Walter Mosley uses the detective-fiction genre to write novels about race and poverty in the mid-twentieth century. His style is typical of that of the hard-boiled genre with clean sentences, fast-paced action, and psychological and social realism. The main character in his first series is a man succeeding on the edges of the system. Coming to Los Angeles after being in the service during World War II, Easy Rawlins found work at a factory and bought a small house. He seemed to be living the American Dream, but the racial discrimination of his plant foreman cost him his job and led directly to his new career as a private investigator. Detecting allows him to follow his own standards and goals and to aid others whom the system has failed.
Easy always struggles with using violence during his investigations, but his friend and sometimes partner Mouse reacts instinctively and almost always with the use of force, often deadly. For this reason, Easy is afraid of Mouse but finds himself invariably needing Mouse, almost as if Mouse completes him, suggesting that in the racially/socially unequal world in which Easy and Mouse live, violence is sometimes the only answer. Through this struggle, Mosley demonstrates inadequacies of the social and judicial system. His use of characters from the black, Hispanic, Asian, and working-class white communities allows him to show that poverty and abuse affect all races.
In his second detective series, Mosley introduces two characters who also work in Los Angeles and in many ways are similar to Easy and Mouse. The narrator of this series is Paris Minton, a black man from Louisiana who runs a secondhand bookstore. He lives in the back of the store and seems to have few needs beyond those that owning the store can meet. However, when trouble finds Paris, he seeks his friend Fearless Jones, a man feared and respected by the black community in Los Angeles. Unlike Paris, Fearless is not a man who thinks too much about a situation. He seems instinctively to know what needs to be done and then does whatever that is, even if it involves violence. Fearless does, however, rely on Paris to make the more complicated decisions. Paris does not seem to fear Fearless the way Easy does Mouse. In fact, Paris and Fearless seem to be more successfully synergistic than Easy and Mouse.
Mosley’s series also include interesting female characters. Typically, in hard-boiled detective fiction, women are often the source of evil and violence. Such women are present in Mosley’s work—for example, Elana Love in Fearless Jones (2001)—but more often the women are seen as victims of the system, such as Daphne Monet in Devil in a Blue Dress. However, other women, such as Easy’s wife, Regina, who first appears in White Butterfly (1992), and Loretta, a Japanese woman who works for the bail bondsman Milo Sweet in the Fearless Jones series, are strong and independent. This use of three-dimensional female characters is unusual in much hard-boiled detective fiction written by men.
Mosley’s rich descriptions of Los Angeles in the early 1950’s turn the city into a character in the novels. Raymond Chandler similarly wrote about Los Angeles, focusing on Hollywood in the 1930’s and 1940’s, but Mosley seems to be the first to use the Watts area so integrally. Many of the people living in the area have moved there from the South: Easy Rawlins is from Houston’s Ninth Ward, and Paris and Fearless are from Louisiana. In both series, the main characters and the other inhabitants of Watts have connections to each other through their past in the South or their family members who still live there. Watts is rich with transplanted southern culture.
Devil in a Blue Dress
Mosley’s first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, introduces Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, who in the opening of the novel is not a detective but a factory worker recently fired for standing up to his white foreman. After losing his job, Easy has no way to make his mortgage payments, which leads him in desperation to accept a job sent his way by Joppy, the bartender at a local establishment. Joppy introduces Easy to a threatening white man named Albright, who is looking for a white woman named Daphne Monet. Albright says Daphne’s former lover wants to get in touch with her, and he...
(The entire section is 1776 words.)