Walter Mosley | Critical Review by Maureen Corrigan

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Walter Mosley.
This section contains 842 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Maureen Corrigan

Critical Review by Maureen Corrigan

SOURCE: "Easy Rawlins Rides Again," in Book World—The Washington Post, August 16, 1992, p. 6.

Corrigan is a commentator and teacher of detective fiction writing. In the following excerpt, she discusses the perpetual negativity in the lives of fictional detectives and finds White Butterfly charged with "excitement, social commentary, and clever, syncopated dialogue" but nevertheless "sad as hell."

There's a really depressing scene near the end of the third Easy Rawlins mystery, White Butterfly. Easy is sitting in his kitchen, sipping what must be his 20th vodka and grapefruit juice of the day. His wife, Regina, has just left him, taking their baby daughter. Before he surrenders to alcoholic oblivion, Easy rouses himself and describes the depth of his pain: "There was no song on the radio too stupid for my heart."

That image of Easy drowning his sorrows in vodka is so powerful, not only because we fans of the series have come to root for Easy, but because it's emblematic—it evokes similar moments in just about every other mystery story where the detective wrestles with his or her painful memories, and loses. Think of Auguste Dupin and his solitary night walks through Paris, or Sherlock Holmes and his cocaine binges. What morbid recollections drive those men to such strange behavior? To try to forget the women they've loved and lost, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Adam Dalgliesh distract themselves with other women, scotch and poetry. To try to forget the men they were once married to, Kinsey Milhone and V.I. Warshawski run laps and work too hard.

Sometimes the memories are happy ones that make the present seem threadbare by comparison. Even so, Miss Marple can't stop yammering on about the good old days in St. Mary Mead, Donald Strachey can't stop yearning for the golden age of gay life before AIDS, and stoic Joe Leaphorn can't help indulging in sentimental fantasies about what a nice place America must have been before the palefaces arrived.

Being obsessed with the past is an occupational hazard for detectives—after all, it's integral to the kind of work they do. Your average detective usually has to cobble together a plausible story to explain a nasty event that's already happened. Mysteries force detectives (and readers) to ask two key questions over and over: What went wrong? And, why? Naturally, detectives can't help applying these retrospective critical questions to the societies they live in as well as to their personal lives. What went wrong? And, why? These are the questions tormenting Easy as he slides under his kitchen table and into a vodka coma.

Easy also has other troubles besides his failed marriage. There's a serial killer on the loose, murdering bar girls and branding them with cigar burns. As long as the victims were black, no one in the press, police department, or mayor's office was much concerned. After all, this is Los Angeles, 1956. But as the story opens, the killer has just broken his pattern. His fourth victim is a white stripper named Robin Garnett, aka the White Butterfly, and her father is a well-connected lawyer. The police ask Easy to find the killer; as a black man, he has special access to the jazz clubs of Watts where all the murdered women worked. Easy refuses. His detecting days are over now that he's a family man. The police apply some pressure: They threaten to set up his old friend, "Mouse" Alexander, for the murders. Easy capitulates. After all, this is L.A. in 1956.

Walter Mosley, rightly, has been praised for his beautifully detailed recreations of the music, social behavior and slang of postwar Los Angeles. But Mosley always cuts his nostalgia with raw shots of realism. Mosley doesn't set his Easy Rawlins series in the past for the same reason that Roger Simon has his detective, Moses Wine, flash back, fondly, to the '60s every time he sees a tie-dyed t-shirt. Mosley knows that postwar L.A. was no nirvana for African-Americans. That's why he places Easy there—to top other hard-boiled writers at their own game. If Philip Marlowe had to walk down the mean streets of L.A. alone, it's also true that he could've ducked into a classy hotel bar for whiskey and conversation whenever he wearied of his tough-guy alienation. Easy would have been asked to leave that bar, pronto. If Marlowe was tough, Easy has to be even tougher because he's really operating outside the protection of the law.

Like its predecessors, White Butterfly provides excitement, social commentary and clever, syncopated dialogue. It's also sad as hell. After Easy finds the killer, he throws away his vodka bottles and moves with his adopted Mexican son, Jesus, and his newly adopted daughter into a new neighborhood. (Like so many modern-day detectives, Easy is assembling an alternative family because the traditional one doesn't seem to work.) He decides not to track down his runaway wife, and resolves to quit wondering what went wrong, and why. The world Easy lives in is so filled with wrongs, that to keep on asking those questions would drive him crazy….

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This section contains 842 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Maureen Corrigan
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