After a number of years as a cop in the New York Police Department, in 1978 Moe Prager is invalided out after busting his knee slipping on a piece of carbon paper. His brother Aaron wants Moe to join him in opening a wine store, but they’re short of the money required. Then opportunity comes knocking in the form of Rico Tripoli, his former partner. The son of one of Rico’s in-laws, the politically connected Francis Maloney, has gone missing. Finding Patrick Maloney will not only provide some cash and an easy route to a liquor license, but the chance to once again play being a cop. The only trouble is, Patrick Maloney seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. Trying to uncover his life before he disappeared is equally vexing, Patrick being somewhat of an enigma. To add to Moe’s woes, the case has two other thorny issues – first, it’s clear that he’s caught up in some other game and, second, he’s falling in love with Patrick’s sister. What he needs is a way to extradite himself whilst keeping everyone still sweet.
Walking the Perfect Square shuttles back and forth between 1978 and 1998, with Moe reflecting back on the case as he waits to meet a dying man who holds the promise of adding the final piece to a puzzle that has shaped the course of his life over the previous twenty years. It’s a plot device that works well; indeed, the plot unfolds and twists cleverly, hooking the reader in early and never letting go. Whilst the writing is quite functional (rather than the poetic prose I was expecting given other reviews), the narrative is nonetheless multi-textured, with excellent characterisation, sparkling dialogue, and a philosophical undertow that pervades the text without explicitly dominating it. In Prager, Coleman has created a character with rare emotional depth; someone whose life seems worth exploring further. Some books are all surface, telling an entertaining story but little more, others demand you reflect on the moral complexities of life. The first kind fizzle for a moment, the second hangs round to haunt you. Walking the Perfect Square is the second kind.