Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Red Death: Walter Mosley

Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is the protagonist in a crime fiction series by Walter Mosley. The fourteenth book in the series will come out later this year.  The first book, Devil in a Blue Dress, was set in 1948 in Los Angeles, California. That book was followed by A Red Death, and picks up five years later.

After the occurrences in the first book, Easy Rawlins has come into a large amount of money, and he has used that money to buy some apartment houses. However, he keeps his ownership secret:
Everybody thought I was the handyman and that Mofass collected the rent for some white lady downtown. I owned three buildings, the Magnolia Street place being the largest, and a small house on 116th Street. All I had to do was the maintenance work, which I liked because whenever you hired somebody to work for you they always took too long and charged too much. And when I wasn't doing that I could do my little private job. 
On top of real estate I was in the business of favors. I'd do something for somebody, like find a missing husband or figure out who's been breaking into so-and-so's store, and then maybe they could do me a good turn one day. It was a real country way of doing business. At that time almost everybody in my neighborhood had come from the country around southern Texas and Louisiana. 
People would come to me if they had serious trouble but couldn't go to the police. Maybe somebody stole their money or their illegally registered car. Maybe they worried about their daughter's company or a wayward son. I settled disputes that would have otherwise come to bloodshed. I had a reputation for fairness and the strength of my convictions among the poor. Ninety-nine out of a hundred black folk were poor back then, so my reputation went quite a way.
For me this book was not an enjoyable read, but I learned a lots, both about Walter Mosley and about the black experience in this country in the 1950s. In addition, it portrayed the time of the Red Scare in the years following World War II. I was a child in those times and just vaguely remember the fear that was instilled in children at that time, but haven't read much in fiction about the persecutions that resulted.

I did not know that Mosley is both Jewish and black. His father was black and originally from Louisiana. His mother was Jewish and her family immigrated from Russia. I am sure that his background informed the story of A Red Death. One of the main characters is Chaim Wenzler, a Jewish man who is active in the black church in Easy’s neighborhood. An IRS agent threatens Mosley with jail if he doesn't pay the taxes on the money he used to buy the real estate. An FBI agent promises to take care of that charge if Easy will spy on Chaim Wenzler. Craxton (FBI Agent) is sure that Wenzler is a Communist,  and wants Easy to find proof. Easy doesn't want to spy on anyone and especially not in a church that many of his friends attend, but he does not see that he has much choice.

When I say the read was not enjoyable, I am certainly not criticizing the writing. However the story is very dark, gritty, and violent. Although Easy solves most of his problems in this book, there is no happy ending. It just wasn't a pleasant read, but I am very glad I read it.

In a review for Rose Gold, the 13th book in the series, Ivy Pochoda talks about the secondary characters in the Easy Rawlins series:
Every Rawlins novel can be read on its own, but it's a far richer experience to read them in sequence and follow Easy's complex evolution as well as that of his ad hoc family and tight circle of friends. These are the folks who provide a fascinating set of roadside attractions as Easy's case rolls on. Mosley doesn't let anyone slide; everyone, no matter how minor, gets full billing.
Pochoda notes in the review that Easy's "slick criminal pal Mouse" is the best character in the novels.


The question now is what will I read next by Walter Mosley. I have the next book in the Easy Rawlins series, White Butterfly. I have Fearless Jones (the Fearless Jones series), The Long Fall (the Leonid McGill series), and Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (the Socrates Fortnow series). I am curious about the other series.


Publisher:   W. W. Norton & Company, 1991
Length:       284 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Easy Rawlins #2
Setting:      Los Angeles, CA
Genre:        Historical fiction / Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Really enjoyed the review Tracy, especially as it has been so long since I read any of these - I read BLUE and WHITE as I recall, but not this one (which is weird of me, but there you go .... Is Mosley still writing books about Rawlins?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the kind mention, Tracy. I appreciate it. You make some well-taken points in your post. This isn't a light, easy story. It is dark and gritty, and some very difficult and ugly things are addressed. Mosley doesn't hold back. Still, it is a powerful story. I'm glad that you feel glad you read it.

Clothes In Books said...

I know just what you mean - I admire Mosley but don't love the books and don't particularly enjoy them. I didn't know he was still writing. But - that cover! Beyond fabulous.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Sergio. Mosley has a new Rawlins book coming out this year, Charcoal Joe, with a great cover. The 14th book so I have a ways to go.

TracyK said...

I have to admit, Margot, when I read in the review of Rose Gold that Mouse continues to be in the later books, I was a bit disappointed. He is one scary guy in the first book; not quite as bad in this one. But I will hang in there and read more of them.

TracyK said...

Moira, he is very much still writing, and I admire also that he writes in areas besides mysteries: nonfiction, science fiction, young adult novels. Not that I have read those examples. Yes, that cover is very nice.

Mathew Paust said...

Excellent review, Tracy. It's been years since I've read Mosley, and you've stoked my appetite to revisit the series. My favorite character was Mouse.

TracyK said...

Thank you, Mathew. I hope I grow to like Mouse more.

col2910 said...

I probably read this one 20-odd years ago, but kept it. One of those series and authors I enjoy but never seem to find the time to read.

TracyK said...

I know what you mean, Col. I have several authors like that, Alan Furst for one. Peter Lovesey, Lawrence Block, Ken Bruen.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, on the face of the passage you quoted, this novel seems okay to me though I know that is not how one should judge the rest of the book. Like your experience with this book, I'm always glad to have read a book.

TracyK said...

I am sure you would enjoy the book, Prashant. Mosley writes very well. And I will be reading more of his books.

Anonymous said...

I hide my head in shame that I haven't read any of Mosley's books. I have heard many recommendations, including of this book.
I remember the 1950s and the atmosphere. And I recall that as we in second grade had to hide under our desks or out in the hallway during an air raid drill, I was the kid saying, "This won't help us. If the bomb drops, it doesn't matter where we were. Radiation will get us." Yes, at seven, I knew about this already. What a time.

I hear that the book about Ptolemy Gray is very good.

Anonymous said...

And I must say I love that cover, too. Why can't we have covers like this now?

TracyK said...

I do think that the Easy Rawlins books by Mosley covers subjects that you would be very interested in, Kathy. I don't remember air drills so well, but I do remember the atmosphere of fear as a child. And talk of bomb shelters.

I don't have the The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey but I will have to look out for it at book sales, used book stores. It does sound good.

TracyK said...

I agree, a gorgeous cover.