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Off the rails: Crime novel inspired by violence on a Brooklyn train

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Call it a Southern Brooklyn Gothic.

A new mystery novel puts its focus on Brooklyn’s southern neighborhoods, drawing its title from a century-old story of violence on what is now the N train. The author of “The Sea Beach Line,” who will discuss the book on Oct. 18 at Book Court, says he got the name from an old newspaper article.

“I read this article once looking through the Times archives about these thugs that the Sea Beach Line would hire to deal with fare evaders,” said Ben Nadler. “These guys would hunt down the fare evaders and throw them off the train, throw them from the tracks. That story from 100 years ago always stuck with me.”

Nadler’s novel involves characters in a similarly violent world, following a young man searching for his vanished father, who sold books on the street while working odd jobs for an organized crime family. The Ditmas Park author says he took inspiration from his own time as a book-selling street vendor.

“I always knew there was a book in there somewhere,” Nadler said. “You hear a lot of tall tales on the street, a lot of interesting stories.”

Nadler wove those tales into a coming-of-age story that also includes organized crime, fortune-telling, and a forbidden love affair with a young Hasidic woman. Nadler says that all of these elements come from his study of two literary traditions he feels are underrated: crime novels and Jewish storytelling.

“I think the American crime novel — the pulps and the hardboiled authors like Dashiell Hammet — is one of this country’s greatest literary contributi­ons,” said Nadler, who teaches creative writing at several colleges in New York City. “But it’s a really neglected form of literature, and I think the same thing applies to the Hasidic Jewish storytelling tradition. They’re both working class tales, tales born on the street.”

Nadler also wants his story to celebrate the lesser-known neighborhoods in the borough.

“A lot of writers are writing about ‘brownstone’ Brooklyn, but this is a book that deals with southern Brooklyn, which has kind of been forgotten,” he said.

His books vision of Brooklyn is a refuge, a place for characters who have nowhere else to be.

“A big aspect of the book is the idea of displaceme­nt,” said Nadler. “People just kind of end up here. That’s part of what makes this such an exciting place.”

Ben Nadler reads from “The Sea Beach Line” at Book Court [163 Court St., between Pacific and Dean Streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 875–3677, www.bookcourt.com]. Oct. 18 at 4 pm. Free.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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