(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 674 words.)