Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 239
The protagonist of Black Betty, as of several other Walter Mosley novels, is Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins. This private detective—one of the few African American hard-boiled detectives in the genre—solves crimes in Los Angeles. Easy solves crimes that other investigators don’t want to handle, or often at the request of damsels in distress. In this case, a white investigator, Saul Lynx, subcontracts to Easy, thinking he can negotiate the black community of South Central LA more effectively. Easy also has made money investing in real estate, which he manages; he has two children.
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Mouse, a large, imposing African American man, is Easy’s old friend and frequent partner. Mouse, who has just served five years in prison, is determined to find out who put him there and then to avenge himself.
Elizabeth Eady, the Betty of the title, was originally from Houston but for decades had been employed in Beverly Hills by the wealthy white Cain family. Raped by Albert, the patriarch, Betty is the mother of two of his adult children, Terry and Gwendolyn. After Albert dies, complications regarding his will create danger for Betty, the children, and her brother, including several killings that Easy tries to solve.
Sarah Cain is Albert’s legitimate daughter; her ex-husband Ron Hawkes is the father of her son, Arthur, who has motive to kill his half-siblings and their mother. Corrupt police investigator Styles rounds out the crew of antagonists.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 289
The players in this murder story are three-dimensional and painfully realistic. Easy Rawlins is a complex man, equally capable of love and rage, bothered by violent dreams (although he never kills anyone himself in this novel). He tries to live by his own code of ethics, to share with those less fortunate than himself, and to find justice in an unjust world. The novel is set during the early 1960’s, at a time when racial tensions in Los Angeles are high. African Americans hardly trust whites, and with good reason, for most of the acts of violence in the novel are committed by the dominant group against the subordinate one. The other African American characters are also complex. Easy’s friend Mouse is a violent killer bent on revenge, and only Easy saves him from himself. Odell Jones helps Easy grudgingly, because there is past bad blood between them; his third old friend Martin Smith is slowly dying of cancer.
Betty is a victim as well, raped by Cain, her weak half-brother Marlon sucked into the Cains’ criminal world. The white characters are consistently evil and arrogant, and Easy’s lack of trust in them is well founded. The prime exception is Saul Lynx, a white man who is saved in the end by Easy and who becomes his friend. The Cains are more typical of Mosley’s representation of white characters: A white family haunted by their violent past, they would probably get away with murder were it not for Easy. Mosley’s characters may be black or white, but their characterizations are usually shades of gray. Easy Rawlins’s first-person narration conveys their complexity at the same time that it reveals his own pained and troubled mind.