Walter Mosley

Easy Rawlins - amateur sleuth by way of helping troubled friends
Paris Minton - used bookstore owner in 1950s
Socrates Fortlow - ex-convict and hero
Above are all black men living in the Watts section of Los Angeles, California
Leonid McGill - NYC P.I.


"Blonde Faith"

(Reviewed by Hagen Baye October 31, 2007)

“And all the time, I was thinking about Bonnie. I was thinking that I should call her and beg her to come home.” 

The promos for Walter Mosley’s latest Easy Rawlins’ novel, Blonde Faith, include an “ecard” that reads as follows:

IN MEMORIAM
Easy Rawlins
Distinguished Investigator
Loving Father
Beloved Friend and Colleague

Is this really the end for Easy?….”
 
The publisher hereby puts everyone on notice that Easy Rawlins may not survive the events of Blonde Faith and that this book may mark the end of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, which now spans 10 novels and one collection of short stories.

Read ExcerptIn truth, the ending is somewhat Soprano-like.  Without revealing specifics, Rawlins may have been killed by what happens to him at the end of Blonde Faith.  However, what exactly happened to Easy will not be known definitively until either Mosley writes another Rawlins novel or makes a point blank pronouncement that Rawlins is dead.  At this juncture, nothing is certain.  Just recall how Mama Jo’s “Louisiana magic” brought Mouse back to life from the seeming mortal wounds he suffered at the end of A Little Yellow Dog.  Anything is possible with Mosley and Rawlins.

The events of Blonde Faith are set in 1967.  Easy is 47 years old.  Throughout the book, he is preoccupied about his lover Bonnie.  A year has passed since he threw her out of his house for her getting reacquainted with an African prince.  Easy’s jealousy and stubbornness are not abated in the least by the fact that Bonnie’s contact with the Prince being the access that got Easy’s beloved adopted daughter Feather into the special Swiss clinic that cured her from a blood disease that would have killed her, all as related in Cinnamon’s Kiss, the immediately previous Rawlins book.  

Nor does his jealousy and stubbornness lessen over time, despite his unabated love for Bonnie, “the woman of [his] life.” Easy refuses to call, Bonnie has no choice but to move on, and the next thing that happens, she calls Easy to tell him that she is marrying the prince.  Even Feather chastises him: “She waited for you to call….  She [couldn’t] wait for a man who doesn’t have forgiveness in his heart.”

While Easy was saving a friend’s daughter from a life of prostitution—and earn his $300 fee—Easter Dawn, the 8-year-old adopted Vietnamese daughter of Christmas Black is left on his doorstep without notice.  To Rawlins this means that Christmas, a “government-trained killer” first introduced in Cinnamon’s Kiss, was involved in something extraordinarily dangerous, for Christmas would never otherwise leave his adopted daughter in such a manner.  At the same time Easy learns that his life long friend, Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, is missing; but worse, the police are literally gunning for Mouse, who has been accused of the murder of a Pericles Tarr by Tarr’s wife.  The accusation is based on Tarr’s disappearance after having been seen hanging around Mouse.  Circumstantial evidence at best, but Easy knew that Mouse would rather shoot it out with the police than submit to arrest.

Being an ever faithful friend, besides needing to distract himself from the despair he feels from his screwing up his relationship with Bonnie, Easy undertakes to find the danger that has driven Christmas Black underground and to find out if Pericles Tarr is truly dead or not.  Using his resources and resourcefulness to check hunches and follow up leads, Easy meticulously goes about connecting the dots that lead him to who is chasing after Christmas and to whether Mouse killed Pericles.

Deciphering the cryptic recollection of an 8-year-old child, he finds Chrismas’s house (“[b]ehind a big blue house across the street from the building with a real big tie on the roof”), where he meets up with men dressed as soldiers.  These men raise suspicions about themselves when they hire Easy to find Christmas for $300 cash paid on the spot without going through the usual bureaucratic rigmarole.  Easy’s suspicions are later confirmed by a librarian friend’s research.  Then, when Easter mentions that her father’s intention to buy a car “from that funny man…on the TV who has the animals and the pretty girls around him all the time,” Easy manages to sweet talk Christmas’s subsequent address from a young lady at the dealership.  At that address Easy comes across the subtle clue left behind by Christmas that leads him to Faith Morel, the woman with “yellow hair,” who is the source of the book’s title.

Faith is an ex-nun who ran an orphanage in Vietnam.  She comforted Christmas Black when he was overcome with guilt over his slaughter of innocent villagers, reported in Cinnamon’s Kiss.  She convinced him to adopt Easter Dawn as a way to make right for the wrong he had done.  Faith would later marry a soldier who turned out to be involved in a drug smuggling ring, who was killed when he tried to end his involvement with the ring at Faith’s insistence.  When a subsequent attempt to also kill Faith narrowly failed, she sought out Christmas for protection.  He hid her, left his daughter with Easy and made himself invisible.  Easy knew the “soldiers” he encountered in Christmas’s house were part of this smuggling ring and knew they were seeking to eliminate anyone who knew of their operation and posed a threat to them.   Expecting they would also be after him, Easy moved his “tribe” and Easter to a safe place—a move that proved to be the right one, when his house was soon thereafter broken into.

Interspersed with his dealing on the Christmas front, Easy uses his wiles and community contacts to seek out whether Pericles Tarr was killed or merely ran away from his wife and their brood of 12 kids.  If it is the latter, Easy would not only save Mouse from the evil intentions of certain members of the police force but would also save the lives of a number of those members from a certain death at Mouse’s hands.  It is sufficient to say that, thanks to Easy, Mouse is still breathing at the end of Blonde Faith. 

This book repeats a theme carried over from Cinnamon’s Kiss about the change overtaking society at large at that time.  Easy states that “[e]very day in the late sixties was like a new day…” and that “even Otis Redding moaning about the dock of the bay on tinny but loud speakers [in a public park], spoke of a world that was grinding to a halt….”  [Actually, it was impossible for anyone to blare Redding’s recording of “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay” anytime during 1967.  While Otis wrote and recorded it that year, it was first released posthumously in January 1968, a month after Redding died tragically in a plane crash on December 10, 1967.]  And Easy’s dignity survived several run-ins with racist overtones through the intervention of color-blind whites who assisted in their resolution without consideration of race.  But, clearly what was happening in society at large did not carry as much weight in the events of Blonde Faith as it did in Cinnamon’s Kiss.   What was happening between Easy and Bonnie clouded everything in this book.

Blonde Faith is another superb effort by Mosley.  It would be a shame if the extraordinary Easy Rawlins series were to come to such an abrupt end.  The series, taken as a whole, is in truth an epic story about a particular character, who is a black man, who is a war hero, who is a property owner, who is sought out when people needed help, who is a licensed private investigator, who is a family man, albeit with an adopted family (his wife having taken their child and run away with a former friend)—about a character who is an everyman of sorts, who lived through the significant events of the tumultuous eras that spanned his life, which began in 1920.  Mosley is said to have planned to take the Rawlins series through the 1980’s, which would take Rawlins through his 60’s.  It would be a great and tragic loss not to get the benefit of Easy’s (and Mosley’s) insights on what transpired from 1967 through the 80’s and even beyond.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 50 reviews
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"Cinnamon Kiss"

(Reviewed by Hagen Baye JAN 29, 2006)

“Cinnamon’s kiss was a spiritual thing.” 

This is one of the things Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins has to say about his “overfevered bouts of not-love” (i.e., “sex with no impediment of love”) with the character who is the source of the title to Cinnamon Kiss, the 10th book of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series.  That character is Philomena Cargill, known as “Cinnamon” due to the reddish hue of her skin.  Cinnamon is connected with Axel Bowers, a white liberal lawyer who has disappeared with a briefcase containing papers that someone is willing to pay a lot of money to have returned.  All this happens in 1966, during the Vietnam War era, and brings Easy up against the emerging counter-culture and all that that entailed (“broke down all the ways you thought life had to be”), including the free love movement.

As the story opens, Easy is in desperate straights.  He needs $35,000 that he does not have to pay for special medical treatment for his beloved, adopted daughter, Feather.  The little girl has contracted a mysterious blood infection and she will likely die without this treatment.  The recently concluded Watts riots render Easy’s real estate holdings valueless as collateral for a loan.  Easy lets his friends know of his need for this money.  The first to respond is his oldest friend, Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, that “stone cold killer” and criminal mastermind.  Mouse taps into a criminal syndicate that brokers lucrative criminal opportunities and lines up an armed robbery job of an armored truck.

Notwithstanding Mouse’s assurances that he has made ironclad precautions to mitigate all risks, Easy is concerned about what could go wrong.  What if the one guard who is in on the job reacts not as planned during the heist or breaks down and talks under subsequent police questioning?   What if someone gets seriously hurt, or even killed?  It would not do Feather any good if Easy ends up in jail.  Easy worries,  “Nearly twenty years of trying to be an upright citizen making an honest wage and it all disappears because of a bucketful of bad blood.”

While still considering Mouse’s proposal, another friend, Saul Lynx, a Jewish private eye married to a black woman, first introduced to the Rawlins series in one of the short stories in Six Easy Pieces (the stories of which fill the gap between the events of Bad Boy Brawly Brown and Little Scarlet, the 7th and 9th books of the series—in fact, this book of short stories is a pivotal part of the Rawlins series, for, among other things, it contains the details about Mouse’s miraculous recovery from the near fatal wounds he suffered at the end of A Little Yellow Dog and explains what would otherwise be his unexplained, sudden appearance in Little Scarlet), finds an investigative job with a client based in San Francisco that appears to be a safer alternative for Easy to raise the money he needs for Feather.  The client informs Easy that Axel Bowers has disappeared with important papers and Cinnamon is believed to be the key to retrieving those papers.  Cinnamon hails from Los Angeles, is believed to have returned there, and Easy, with his wide-ranging contacts in LA’s black community, is considered to be the man to track her down and thus locate Axel and the missing documents.

Easy does find Cinnamon, does find the missing papers, but the job turns out to be not as safe as it initially seems.  Easy learns that the papers Axel had disappeared with evidenced treasonous collaboration with the Nazis by Axel’s late father and his father’s two partners during World War II, over 40 years prior.  Besides Easy, a deadly assassin is also sent by person or persons unknown (until Easy uncovers by whom by book’s end) to retrieve those papers and prevent Axel from achieving the expiation he seeks by revealing  “[the] nasty little secret” of his late father, et al. The seemingly safe job not only puts Easy’s life at risk, but to get out alive he just might have to resort to murder.  Thus, this job turns out to be far riskier than Mouse's armed robbery job Easy decided against.   “A week ago the only crime I’d considered was armed robbery, but now I’d graduated to premeditated murder.”

Cinnamon Kiss continues Mosley’s now epic story about Easy Rawlins, a regular, yet also extraordinary black man, a war hero (even a concentration camp liberator), who by this book is all of the following (all of which are at risk depending on the story's outcome): a property owner; a head custodian who is counted on by the school’s principal, teachers and students for far more than the maintenance of the school’s physical plant; a licensed private investigator with his own office, a family man with two kids and a woman he is seriously considering marrying--albeit also a man of flesh and blood and not without his flaws.  From 1939 and with Cinnamon Kiss, through the mid-60’s, this fellow’s growth through the significant events of those different eras was traced: his coming of age during the late 30’s (Gone Fishin’), his less than triumphant return from World War II (Devil in a Blue Dress), the Red Scare of the 50's (A Red Death), the beginning of black revolutionary ferment in the early 60's (Bad Boy Brawly Brown), the Watts Riots of 1965 (Little Scarlet) and now the Vietnam War era with its domestic and international upheavals.

And, like the previous books in the Rawlins series, Cinnamon Kiss is a well-devised detective mystery--and more.  Central as well is the social commentary by Mosley through Easy.   Easy being a black man, this is inevitable; the baggage of race with all of its implications cannot be avoided.  Cinnamon Kiss's social message is particularly poignant given the significance of the events of the tumultuous middle 1960's, a time of great transition for race relations, the question of war and peace, and the emerging liberation movements throughout the Third World.  There was a change in consciousness as exemplified by Axel's rejection of and attempt to make amends for the past actions of his ancestors.  "Don't trust anyone over 30" was a constant refrain of the younger generation of that time, as it openly rejected what it perceived to be the corrupt and immoral values and actions of its elders.  (Axel ran the People’s Legal Aid Clinic in the Haight section of San Francisco, “where a majority of the people had completely dropped out."  This theretofore unprecedented kind of law office, specializing in poverty and civil rights law and now commonplace (although constantly facing extinction due to lack of financial support due to the current political climate), arose from the 60's.

This change in consciousness affected race relations.  Easy is pleasantly surprised by the hippies he encounters in San Francisco who treat him without regard to his race.  It is a new experience for him, in stark contrast to the persistent stereotyping and prejudice of the mainstream.  For example, no matter how well Easy dresses, many are still incapable of perceiving (and treating) him as other than a mere messenger (at best) or a criminal suspect (at worse).

With the rise of liberation movements within the so-called Third World (and Mosley views the Vietnam War as a part of the anti-colonial struggle of that time), there is a change in the nature of warfare.  In the past, the enemy was someone we knew who did something directly to harm us; now, war is waged against "enemies" we do not know and who did nothing to hurt us.  And perverse contradictions arose as pro-colonialist powers attempted to quash liberation movements, such as the US, the champion of democracy, backing a dictator in Vietnam.

Mosley further points out the flip side of some seeming signs of "progress."  A new character, Christmas Black, is an example of a black man finally permitted to be a highly trained fighting man given responsibilities reserved for whites only in the past.  However, Black's assignments were nothing more than bloody missions against innocent people, and in the end he realizes that he was no better than those involved in lynchings.  And, Easy points out to Cinnamon that all of her education and acceptance into white society through Axel made her lose touch with her people and the survival skills they adopted through the years.  Easy says to her: “We might’a acted stupid but you know you moved so far away that you startin’ to think the act is true.”

As stated, Cinnamon Kiss is a well-devised and engaging detective story.  But it is also much more, as the book's social commentary touches on issues Mosley has been exploring more explicitly in his work of non-fiction, What Next: A Memoir toward World Peace, as well as his recent fictional work, The Man in my Basement. In What Next, Mosley decries the evils of global capitalism and pleads for ordinary people to mobilize to foster peace.  In Man, the white antagonist is a captive of capitalism and its idolizing of profits over people, while its black protagonist, though a failure at first, achieves redemption by his embrace of his ancestors and the human values they represent.   Similar messages are implicit in Cinnamon and, indeed, Mosley has been driving at deeper social messages in all the previous Rawlins books.  Whether or not one fully agrees with Mosley's point of view, the issues he has been raising are important ones to consider for the betterment of us all--especially in this post 9/11 era.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 54 reviews
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"Little Scarlet"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 7, 2004)

“Pain has a memory all its own.”

I haven’t done this in a bit. Finish a book. Then pick it up a month or two later and read it again; complete from start to finish. The first read was for the mystery and overall story; the second was to appreciate Mr. Mosley’s fine writing and absorb its social commentary and slice of history. Set in Los Angeles summer of ‘65, right after the race riots and its “five-day eruption of rage that had been simmering for centuries” it offers an insight into the why and the aftermath of the riots. If you’ve been following this series, you know that Easy Rawlins (and even Paris Minton in another series) let us know what a black couldn’t do in the 50’s and 60s. For once, Easy begins to find that maybe some white people can treat him as an equal.

At the time of the riots, Easy Rawlins is in his forties living with his "patchwork family" in a good home in West L.A., still working as the high school head custodian. He stayed in during the riots, holding himself in check, knowing that he was capable of much worse if his anger was allowed to display itself in any way, knowing that would be irresponsible to his family. But at the end of five days, Easy needs to see South Los Angeles for himself, so he goes to his office where he has a part-time business finding things. What he sees is burnt out, gutted buildings and high tension, with the National Guard still enforcing peace on the streets. At this point in time, Easy knows that things will never be the same – not for his city not for his people. The small changes and their personal affect on him is what this story is mostly about. For example, when Detective Melvin Suggs seeks out Easy to hire him to help solve a murder, the Detective holds out his hand. Easy just looks at it. “Not many policemen had offered to shake hands with me. Outstretched hands of the law held wooden batons and pistols, handcuffs and warrants but rarely a welcome and never an offer of equality.”

Thirty-four people died during the riots, but only 33 have been publicly reported. It is the 34th victim that Easy gets involved with. Nola Payne, or “Little Scarlet,” is a red-headed black woman that was strangled and then shot close range. A few days before her body is found, a white man is pulled from his vehicle. He escapes and runs for the apartment building that Little Scarlet lives in. The police know that if it is suspected that a white man killed a black woman, it is bound to inflame the neighborhood and start the riots back up. They also know if they even try to investigate, that it could trigger the same result. More importantly no one is going to talk to a white cop in black L.A. after the riot -- or even before for that matter. Thus Detective Melvin Suggs requests Easy Rawlins to help with the investigation in an unofficial, but authorized, capacity. Easy agrees, asking nothing in return, just the reward of finding out who killed Nola Payne.

Easy dons his street clothes and sets out to do his usual style of investigation, which is not so much police procedural but knowing how people, especially Black people, live and breathe. His first task is to find out who the white man is and thus he visits a donut stand that stayed open throughout the riots serving both policemen and rioters at the same counter. There he learns the name of a witness, all without making it obvious that he’s looking for information. From there he seeks out the witness, which proves fairly uncomplicated, but not without social comment, “Robert Grant didn’t get any checks in the mail. No one in the five-floor gray building did. The mailbox was two wooden crates, each of which once contained six one-gallon bottles of milk. The crates were hung side by side on the wall with names and apartment numbers.”

One his best assets is that Easy can talk the street and he can talk like an educated man, switching to whatever will get him the information, “Where the fuck I’ma get twenty-fi’e cent a day. If I had that right now, I get me a bottle’a wine and climb in a cardboard box down near Metro High,” he complains as he checks into a homeless shelter.

One thing leads to another and soon he discovers, as he suspected a year ago and the police did nothing about it, there is a black man serially killing black woman who are seeing white men. Of course locating this serial killer is when the investigation really kicks in. Now, before you go crazy on me thinking that this premise is too farfetched, that there is no way a serial killer could go unnoticed and undetected in L.A., even back in those days, check out this headline that was in the October 30, 2004 The New York Times: Man Charged in Killings City Didn’t Know About. It’s about a serial killer in L.A. that made black prostitutes his victims and no one was aware that it was going on for years – no police handouts warning potential victims, no media coverage. And this just happened.

Mr. Mosley has developed a varied community of family and friends for Easy Rawlins from book to book, always introducing at least one new character that becomes a part of all the future outings. Bonnie, Feather and Jesus and the Little Yellow Dog are all steadily part of his life. Though Easy is not living the rough life anymore, he still makes time for his old friends, including Mouse the dandily-dressed killer and the con man Jackson Blue (who is finally working an honest job, even if acquired slightly dishonestly). Mosley skillfully weaves the investigation around the characters who add color and depth to the story, often acting as foils while Mosley gets one point or another across, always more entertaining than contrived. Detective Suggs is newly introduced in Little Scarlet, but given the surprise reward presented to Easy at the end of the book, I expect we’ll see lots more of him, especially as Easy explores more of the emerging possibilities brought on by the riots.

During my second read of the novel, I slowed down enough to savor the moments in which Easy shares his thoughts with us. Easy likes to educate, unlike Paris Minton (another Mosley character that makes a cameo appearance in this book) who is content with “letting a man’s ignorance ride.” Not Easy. When his boss Ada Master asks to understand the riots, Easy tells her, “Almost every black man, woman and child you meet feels that anger. But they never let on, so you’ve never known. This riot was sayin’ it out loud for the first time. That’s all. Now it’s said and nothing will ever be the same. That’s good for us no matter what we lost. And it could be good for white people too.”

Walter Mosley is one of my "must read" authors; since my discovery of this writer I've read each novel as it comes out and you'll find more reviews featuring this author than any other on this site. I find thathis writing deserves slow cooking to be really appreciated. First pass, it's always a good story, but the second time through is when the real art in the writing shines through. I couldn't agree more when Juanda says, "I love the way you talk Mr. Rawlins. You done talked the dress off my back and then talked it back on my shoulders."

  • Amazon readers rating: from 55 reviews

 

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"Bad Boy Brawly Brown"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUN 30, 2002)

"I know that you aren't a bad man, Easy. But like I said, you hang around some real hard times."

This latest Easy Rawlins novel picks up six months after Little Yellow Dog ends. That puts it at six months after President Kennedy's assassination and six months after his ex-gangster friend, Raymond Alexander or "Mouse," was shot dead in an alley. The day it happened, his bartender friend John told Easy that he better start settling down. As John had put it "You ain't drinkin', but you might as well be, the kinda life you live."

Read excerptSo Easy took his advice and made a phone call to Bonnie to beg her into his life. And it must have worked since six months later she's living with him and his unofficially adopted children, Jesus (who they call Juice) and Feather. Also a member of the household is that little yellow dog who still hates Easy. But Easy keeps him for Feather and to remind him about the dark and dangerous. All seems to be going as John recommended, except for Easy's guilt and recurrent nightmares over not being able to save Mouse's life.

But on this morning his son mentions that he wants to drop out of high school with only a year and a half left to graduate. And bartender John, whom he's barely talked to in the past year, calls Easy for a favor. There was a time when Easy used to trade in favors, helping people who couldn't go to the authorities. That was before he had the honest work he does now as supervising senior head custodian at Sojourner Truth Junior High School. The thing about favors and Easy is that they tend to lead to trouble and murdered bodies. And even though the little yellow dog sticks his nose out from under the kitchen cabinet, Easy is inexplicably giddy from this phone call. Mind you this is the same John that advised Easy to straighten out his life.

Although John asks Easy to come to his construction site, it turns out that the meeting to talk over his troubles is at his home with his girlfriend, Alva Torres. Since Alva doesn't take to Easy's old lifestyle too well; in fact, she feels "an economy of trading favors" is criminal activity, Easy's guessing that this favor is going to require sweat. Turns out Alva's son Brawly Brown is in trouble and they want Easy to find him and help get him back home. Brawly is running with The Urban Revolutionary Party otherwise known as the First Men.

It doesn't take Easy very long to find Brawly, but getting him home is another thing all together. In fact, a number of times Easy thinks that he should just go to John and tell him that he's talked to Brawly but that the thing he's into is too dangerous for the family man he's trying to be. It was no more than the first few hours on the job that he runs across the first dead body. But, then again, Easy knows he needs this action in an odd way to help him deal with Mouse. Even though he's dead he's there for Easy. With their long history together, there aren't too many places that Easy goes that doesn't haven't a Mouse story attached to it and there isn't too many things that happen that doesn't recall a sage word from his best friend.

So he keeps at it, but unlike in the past where he'd tell a convincing lie to get at whatever information he needed, this time he tells the truth consistently, whether to the First Men party leaders, the secret branch of the police trying to squash a revolution (and hoping Easy will leak information to them), or his many, many friends and acquaintances who seem to know the people he needs to contact. And no one believes the truth: that all he's doing is looking for a friend's girlfriend's son and the only payment he's requested is an invitation to dinner for his family. Pretty lame considering the seriousness of the trouble that the bad boy Brawly Brown is in and everyone wants to believe the Rawlins knows more than he's saying and wants more than he claims. Some even thinks he's a murderer.

Easy Rawlins narrates in the first person, but it's a wiser person than the one that the events of the story happen to because he's telling the story in hindsight. This style adds a worldliness to Easy that is just plain fascinating and likable. Easy is always thinking and doing the unexpected. For example, Bonnie thinks that Easy should just tell Jesus to stay in school and get his degree. But Easy doesn't see it that way. He doesn't think that he'd get results by taking this approach, outside of Juice just dropping out of school. But it's more than that, Easy's not sure if Juice isn't right; at minimum Easy wants to think his answer through to make sure telling him to stay in school really is the right advice. So while he's going out around the clock on his mission to bring Brawly home, he's also using the time to sort out his answer, seeing examples in his daily interactions. Basically, Easy never just assumes that what the establishment says is right, is right for everyone.

But neither does he assume a radical group like the First Men is the answer. When asked, Easy explains his view on race as this "I'm just an everyday black man, doin' the best I can in a world where the white man's de facto king. I got me a house with a tree growin' in the front yard. It's my tree, I could cut it down if I wanted to but even still you can't call it a black man's tree. It's just pine." And then he tells us that he'd given the leader of the Urban Revolutionary Party everything he needed to figure him out; and uses that as a kind of test to see how smart the man is. Later as he learns more about Brawly's motivation, he's notes the generational difference between himself and the young man. "He was intelligent and ambitious where I had been crafty and happy if I made through the day. I never questioned the white man's authority --- that was a given." Easy Rawlins is full of this kind of insight and paradoxical wisdom. When reading I use Post-It® flags to mark my favorite passages; by the time I was finished with this novel I had so many tabs it was useless trying to locate material for this review. I just cherish Easy Rawlins' thoughts as much as his action.

If you take a look around this Web site, you'll soon realize that I'm a strong fan of all of Walter Mosley's fiction and nonfiction. So it's not too surprising that I highly recommend this novel. Although I think this one works as a stand-alone, I think it would be more enjoyable if you read A Little Yellow Dog first, so that you can get a feel for what really happened in the back alley the day Mouse was shot. (I was glad to have my copy on hand to reread passages.) Also, if you are wondering why I skipped over the novel Gone Fishin' it is because this one takes place in 1939 when Easy is only 19, thus chronologically it is the real introduction to Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins and Raymond "Mouse" Alexander, so maybe this one is also a good one to read before Bad Boy Brawly Brown as to understand more on how close Easy and Mouse were and why having Mouse die they way he did does not sit well with Easy. Then after you read these three novels, you'll probably want to go back to the beginning and learn more about when Easy acquired his two children.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 45 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Bad Boy Brawly Brown at MostlyFiction.com


"A Little Yellow Dog"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 6, 1999)

It's 1963, and Easy Rawlins has been the supervising custodian at the Sojourner Truth Junior High School in the Watts section of Los Angeles. He's been doing this job for two years and is happy to be out of the street life. As the book opens he knows something is strange. He's always the first one in the parking lot and on this day he notices that Mrs. Walker is already in her Bungalow C classroom. She happens to be the only "Negro teacher in a primarily Negro school," so by default Rawlins has somewhat of a protective friendship with her. He goes into her classroom to see if everything is OK and finds that she's there with her dog, which is against school rules. As she is explaining that her husband has threatened to kill the dog, well, they get a little too close to each other (she is a fine looking woman) and next thing you know his pants are down and he doesn't care if he has to give up two years pension. So after this unexpected passion, how could he not offer take care of her dog for the day?

But that isn't the only event to throw off his routine of two years. Principal Newgate calls him to his office to tell him that someone has anonymously accused Rawlins of stealing school supplies. Newgate also makes an underhanded move to demand that Rawlins release his only white employee to him - which of course Rawlins does not. Obviously this new principal does not like a well dressed black supervisor. Then as the day progresses, a man is found dead in the school gardens. Someone who looks a lot like Mrs. Walker's husband. Suspiciously, Mrs. Walker had rushed out of school earlier that day, claiming that her beloved dog was hit. When the day is over Easy Rawlins is still stuck with the little yellow dog, but now he's unsure about a lot of things. He decides to sneak it out not wanting to implicate Mrs. Walker before he knows the truth.

The motivation to solve the crime and the whereabouts of Mrs. Walker, comes from his own self preservation as a black man. He knows that once the police make up their mind, they can plant any evidence to make it come out right for them. With his past, he's an easy target. But he has more to lose than his job (of how he got this job is interesting story in and of itself), he has too unofficially adopted children. That evening he visits Mrs. Walker's home and finds another dead body. Two years of taking care of his kids, cashing paychecks, staying sober and steering clear of the wrong women looks to be in jeopardy.

What I like best about his novel is the feeling that Mosley gives about being an Afro-American, especially in this time period, and his social observations. Just the way he describes a black character, you know you are not seeing through white eyes. Throughout, we experience his community, his friends (Etta and Mouse) and hear the compassion, philosophies, and moral dilemmas of a man trying to do right. (With a color in each title, I can't help but think of Travis McGee, another fictional character with a similar narrative.) To boot, it's a real page turner with a tight and complicated mystery that keeps unfolding to the end. This book is a completely satisfactory read and I look forward to catching up on the rest in this series.

Amazon readers rating: from 35 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Easy Rawlins Mysteries:

Socrates Fortlow novels:

Paris Minton and Fearless Jones Mysteries:

Leonid McGill, P.I. series:

Crosstown to Oblivion:

Nonfiction:

Movies from books:

 

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Book Marks:

More reviews of Walter Mosley's books:

 

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About the Author:

Walter MosleyWalter Mosley, born in 1952, grew up in Los Angeles and has been at various times in his life a potter, a computer programmer, and a poet.

His books have been translated into twenty languages. Devil in a Blue Dress received the 1990 Shamus Award for "Best First P.I. Novel" from the Private Eye Writers of America and was also made into a movie starring Denzel Washington. His collection of short stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, a 60 year-old philosophical ex-convict, in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was also latered released as a movie.

He has been the president of the Mystery Writers of America and a member of the executive board of the PEN American Center and Founder of its Open Book Committee and on the board of directors of the National Book Awards. In 2002, Walter Mosley won a Grammy for "Best Liner Notes" for a Richard Pryor box set.

Mosley lives in New York City.

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