht Belt is a commonly used term for a string of resort hotels that dotted the Catskill Mountains of New York State. These hotels catered to New York City’s Jewish population from the 1940s thru the 1970s and were famous for the entertainers, especially the comedians, who performed on their stages. The term Borscht Belt, much like its southern cousin the Bible Belt, is a term of both endearment and derision.

“The Yellow Stars?”

“They wear a big yellow patch on their coats that has the word—”

“J-U-D-E-N,” I[Moe] spelled out loud.

“That’s it,” Molly said. “It means—”


I chose to set Redemption Street in the Catskills for several reasons. First, because Moe Prager is a very conflicted man. One of the issues he is most conflicted about is his relationship with his own sense of Jewishness. By the mid-70s, the Borscht Belt was in the midst of its death rattle and what had once been the summer retreat of NYC’s secular Jews was being transformed into a haven for the ultra-orthodox Hasidic sects. What a perfect arena for a conflicted Jew. Second, the long ago fire that killed Moe’s high school crush is inspired by real life events. In the early 1970s, three girls from my high school who had gone to work at a Catskill hotel, perished in a workers’ quarters fire that killed a total of seventeen people.

“The other Jews,” she said, “the Hasids, they hate ‘em.”

By page 69, Moe has already encountered the various forces at play in the case — a washed up comedian, an ambitious politician, a pint-sized Hitler — but it is on this page that he learns of the Yellow Stars. As the story progresses, the reader will find just how important this discovery is not only to the resolution of the case, but to Moe’s personal struggles as well.
Learn more about the novel and author at Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue