Walter Mosley | Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Walter Mosley.
This section contains 696 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

SOURCE: "Murder and Mystery from Watts to Bologna," in The New York Times, August 7, 1991, p. C16.

In the following excerpt, Mitgang praises the second Easy Rawlins novel, A Red Death, noting that Mosley "has depicted a special locale and a corner-cutting way of life that most readers will find far more riveting than the crime pages of their newspapers."

Good writers, including mystery writers, somehow know how to make their fictional characters foretell events before they actually happen in real life. They strike the prescience key on their typewriters or computers and out comes a story that later bounces off the front pages and emits radiation from the nightly horror news on television. Only the writers, of course, know where that magical key is located.

Fortunately for the reader of genre fiction, Walter Mosley in A Red Death again shows that he knows where it is. Last year, he made a strong debut with Devil in a Blue Dress, introducing an affable character named Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins, who was one-third streetwise survivor, one-third unwitting private investigator and one-third Robin Hood operating in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Now, in his second appearance in what promises to be a series, Easy Rawlins returns, a onetime lawbreaker who has left what he calls the hurting business to don a white hat against the forces of evil.

Easy says people come to him when they can't go to the police. Perhaps someone stole their money or their illegally registered car. Or they're worried about the wrong company their son or daughter is keeping. Easy settles disputes that would otherwise lead to bloodshed. He has a reputation for fairness and the strength of his convictions among the poor blacks of the city: like him, they have migrated from the Southwest seeking dignity and defense jobs in California.

Easy has a thick file at the Los Angeles Police Department, which has been in the news lately because some of its members had their pictures snapped while interpreting the law's due process clause their own way, and the I.R.S. has taken a sudden interest in Easy's financial situation. The time frame in A Red Death is the blacklist era of the 1950's. The F.B.I. is embarked on a Red witch hunt to save the United States from enemies foreign and domestic, real and imagined. A special agent is trying to enlist Easy to spy….

"I'd been looking for a Negro to work for us," the F.B.I. man tells Easy. "Somebody who might have a little trouble but nothing so bad that we couldn't smooth it over if somebody showed a little initiative and some patriotism."

And so Easy is faced with a bigger dilemma than is usually found in detective fiction: to save his own neck at the cost of abandoning his loose moral code. Easy is in this position because he hasn't been paying his back taxes on a couple of apartment buildings he owns. Being a hustler at heart (or, to put it more kindly, resourceful), he masquerades as the janitor, using a cigar-smoking fat man to do the dirty work of collecting the rents. When the I.R.S. catches up with him, he agrees to work undercover for the F.B.I. in a trade-off to solve his tax problems. His main target is a union organizer who also does charity work in black churches.

The plot gets a little tangled and the resolution is somewhat fabricated as the bullets fly, the bodies begin to fall, and a love story is folded in between Easy and the ex-wife of Mouse, Easy's homicidal sidekick who also appeared in the author's first novel. But the reader goes the distance because Mr. Mosley knows his characters so intimately: the period songs they listen to in the saloon ("Two Sleepy People"), the influence of their churches, the clashing views they hold about their African roots. At times, several of the urban people in Mr. Mosley's Watts are not far removed from those living in Catfish Row in Porgy and Bess.

Mr. Mosley has depicted a special locale and a comer-cutting way of life that most readers will find far more riveting than the crime pages of their newspapers.

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This section contains 696 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang
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