Compared to the rest of the city and even its own borough, the Riverdale-Kingsbridge area doesn’t find itself mentioned in pop culture very much.
The CW’s new Archie Comics-related show “Riverdale,” for example, is a reference in name only.
In Shaun Coen’s new novel, “The Pot O’Gold Murder,” Riverdale gets what the author says is a more honest portrayal. Although the majority of the novel takes place in Woodlawn — a section of the Bronx wedged into the northeast corner of Van Cortlandt Park — the book’s main protagonist, detective Eileen Ryan, calls Riverdale her home.
Ryan works out of the New York Police Department’s 47th Precinct in the story, juggling the rigors of her police work and her elderly rehabbing father, while showing a propensity for hitting bars at night. All of this is done while enduring a perpetual hangover.
She drives her Jeep to her Johnson Avenue apartment each night, because having her live in Woodlawn would simply put her in a fishbowl, Coen said. Riverdale, however, provided her with something Woodlawn couldn’t — anonymity.
“I thought it would be more interesting to set it in Woodlawn and Riverdale because they are not high-crime areas,” Coen said. “You rarely hear of someone being murdered in those areas.”
The playwright and columnist set his story in the Bronx because he grew up in Woodlawn, making him far more familiar with the people and the speech patterns, lending to greater authenticity. He not only talks about the Major Deegan Expressway and the Metro-North, but puts his protagonist at an apartment at 1155 Johnson Ave., includes a contemplated visit to Manhattan College, and even talks about the view from her apartment window.
As a cop who spent her formative years in what Coen refers to as the Irish enclave, Ryan’s familiarity with the geography and the natives comes in handy in her detective work, but leaves little in the way of privacy or escape.
From a young age, Coen has been interested in writing. He described growing up in a household that was always filled with reading materials.
“One of my first jobs must have been a paperboy, so I was always reading the newspaper every day,” he said.
In high school, he wrote for the school newspaper and majored in journalism at Hofstra University with a minor in English.
He was encouraged by his professors to pursue writing as a career, getting his start as a playwright. The first play Coen had performed was “Gun Control,” a comedy performed at a Village Gate festival in 1992.
His transition to writing novels stemmed from encouragement from many of his literary peers, who felt Coen’s fast-paced, witty dialogue that pervaded his plays would translate well to novels. What’s more, Coen wanted to write something that was a bit different than most other books.
“There are plenty of novels with the hard-living, hard-drinking male detectives who always get the girl, and I thought it would be more interesting to flip that and kind of explore the double-standard of that,” Coen said, explaining his decision to go with a female protagonist.
Having spent his life growing up with four older sisters and being surrounded by tough Irish women, Coen said he didn’t find the character too difficult to write.
“From mothers and sisters to wives and children,” he said, “I’m around women all the time, always have been, so I didn’t find it that much of a challenge.”
“The Pot O’Gold Murder” is Coen’s first novel.