In Blood Count, out at the end of October, New York City cop Artie Cohen finds himself entangled in the headlines: the markets are tanking, Obama has just been elected, and in Harlem, people are mysteriously dying. As a white detective in the black neighborhood, Artie is out of his element—but Reggie Nadelson, his creator, is “at the top of her game” in this thrilling book, per Publishers Weekly.
The author talks to novelist Salman Rushdie about her hero, her city, and her visions for future books. Vanity Fair, 2010
Salman Rushdie: “Down those mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean.” Where does Artie Cohen stand in the moral spectrum of literary private eyes?
Reggie Nadelson: As a detective, Artie Cohen probably shares some DNA with Philip Marlowe, George Smiley, Arkady Renko. He probably yearns to add a bit of Harry Bosch. In the U.S.S.R., where he grew up, his father was a K.G.B. officer, and Artie knows in his gut the moral ambiguity of the universe and what it does to people. In Blood Count, set in Harlem, he finds that African-Americans, like Soviets, behave one way in private, another in the world.
Artie, who is an N.Y.P.D. detective but often works solo like a P.I., also feels if what you see on the job—murder, trafficking—doesn’t make you sick, it’s time to quit. He’s haunted by guilt, with wounds that never really heal. He’s also a good-looking guy who likes women too much, and loves the camaraderie of the station house. Out of all the ambiguity and conflict only one thing is certain: friends matter most, even more than morality. Somebody once said to me that Artie is so flawed you yearn for him to win.
You spent a long time living in London… How does that color your picture of New York?
I’ve lived in London on and off for almost 30 years, as student, and journalist, commuting back and forth to New York, where I was born and raised. Living abroad always sharpens your view of home.
I’ve watched London evolve from an insular, faintly genteel place that was somehow also seditious, literary, and scruffy, to an open-all-night city gone mad from too much money, where the discrepancy between rich and poor is the biggest in any Western city, crime is rising, and the tabloid press truly ugly. In an odd way, it’s become more like the New York of popular imagination. By contrast, New York feels tougher and sweet and—don’t laugh—safer, more welcoming and polite. I’ve fallen back in love with my own city as a result of living in London.
The great thriller writers use the form to make a portrait of the underbelly of a city or a society. What’s going on down there that you still want to explore?
All my books have been in part or whole set on the fringes of New York, call it the underbelly—Brighton Beach when Russian crime still had a stranglehold, the Red Hook docks, the Fresh Kills garbage dumps, the broken industrial fringes of a New York in flux. But the physical city is always a reflection of and context for the culture and the crime. I think the wild ethnic landscape of Queens is ripe for exploration; the Bronx too. And there’s Manhattan—greed, need, desire, poverty. Look down from the dazzling skyline, it’s all underbelly. After nine books set all over the city, Artie, whose biggest love is New York, is a kind of explorer among the ruins.