In Search of the Illusive Rosebud

The last time that I saw Frank Hickey, we were both around seven years of age, drawing with crayons on the wall of his bedroom. It was allowed. Had I done that in my brownstone, two houses away, I would have been killed.

Maple Street was a pristine block of limestone houses in Lefferts Manor in Brooklyn. Crime started to hit the neighborhood in the late 1950s. Frank's father swept up the three sisters, mother and Frank into a pristine life of privilege in a Park Avenue apartment, fancy schools and all of the social accouterments that come with living in a golden zip code, which Frank calls in his books, "The Playpen." He defines The Playpen as "a place where you can age and die and never grow up."

I lost touch with the Hickey family and remained on Maple Street throughout the crime wave. That meant that you didn't leave the house when the sun went down. You were trapped in your turn of the century baronial architecture, until the sun rose.

Fast-forward the tape four decades. The great socio-economic leveler, Death, reunited us at his mother's wake at Campbell's funeral parlor. We were all grown with vast histories, marriages, careers and children. Frank had become a man of mystery with 37 years of law enforcement jobs beneath his belt. That took him through the jungles of Thailand and through the swamps of the American South, chasing a Sicilian serial murderer. He was everything from a flatfoot to a gold shield detective to and investigator for the Manhattan DA's office. He also acquired fluency in multiple languages along the way and became a writer.

Hickey moved back to Brooklyn as he told me that it was his "Rosebud." He was looking for something the loss of which he deeply lamented. He has written seven books, six available. The unifying thread is his character of a disenfranchised, former law enforcement officer, Max Royster, who is overweight, divorced, broke and dismissed from the force for psychological reasons. Max plods through the old neighborhood as a concerned citizen, getting involved in all sorts of escapades and crime stopping. Wonderful reads, especially for me, knowing the neighborhood like the palm of my hand.

I have read three of the seven, The Gypsy Twist, Brownstone Kidnap Crackup and Softening Flatbush. They are all published by Pigtown Books, named after the ancient name of the neighborhood, in the shadow of Ebbets Field, which is the graphic logo of the publisher.

Frank is called "the best unknown crime novelist in America. Bar none. " by Chris Gerolmo, the author of Mississippi Burning. Max Royster is no classic hero. He gets beat up by cops and criminals and stumbles through situations which have changed the quality of life for law-abiding citizens who are in constant danger in their once upon a time, gentrified neighborhood. He even wove me into two of his books as a character. Imagine my surprise to find the first one, with my first name misspelled. She was a suspected serial murderer of children. I told him that he misspelled my name. Frank told me that when he wrote it, he never thought that he would ever see me again. Life is funny that way. I would show up to correct the spelling decades hence.

Frank couldn't wait to move back to the old neighborhood in Brooklyn. His life straddled both the Upper East Side and Brooklyn. He mused, "To me, Flatbush is still magical. All is possible there. The elitism of the Upper East Side continues."

I couldn't wait to escape the old neighborhood with the crime and constant concerns about home invasions and muggings. According to Frank, "The split between the two worlds echo in my stories." He moved back to Brooklyn last year.

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