The time is 1948. The town is Los Angeles. The hero is Easy Rawlins, an out of work black war veteran. The mortgage payment's coming due, so Easy accepts the assignment of finding Daphne Monet, a blonde torch singer with a penchant for jazz and criminal black consorts. In his search through a sleazy, fearful city, he is lucky to be under the protection of the murderous Mouse who wants a piece of the action. Easy Rawlins is a fascinating creation driving a plot that carries a fine and bitter sting. With this first novel, Walter Mosley made a distinctly confident start to his career as a great and inspirational writer.
This was October’s monthly Pulp Fiction Group read over on Goodreads site. I can’t honestly recall whether I voted for this or one of the three alternatives, but having read this debut novel many years ago, I wasn’t too unhappy to re-visit it.
Mosley’s Devil In A Blue Dress was originally published back around 1990 and introduces us to one of the author’s enduring characters – Easy Rawlins. To date, there have been twelve books in the series. Ten of the titles have colours in them; red, white, black, yellow etc – and two titles, curiously in my opinion don’t - Gone Fishin’ and Six Easy Pieces. (Anyone know why? Just curious.)
Easy Rawlins is a black man getting by in LA after the war. A veteran of the conflict, Rawlins has seen and participated in his share of killing. Until recently he’s been working as a mechanic at an aviation plant. Rawlins has pride, which for a black man can be an expensive commodity in post-war LA. You can hate him for his colour, but you better respect him. After losing his job at the plant, an acquaintance points mighty whitey De Witt Allbright in Easy’s direction. Allbright want to engage Easy to find Daphne Monet. Easy with his home to protect and his mortgage coming due accepts the job.
Rawlins starts asking questions around Monet’s haunts. After a late night drinking session and then more intimate discussion with Coretta James, after her man passes out drunk, Easy gets pumped himself for detail.
A day or so later he’s arrested and beaten by the police for reasons then unknown. When our man finds out that Coretta is dead and certain other parties seem interested in locating Daphne, LA becomes a dangerous place for a black man who can either be a patsy for the police and framed for the death of Coretta or a casualty at the hands of Allbright if Easy doesn’t come through for him.
Verdict.......short at 220 pages long, detailed with a great depiction of LA shortly after the war. Mosley shows us life within the black community and the problems encountered when crossing over the racial boundary geographically and also when interacting with white authority. There’s a reasonable amount of carnage and death along the way, as Easy with the assistance of an old friend, Mouse eventually survives the fall out to breathe another day. (Having previously mentioned that this is the start of a long-ish series, I hardly think I’ve gone and spoilt it for you!)
I’m looking forward to reading more from the series in the next year or two – only 11 to catch up on!
4 from 5
I acquired my copy recently second hand and cheap after being unable to locate my original.
Col, this certainly sounds like a good debut novel. The author's name is familiar though I've never read any of his books. Another writer to go hunting for. I like the name Easy Rawlins too; he could've been playing poker in a saloon in the wild west.ReplyDelete
Prashant thanks. I think he would probably have been thrown out of the saloon about 2 seconds after showing his face......or worse!Delete
I'm sure I saw one of Mosley's books in the stack on the far left, third one up from the ground, on your bookseller's photo on your blog. You need to re-visit him!
Col, I wouldn't be surprised if Mosley's books are in that lot. I'm amazed at their knowledge of authors and books, in so far as only names are concerned, for they'll go right in and pull out the book you want, provided they have it. Most of the booksellers converse only in Hindi. I think I saw Walter Mosley's books in a proper bookstore.Delete
I'm surprised you could tear yourself away from it, I would have been looking for hours. I would have wanted to find it myself though rather than ask - it's half the fun on a book hunt!Delete
I saw the movie version of this book with Denzel Washington and Carl Franklin as director (he also directed the excellent noir film One False Move). I haven't read the book yet but I did grab a copy of it when TracyK reviewed it sometime back and it was on sale. Glad to know you enjoyed it as well. I look forward to reading it.ReplyDelete
Aaaaargh....I could remember you or Tracy (or both) chatting about the book and I thought you both reviewed it. I had a look on your sites so I could link to it, but couldn't find it. Some detective I am! Never mind.Delete
I will look the films up - I do like a bit of Denzel!
Col - Oh, I think this is such an excellent series. Thanks for reminding me of it. This is a good 'un and in my opinion, as the characters evolve, the series continues to get better.ReplyDelete
Margot - agreed re excellence! I can hopefully read more next year!Delete
I've read this, and enjoyed it, but didn't feel a great need to continue with the series. One of these days I might - I thought it was a great title!ReplyDelete
Moira, another book in common, though we kind of diverge over continuing or not. I hope you do.Delete
I loved this book. Maybe I can handle racial tensions and issues better when they are set outside of the South. I have books in his other series to try and more books in this series. A goal for 2014, along with Pronzini.ReplyDelete
Tracy, I hope to get back to Pronzini too, but best intentions......Delete