Black Betty Summary
Black Betty is Walter Mosley's fourth crime novel about the African American private detective Ezekiel “Easy” Porterhouse Rawlins.
Now divorced and living in rented accommodation with his adopted son and daughter, Easy accepts a job to find a woman called Elizabeth Eady, but whom he knows better as Black Betty. By coincidence he knew her from his childhood in Houston. She was in his words,
a great shark of a woman. Men died in her wake.
She later moved to LA with her brother to become a servant to the rich and dysfunctional Cain family, but disappeared soon after the death of the Cain family patriarch Albert Cain.
Rawlings eventually tracks her down to her friend's house, but not before he has suffered numerous beatings and uncovered a series of awful crimes. It turns out Albert Cain had raped Elizabeth and she had given birth to two of his children—Terry and Gwendolyn. Cain decided to leave his estate to Elizabeth Eady and her children, but what was meant as an act of contrition turned out to be the motive for the murder of Terry, Gwendolyn, and Elizabeth's brother Marlon.
Rawlings finds out the murders were committed by Arthur's daughter's husband Ron Hawkes, who had hoped to get access to the Cain's fortune.
Walter Mosley’s detective novel Black Betty is set in 1961, and it begins when Easy Rawlins is offered four hundred dollars by white private investigator Saul Lynx to locate “Black Betty.” As Lynx says, Easy knows how to find people in Los Angeles’s African American community. Easy takes the job, because he is chronically short of money, but he is soon sucked into a whirlpool of violence. Easy knew Betty when he lived in Houston as a child, but she has been working in Los Angeles as a domestic servant for a rich white family named Cain for twenty-five years. Betty’s disappearance corresponded with the death of Albert Cain, the family’s patriarch, and Easy searches from Watts to the desert, from Baldwin Hills to Beverly Hills, following various clues in his attempts to locate her. Along the way, Easy comes upon several corpses, and he is stabbed and knocked out by assailants. He is arrested and beaten by the police and, after his release, finds himself the target of murderers: He must send his two children to a friend’s house for protection and go into hiding himself.
Further complicating the plot, Easy’s friend Mouse has just been released from prison, and he is attempting to discover who informed on him to the police. Easy attempts to keep Mouse from killing the informant in revenge for his five-year prison term. A third plotline involves a real estate broker named Clovis who has tricked Easy and his partner Mofass out of the money they hoped to make from a land-development deal.
In the end, Easy locates Betty, only to have to tell her that her brother Marlon is dead and that her son and daughter—the products of her rape by Albert Cain—have also been murdered. Cain had been killed by his daughter Sarah’s ex-husband, Ronald Hawkes. Prior to his death, in a fit of remorse over his rape of Betty, Cain had willed everything to her. Members of the Cain family began murdering people in the wake of Albert’s death in order to secure the family fortune for themselves. The novel is wrapped up with a rough kind of criminal justice, and even the corrupt white police captain who targeted Easy is sent to prison.
Berger, Roger A. “’The Black Dick’: Race, Sexuality, and Discourse in the L.A. Novels of Walter Mosley.” African American Review 31, no. 2 (Summer, 1997):...
(The entire section is 887 words.)