“Humans are like hurt machines. No matter how hard we try not to do it, we seem to inflict hurt on one another as naturally as we breathe.”
Moe Prager, newly diagnosed with stomach cancer, is a hurt machine. Yet, he is at a happy time in his life. His only child, Sarah, the daughter of his dead wife, Katy, is getting married. It is at the rehearsal, two weeks before the wedding when he is approached by his ex-PI partner and second wife Carmella Melendez who asks him to take on a new and controversial case. Carmella’s sister Alta has recently been murdered and the police are not making head way. Probably for a good reason. Alta and her EMT partner were involved in a very unpopular case where they stood by and refused to treat a heart attack victim. They have been crucified in the press, ostracized by their department, and left to fend for themselves against death threats by the public.
Hurt machines one and all. Moe wants nothing else than to come to grips with his mortality and see his daughter married. But their history runs too deep for Moe to turn Carmella down and he might have the chance to see Carmella’s son, who Moe had thought of as his own son when they were married. Moe takes the case.
Traveling the length and breadth of Brooklyn and New York City, he meets FDNY firemen, New Yorks Bravest, but they are closed-lipped and nearly cheer at Alta’s death. He meets bureaucrats and bureaucratic greed, gangsters, and petty criminals — who have their own crimes to hide — bartenders and blackmailers, drunks and dopers. But none of this seems to lead anywhere close to a murderer until he breaks the case down to its component parts and decides to solve each piece separately. What Moe comes to realize is that everyone has secrets, everyone is a hurt machine, or has been run over by one.
Reed Farrel Coleman crafts a complicated plot in Hurt Machine that is painted with a marvelous character, that being the city itself. If there ever was a character in fiction that could be a city, that city is New York. New York is a microcosm of every ethnic, religious, and tradition, every kind of restaurant, and restaurants that could only exist in New York. Every saint and every sinner, every priest and every penitent . Prager takes us along to the eateries great and small, to the Irish pubs and The ‘Red Sauce’ restaurants in his quest to solve Alta’s murder.
The supporting characters are real people as you’d expect from the man NPR’s Maureen Corrigan has called a ‘hard-boiled poet.’ The plot is clever, twisty, and comes full circle. As we accompany Moe on what could be his last case we get to see not only how the hurt machine takes its victims, but how we all drive the machine, willingly or not. Or as Moe puts it, “It is one thing to say oy vey – ‘oh, woe’ – and another to say oy vey iz mir – woe is me.”