Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley is an Easy Rawlins mystery. Easy (Ezekiel) Rawlins first appears in Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress and his characterization, for which Mosley is much praised, continues throughout the series. By the time of Little Scarlet, Easy is 45 years old. Readers know Easy as an African American who has struggled to prosper in an environment dominated by white people and who previously found himself conflicted after opportunities led him into complicated relationships, potentially violent scenarios, and compromising situations.
Little Scarlet opens during the 1965 Watts' riots in Los Angeles, "after a five-day eruption of rage that had been simmering for centuries" (ch 1). Easy now has a home, a steady relationship and children to care for and lives in "peaceful West L.A," but cannot reveal himself to many of his friends who will misinterpret his success. He has built a reputation as an investigator and wants to be seen as a professional. He is in his office on the fourth floor of a building central to the riots, aware of the burnt-out buildings and the simmering anger which still lingers. This is a complex situation; everyone is angry and it is this misplaced anger which prevents people, black and white, from moving on.
Nola Payne, a young black woman, has been murdered and was last seen helping a white man escape a mob of angry black youths during the riots. The police want Easy to help them find her killer because they know that her death could escalate the situation and reignite the riots. Bobby Grant, the man Easy is looking for, lives close to Nola's apartment and Easy needs to find him because he saw the man who was beaten up. Easy is hoping Bobby knows who the man is. Bobby is young and scared but does give Easy some information to help him in his investigation.