Devil in a Blue Dress | Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Devil in a Blue Dress.
This section contains 550 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

SOURCE: "New Black Detective and a Familiar Navajo One," in The New York Times, August 15, 1990, p. C12.

Mitgang is an American editor, author, and critic. In the following excerpt, he asserts that Devil in a Blue Dress "marks the debut of a talented author with something vital to say about the distance between the black and white worlds, and with a dramatic way to say it."

In Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress, a suspenseful novel of human detection more than simply a detective novel, the reader knows he's in the hands of an author with a new, original voice when a character is described as being in "the hurting trade." The character, whose specialty is the knife, frequents a pool room where the patrons are all desperate men: "they lived for hurting."

The year is 1948, the town, Los Angeles, before the Freeway: "There was still a large stretch of farmland between Los Angeles and Santa Monica in those days. The Japanese farmers grew artichokes, lettuce and strawberries along the sides of road. That night the fields were dark under the slight moon and the air was chill but not cold."

The narrator, Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins is a young black man home from the infantry wars in Europe, where he experienced a measure of equality in uniform and learned that all blood bleeds red indiscriminately. He has just been laid off from his job in an airplane factory for letting his independence show too openly toward his white boss. There is next month's mortgage to pay; some sort of hustle is needed to pick up a few hundred dollars fast.

A menacing, heavy-set white man dressed all in white, looking and sounding something like Sidney Greenstreet in The Maitese Falcon, approaches him in a black bar with an assignment: to find a stunning, 22-year-old blond woman, who has been seen in the company of blacks in jazz clubs, for an unnamed client. Easy takes on the job out of desperation, assured that no harm will befall her and that he will stay reasonably within the law. Others are also looking for Daphne Monet, which may or may not be her real name, who is pictured in an identifying black-and-white retouched photograph with blue eyes.

And so we're off and running, from Watts to Beverly Hills, in a black world of slang and code words that haven't been delivered with such authenticity since Chester Himes created his Harlem detective stories. Accompanying Easy is his old sidekick, Mouse, who always packs two or three guns and extricates the narrator several times from what becomes a dangerous assignment in the underworld of Los Angeles.

Daphne Monet turns out to be a knockout, in more ways than one. But Mr. Mosley has a larger story to tell about her life, and her dreamy relationship with Easy, that leads to a surprise twist that rises above conventional hard-boiled detective fiction. By the time all the strands are pulled together, the novel does get a little overplotted. But Devil in a Blue Dress marks the debut of a talented author with something vital to say about the distance between the black and white worlds, and with a dramatic way to say it. Easy and Mouse are a team who deserve to be heard from again.

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This section contains 550 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang