I’ve read most of Walter Mosley’s underrated Easy Rawlins series and, while this is far from the best, this is probably his rawest work. It’s also perhaps an apology for how he has written for female characters in the past.
Taking place in the shadow of the 1965 uprising in Watts led by black citizens after yet another act of police brutality, it lends a setting that is never far from the events of the story. Whereas, Mosley contextualizes in Easy’s dialogue about the circumstances black people faced in LA in the 40s and 50s, here he keeps the events in Watts close to the narrative.
The mystery centers on a woman who was shot during the riots. It appears that a white man shot her. The LAPD is trying to keep the case under wraps as they do not want to reignite the black community so, as white police often do when they need to investigate the world of black Angelenos, they hire Easy Rawlins.
The plot is more coherent than most of Mosley’s Rawlins books, which is a strength. But what I appreciated more than anything about this one was how Mosley wrote black female characters and discussed their plights. Women haven’t always been Mosley’s strong suit as a writer (you can say this about almost any male mystery scribe) but here, his female characters have better designs and perhaps more importantly, the plight of black women in a white patriarchal society is closely examined.
In one of the earlier books, I won’t say which one, Rawlins rapes a woman. It’s during a period of spiral in Easy’s life and I don’t think Mosley wrote the scene to make us feel sympathetic towards him. But it almost made me quit the series entirely. I’ve stuck with it, and I’m glad I have, but it’s put me at a distance with the protagonist. So while that distance is still there, I appreciated Mosley’s examination of black womanhood in a white-dominant world. It’s probably one you could poke dozens of holes in if you’re examining it in a critical sense but I appreciated it all the same.
As I said in the opening paragraph, I find the Easy Rawlins books to be underrated, at least as much as a bestselling series can be underrated. They do not get mentioned with other great LA mystery series such as Michael Connelly’s Bosch series or even the classics like Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe. Yet they provide a good look at the reality of segregated Los Angeles with the familiar trappings of other well-received hardboiled tales. Perhaps it’s because they address racism in a way other books do not. I don’t know. But I wish this series, and Mosley’s work in general, was more appreciated.