Monday, December 10, 2007

Gabriel Cohen

by Steven Williams

Gabriel Cohen color photographGabriel Cohen is a relative newcomer to the mystery genre. Though as a professional writer he has worked as a reporter, script reader, teacher, and researcher, his first novel Red Hook was only published in 2001. He had previously publications have included articles for The New York Times and Time Out New York as well as mystery short stories appearing in various anthologies. He has approached novel writing in the mystery genre primarily as a hook to enable him to explore some of the fundamental mysteries of life, one of the more basic urges of authors of fiction. Red Hook was critically well received to the point of being nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. His early success had created high expectations regarding the quality of his next mystery. This is always intimidating to emerging novelists but Cohen seems to have risen to the challenge. His second mystery, The Graving Dock, was released November 2007 to similarly appreciative reviews. It is important to note that while The Graving Dock is Cohen's second mystery it is actually his third published novel. Boombox, released in April 2007 by Academy Chicago, is a contemporary urban drama that explores the tensions of living in a modern city. He also has a non-fiction book, Storms Can't Hurt the Sky: The Buddhist Path Through Divorce which will be released in February of 2008. In addition to his published work as a professional writer, Cohen has taught writing at New York University. He also worked freelance in catering during the ten years he worked to get published. Not too surprising given the range of his experiences, Cohen is also a musician and was the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter for an original-music rock band called Valley of Kings. One of their songs, Love Turns To Love, was used in the soundtrack for the independent American film Chutney Popcorn. Cohen currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Red Hook by Gabriel Cohen front cover

Red Hook (2001)
This mystery introduces Cohen's recurring character, Brooklyn homicide detective Jack Leightner. Immediately recognized as a both a good mystery and a literary novel, the book hinges in the investigation of the murder of a young Dominican. The reason for the killing is initially baffling for the police, but Leightner becomes somewhat obsessed with solving the case in part because its victim came from the same section of Brooklyn, Red Hook, where Leightner was born. Though the style of the novel is a noirish police procedural, it is the detective's relationship with his own father and his own unhappy life that drive the investigation and the story.

Boombox by Gabriel Cohen front cover

Boombox (2007)
An urban drama about four neighbors sharing a courtyard in Brooklyn's Boerum Hill neighborhood. A teenager living in one of these households buys a big sound system and begins spending his spare time in the courtyard listening to gangster rap. Cohen explores how, over the course of the summer, the block's friendships and alliances are pushed to the breaking point by the intrusive music. The volatility of the emotions generated are used to look at the reality of urban life and how much possibility there is that people can get along despite predictable irritants that come up when people live so close to each other in the city.

The Graving Dock by Gabriel Cohen front cover

The Graving Dock (2007)
This is Cohen's second mystery featuring Detective Jack Leightner. It is set in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, as was Cohen's previous mystery. A body is found and though the victim was murdered, the killing was done in such a way that Leightner initially suspects that I might have been a mercy killing. A second body is soon discovered and it becomes clear that Leightner and his new police partner are pursuing something more sinister. As the case unfolds, Leightner finds himself burdened with an unofficial investigation of his partner's shady activities. The demands of both investigations begin to affect Leightner's personal life, delaying his attempts to overcome his failure to propose to his girlfriend. And of course, there is Leightner's guild over his brother's death when they were kids, which the neighborhood keeps reminding him of. This novel is in the same noirish police procedural style of Cohen's first mystery and is equally satisfying.

Valley of Kings 'Happy Hour' album cover

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Gabriel Cohen, an emerging writer of noir police procedural mysteries by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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