Devil in a Blue Dress | Critical Review by Sally S. Eckhoff

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Devil in a Blue Dress.
This section contains 735 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Sally S. Eckhoff

Critical Review by Sally S. Eckhoff

SOURCE: "Crime Rave," in The Village Voice, Vol. XXXV, No. 38, September 18, 1990, p. 74.

In the following review, Eckhoff notes that Devil in a Blue Dress suffers from some of the common weaknesses of the detective genre, faults she finds "troubling, but forgivably so."

Though there are still reasons to tear into one, your classic '40s crime novel is the downtown store for social retrograde and overwrought tough talk. Raymond Chandler could turn a standard-issue B-girl into "a blonde that could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window," but she was still one-dimensional, a decoy. "High yellows" and Asians who slipped in and out of the shadows more often than not simply gave the big guys something to shoot at.

In Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley takes you places in 1948 L.A. where Raymond Chandler would never get past the bouncer: illegal black clubs in Watts where you get your bourbon by the bottle, chipped ice by the pail, and friends like Dupree and Coretta to help you drink it. Though Prohibition is long gone, some saloon keepers don't have the where-withal to stay in business legally. The customers don't mind the chain across the door as long as the music's good. Easy (short for Ezekiel) Rawlins is an affable loner who likes to hang out at John's place, a "speak" at the corner of Central Avenue and 89th. Having been fired from his job at the defense plant puts a raw edge on his solitude: his little house is on the line, but he can't get himself to kiss his white boss's ass in repentance. To the white gangster who hires him to find the missing (you guessed it) blond, all men who can shoot are created equal, and as long as they're poor they're expendable. His flagging spirit freshly invigorated by an advance payment of a hundred shady bucks, Easy goes bar-hopping in search of the elusive Daphne.

Mosley works a careful harmony within the narrow genre. His rogue's gallery of nightclubbers seems vaguely familiar: tough, burly Junior, who doesn't have an ounce of character; Mouse, who once distracted a guy who was ready to shoot him by pissing on the man's shoes; nerdy Odell, who always goes home at midnight. Easy himself is one of the least roguish characters of the lot. He's a pacifist at heart, but stubborn, proud, and pragmatic. He's constantly reassessing where he stands. Easy's frequent stocktaking inspires some of Mosley's most forceful writing. For instance, our hero palavers secretly with the rich white executive who's behind the scenes of the great Daphne hunt. The lovesick power broker bursts into tears. "It was the worst kind of racism," Easy says of Daphne's pathetic would-be lover. "The fact that he didn't even recognize our difference showed that he didn't care one damn about me."

Easy is equally analytical in bed. True to the old crime-book formula, Easy does find his woman, and they have that rapturously raunchy sex that makes all Daphne's men suckers for her. But Easy's advantage is that he cools off fast, and when he does, he sees her as a chameleon for her men. "If he was a mild white man who was afraid to complain to the waiter she'd pull his head to her bosom and pat him. If he was a poor black man who had soaked up pain and rage for a lifetime she washed his wounds with a rough rag and licked the blood till it staunched." She is a door that opens to him, but his life will never be that simple as long as he hangs on to his independence. Slam.

Devil in a Blue Dress has some of the weaknesses of the category it enriches. A fair amount of the plot is unnecessarily attenuated. The whole wild goose chase for Daphne seems superfluous when she turns up in her own apartment. Did we really need the pederast in the black limo? Couldn't that 30 grand in a suitcase have had a more clearly defined effect on the proceedings? These glitches are troubling, but forgivably so—I'd just like to sit by the window with Easy and pound a bottle of vodka and a gallon of grapefruit soda and watch the sun go down. We leave our hero eating supper at home with Odell and laughing. It's a bright, open-ended conclusion: he'll be back.

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This section contains 735 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Sally S. Eckhoff