Mosley takes the traditional hard-boiled detective mystery and gives it a refreshing spin by spotlighting African-American communities. His lead, Easy Rawlins, is a Louisiana/Texas transplant now working in L.A. as a janitor, maintaining the building he surreptitiously owns. As any decent detective fiction, the city plays a prominent role in the life of the detective and Mosley nicely captures a range of African-American experiences in period L.A.
Easy is in a tough spot and is hoping Mofass, the man who manages his property, can give him some tips on dealing with the I.R.S. Mofass’ not-so-helpful advice is to lie to the Revenue Man.
“Go on in there and lie, Mr. Rawlins. Tell ’em you don’t own nuthin.’ Tell ’em that you a workin’ man and that somebody must have it out for you to lie and say you got that property. Tell ’em that and then see what they gotta say.”
When he arrives at home, the wife of his volatile best friend, Mouse, is in his house with their son. She’s split with Mouse and thought Easy would provide a refuge.
“She could knock a man into next Tuesday, or she could hold you so tight that you felt like a child again, in your mother’s loving embrace.”
Easy follows Mofass’ advice, but gets a bad feeling when the agent subsequently asks him to get (non-existent) paperwork together and to be ready for his call. When he returns downtown, he comes to the attention of a different kind of fed. It’s 1953, Communist hunting is a national pastime, and when Easy is offered an out with the IRS if he ‘reports for his country,’ he finds himself reluctantly agreeing.
I like the language, although thankfully Easy’s internal dialogue avoids dialect, as I find it makes for a long read. I like the awareness Easy has of modifying his speech patterns depending on which sub-culture he’s in. Its a survival strategy, and I enjoy seeing how Easy uses it to his advantage.
Mosley is masterful at weaving different race issues in the story, from Easy getting an education on the marginalization Jews experience, to Easy’s own interaction with mostly white lawmen. There’s an enlightening scene where he meets a black L.A. detective at a death scene and watches him interact as equals with his partner. I also love the way Easy describes the people he meets:
“His color was dark brown but bright, as if a powerful lamp shone just below his skin.”
“A sepia-colored woman”
“John’s face looked like it was chiseled in ebony”
“Jackson’s skin was so black that it glinted blue when in the full sun”
It’s a small thing that doesn’t appear in most white detective fiction novels, but it says so much about the author and his regard for his characters.
Problems for me center around narrative arc; I feel like Mosley slips a lot of characters in, some important and many incidental. It becomes hard to distinguish between important and inconsequential. More significantly, I found the character of Easy a bit less likeable in this book; as Kemper said, Easy has “man ho tendencies,” making him harder to like. I give Mosley credit for putting Easy in a hard ethical place in relation to the I.R.S.; however, he also does it to him in his emotional life. Between the sexism, Easy’s own anti-Semitism, his willingness to use the church and his affair, there isn’t much to redeem him.
Note: this edition also contains a short story, ‘Silver Lining,’ inserted before the main story. It proves to be a sort of spoiler for a plot point in A Red Death. If you care about such things, skip it.
Overall, two and a half stars. I think I’ll head back to Devil in a Blue Dress and capture more of the magic I remember from Easy.