Behind the Book


The street where I was born and raised in Gravesend, and those surrounding, was populated by Italian immigrants and their first-generation American children with very few exceptions—one of those exceptions being my mother who was a Russian-Jew from Kiev.

The Dutch were the first to colonize the western edge of what was then The Long Island, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Long Island Sound and the East River. Breuckelen originally included six parishes—the first, Gravesend, was settled in 1643 by English Quakers who were granted the land from the Dutch. The town was annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1894 and Brooklyn itself was consolidated with Manhattan and parts of the Bronx to form New York City in 1898.

GRAVESEND (2012) was a departure from my first three books, which centered on Jake Diamond, a San Francisco private investigator, and were set primarily on the west coast. The setting was now my hometown and the place became an important character in the narrative.

It is a cold and cloudy afternoon, the first Friday in February.

The wind chill factor races across the rooftop.

Joe Campo turns away from Detectives Vota and Samson and the small body lying on the tar surface behind them. Campo gazes down at the street corner, directly across the avenue, where his wife stands at the door of their family owned and operated food market. A pair of teenage boys take turns slapping a rubber ball against the west brick wall of the grocery.
Campo’s Food Market is the only grocery, delicatessen, newsstand and produce shop remaining in the neighborhood that is not owned and operated twenty-four hours a day by Korean immigrants or owned by Boston or Canadian entrepreneurs and operated by Indian or Pakistani clerks. Not necessarily a bad thing. Just not the way things used to be.
Little was as it used to be in Gravesend.

Lieutenant Samson stares at Joe Campo’s back and waits patiently.

Joe Campo remains at the ledge, silently.

“Mr. Campo,” says Samson, just above a whisper.

“When we were his age,” Campo says, referring to the boy on the roof, “we would sneak up here to fly a kite; my friends Eddie and Carlo and me. The kite set us back ten cents at old man Baker’s Candy Store across the avenue. We would pick up a bag of penny candies while we were there, when penny candies actually cost a penny, or two for a penny. Tiny wax Coca-Cola bottles filled with brown-colored sugar water. Giant fireballs. Pink and white sugar tabs stuck on strips of waxed paper. Chocolate-covered marshmallow twists. And then we’d pick up hero sandwiches at Nick’s salumeria, before it was Angelo’s and then Vito’s and then ours. Ham, hard salami, Swiss cheese and gobs of yellow mustard on half a loaf of seeded Italian bread still warm from Sabatino’s Bakery on Avenue S. Twenty-five cents each.”
Vota is about to interrupt; Samson stops him with a hand gesture.

Joe Campo looks out toward Coney Island, at the 250-foot tall steel framed Parachute Jump ride that had been moved from the 1939 World’s Fair to Steeplechase Park in the forties. The landmark attraction has not carried a passenger for more than thirty years.

“This apartment house was one of the tallest buildings in the neighborhood. Still is at that,” Campo goes on. “We thought if we started up here we’d be closer to the sky. One of us would have to run down to Baker’s every ten minutes or so for another ball of string, two hundred fifty more feet for a nickel. We would watch the paper kite sail toward the ocean, followed by a long tail we had made out of strips torn from one my father’s old handkerchiefs. We were sure we could fly the thing all the way to Europe, wherever we thought that was. When the long pieced-together string inevitably snapped we were positive that the kite would eventually come down to land somewhere in France or Germany.”

We lived less than three miles from the Atlantic Ocean and summer days, not devoted to playing baseball, were most often spent on the beaches of Coney Island.

Coney Island Avenue runs through Brooklyn, north and south, ending at the beaches.

The novel, CONEY ISLAND AVENUE, continues the stories of the detectives of the 61st Precinct in Gravesend.

The Native American inhabitants of the region, the Lenape, called it Narrioch, land without shadows, because of the geographical orientation which kept the beach in sunlight all day.
The Dutch called it Conyne Eylandt, and the English later called it Coney Island, both names derived from the corresponding words for rabbit. The land was a haven for rabbits and then a bountiful hunting ground, until the resorts chased the critters away.
Rabbit Island, not a very glamorous epithet, and not really an island at all, its miles of beaches and its phenomenal theme parks made Coney Island a thrilling destination—attracting millions of visitors from every

part of the world from the late eighteen hundreds through the first half of the twentieth century.
Coney Island Avenue stretches for five miles, north and south, from Brightwater Court to Grand Army Plaza at the southwest corner of Prospect Park, passing through the neighborhood of Gravesend along the way.
Heading from Prospect Park toward the Atlantic Ocean the cross streets are named alphabetically—Albemarle, Beverly, Cortelyou, Ditmas, Foster—until at Avenue H they take on names of letters themselves, through Z. Just past Avenue Z, Coney Island Avenue crosses the Belt Parkway, and less than two miles further south it ends at the Boardwalk and the shadowless beach.
The Sixty-First Precinct sits on Coney Island Avenue between Avenue W and Gravesend Neck Road.

T.S. Eliot wrote: We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
Gravesend and the latest novel Coney Island Avenue (2017) took me back to my roots in Brooklyn and writing the two books afforded me the opportunity to re-visit and include personal reminiscences in my crime fiction.

J. L. Abramo was born in the seaside paradise of Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday. Abramo is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel; the subsequent Jake Diamond novels Clutching at Straws, Counting to Infinity and Circling the Runway, winner of the Shamus Award; Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel to the Jake Diamond series; and the stand-alone thrillers Gravesend, Brooklyn Justice, and Coney Island Avenue.

Abramo’s short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies including Murder Under the Oaks, winner of the Anthony Award.