REVIEWING “DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS”: THE BLACK DETECTIVE STRAIGHT OUT OF THE MEAN STREETS OF L.A.

Book Reviewed: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Genre: series mystery

Publisher: Norton in 1990, then Washington Square Press in 2002 ($16.99 for the paperback)

So here’s another book I read in the spirit of Black History Month, and this one took a little bit longer for me to read even though I enjoyed it immensely. I am of course talking about Devil in a Black Dress, the first published novel by Walter Mosley and also the first to feature the hardboiled detective Easy Rawlins.

There is not a lot I can tell you about this book, as it is a mystery and I don’t want to in any way give away the ending for you should you decide to read the thing (and read you should, because this book is a real gem). The story features Ezekiel “Easy Rawlins” a Black man who has just been laid off at the airplane manufacturing plant in Los Angeles. A proud WW2 veteran, Easy nonetheless struggles to combat against the everyday prejudices that face him in 1940’s America, and it is that struggle that weighs over him at his good friend Joppy’s bar, where he drinks away his aggravation until a white man comes in looking for someone to go looking around for a white woman frequenting Black-owned establishments. The picture of the woman shows her to be stunningly beautiful—a real femme fatale if there ever was one. The money’s enough to cover the mortgage, and Easy has nothing else going on, so he takes the job in haste and learns to suffer the consequences in leisure.

There’s a lot to like in this book, from the twists and turns to the weird way that Easy philosophizes over his predicament with a strong narrative voice. That this was Walter Mosley’s first novel is amazing to me, as the strength of this book is the kind that can only come from a more seasoned novelist. Of course now Mosley has been writing and publishing for more than thirty years, so he’s adequately seasoned by now and doesn’t need my approval to defend his honor. But the book is like an object of strong electrical power, towing me off with its current and causing me to stop and gasp at the internal truths it offers.

One of the main drawing points to the book is that of its protagonist. Easy Rawlins isn’t your conventional series detective. His deductive skills rely heavily on a sort of luck of the draw; he’s playing the game of catch-as-catch can, and he is as far removed from the likes of Mike Hammer and Philip Marlowe as he is influenced by him. But he’s smart, and he’s a survivor—Rawlins isn’t the kind of guy to depend totally on his luck because he knows that eventually luck will run out. What we have here is a one of a kind Black hero, one that stands proud in the longstanding tradition of crime noir.

I very much liked this book, and I’ve already ordered several more in this series. The latest installment, entitled Blood Grove, has just been released by Molholland Books. I will be sure to pick this one up as well.

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