Walter Mosley | Critical Review by Malcolm Jones Jr.

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Walter Mosley.
This section contains 632 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Malcolm Jones Jr.

Critical Review by Malcolm Jones Jr.

SOURCE: "Kick Back with Crime," in Newsweek, Vol. CXXIV, No. 1, July 4, 1994, pp. 66-7.

In the following review of Black Betty, Jones discusses the ironies that drive Mosley's writing.

Driving around Los Angeles a few weeks back, Walter Mosley had every reason to be in a fine mood. His latest novel, Black Betty, was the one novel creating a big buzz in town at the American booksellers' convention. Elsewhere in the city, Jonathan Demme was producing a film of his first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington as his detective hero, Easy Rawlins. But none of that seemed to matter much to Mosley. He was much more interested in talking about the street life only a windshield away. Mosley is obsessed with the paradoxes and mysteries of Los Angeles. "It's a land that on the surface is of dreams," he said. "And then there's a kind of slimy underlayer. The contrast of beauty and possibility and that ugliness and corruption is very powerful."

Currently the hottest mystery writer around, Mosley, 42, has been golden since he published Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. Since then he has written three more detective novels set in L.A. that critics have ranked with the work of Raymond Chandler and Chester Himes. His books have been nominated for Edgar awards, and President Clinton, a mystery addict, calls Mosley one of his favorite writers.

The irony is that while Mosley has grown more popular with every book, his stories have grown increasingly angry and dark. But then, contradiction is Mosley's manna. Though they are superficially detective novels, the escapades of Easy Rawlins comprise the story of millions of black Americans who migrated to California in the late '40s. Each book moves closer to the present-the elegantly crafted Black Betty, his best book yet, is set in 1961-and with each installment, a saga that began in optimism moves closer to despair. But what most intrigues Mosley is the resilience with which people confront hardship. Easy Rawlins never whines.

Now a New Yorker, Mosley abandoned L.A. in 1972. He went east to college, then bummed around in a variety of jobs he didn't like, including several years as a computer programmer. In the late '80s he tried his hand at fiction. After a few short stories and a failed first novel, he wrote Devil and discovered that what made Los Angeles unlivable for him-its impenetrable vastness and the slow evaporation of hope-made it a ripe subject for his fiction.

In a city that's lousy with fictional detectives-almost all white-Easy Rawlins stands out. Where most detectives are loners whose best friends are named Jim Beam, Easy's a single parent with a big gang of friends. Indeed, he is beset at every turn by the ties that bind. In Black Betty, Easy is hired to find a woman he worshiped from afar as a child. But he spends most of the book bailing friends out of trouble. A lot of these episodes are comic, but the laughs come hard. Speculating on the life of his pal Jackson, a brilliant man addicted to crime, Easy says, "Jackson was smart enough to be the first man murdered on the moon."

Strangely, the things in Easy's life that threaten to drag him under-his family and friends-are also what keep him afloat. This is the paradox that obsesses Mosley-and makes his books so memorable. "You see that guy back there watering his lawn?" he asks while driving. "People talk about the despair of a community like this, but how do you make that shake hands with the idea of somebody watering their lawn? And then you know that you don't understand and you have to go back and refigure it." Braced by that riddle, the storyteller allows himself a small smile.

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This section contains 632 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Malcolm Jones Jr.
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