Walter Mosley Mosley, Walter (Vol. 97) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Walter Mosley 1952–

American novelist.

The following entry provides criticism of Mosley's work through 1996.

Employing rich characterization and dialogue, vivid imagery and settings, and a realistic portrayal of social and racial themes, Mosley is widely regarded as one of the leading practitioners of the genre of detective fiction. In the character of his reluctant, street-smart private eye, Ezekial "Easy" Rawlins, Mosley created a vehicle for depicting the grim and often violent realities of the African-American underclass in postwar Los Angeles. His works have garnered him both wide popular and critical praise as well as favorable comparisons to such forerunners of the contemporary detective novel as Raymond Chandler and Chester Himes. The often darkly humorous exploration of ethical dilemmas in Mosley's fiction and his colorful exploitation of the musical potential of language and colloquial dialogue have earned him a reputation, according to one reviewer, "as a top-ranking writer in the mystery division."

Biographical Information

The child of a Jewish mother and a black father, Mosley grew up in south-central Los Angeles, immersed in the African-American oral storytelling tradition passed on to him by his father and cousins, who, like Mosley's protagonist Easy Rawlins, came to California from the South after World War II in search of work. "One of the things about the black experience," Mosley has said, "is that we have an incredibly rich oral history and great stories that are begging to be told. I'm writing them down." Yet Mosley turned to writing only after moving to the East Coast, attending college in Vermont, and working as a computer programmer in New York City for several years. While taking creative writing courses in New York in the late eighties, Mosley showed his instructor, novelist Frederic Tuten, the manuscript for Devil in a Blue Dress. Tuten passed it on to his agent, who sold the book almost immediately to publisher W. W. Norton. After the novel met with widespread critical and popular success, Mosley's three succeeding novels broadened his following and brought him nominations for fiction awards from the Mystery Writers of America, the Private Eye Writers of America, and Britain's Crime Writers' Association.

Major Works

In the first Easy Rawlins novel, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), Mosley's cynical but well-intentioned private eye agrees to locate a missing white woman known to frequent jazz clubs in the black neighborhoods of postwar Los Angeles. In his second work, A Red Death (1991), Mosley set the action in 1953, with Rawlins forced by the FBI to spy on a Jewish union official suspected of being a Communist. Set in 1956, Mosley's third novel, White Butterfly (1992), continued to reflect Mosley's intention to trace Rawlins' changing circumstances over time, depicting a newly married and prosperous Rawlins as he agrees to work with the Los Angeles police to hunt down a serial killer. In Black Betty (1994), Easy agrees to search for the title character, a femme fatale figure from his youth whose fate has become a mystery. Also in 1994, Devil in a Blue Dress was made into a feature film, and Mosley announced plans to expand the Easy Rawlins series to nine or ten books, of which six have so far been published. In the same year, Mosley also completed R. L.'s Dream, a novel about a jazz musician who travels back in time to perform with blues legend Robert Johnson. Mosley described this work as both an exploration of "the negative space in the blues" and an attempt to "bring a sense of mystery to the blues." Mosley returned to the Rawlins series in 1996 with A Little Yellow Dog and Gone Fishin', the first novel in the series lacking a color in its title. In A Little Yellow Dog, Rawlins has established a reputable life for himself and his two adopted children when he finds himself drawn back into the L. A. underworld to help a woman escape her abusive husband. In Gone Fishin', Mosley goes back to the beginning of Rawlins' story, allowing readers to meet the 19-year-old Easy and his sidekick, Mouse, a familiar character from the series, and follows the pair on an adventurous road trip that forms the basis of their friendship through the decades to come.

Critical Reception

Mosley's vivid and convincing portrayal of the personalities, locales, and violence of a racially diverse and economically hopeless urban environment in Devil in a Blue Dress brought him wide praise, and the novel was commended for its "startling originality of imagery," "snappy dialogue," "dead-on believable characters," and "lowdown humor." Critical approval of this and Mosley's later novels, however, also focused on Mosley's ability to create a complex and sympathetic hero in the form of Easy Rawlins, who strives to overcome his own flaws and make the right choices in a dangerous and morally ambiguous world. Mosley has at times been criticized for his "functional" or "too complicated" plots as well as for his sometimes "stiff" prose, but as his novels have become increasingly dark, even fatalistic, the critical reception of his work on the whole has remained warm. While working within and reacting to the traditions of the hardboiled detective novel, Mosley's self-professed goals of "trying to reflect life in America" and "doing something different in an interesting new way" have enabled him to create what John Williams in New Statesman & Society has described as "a massive portrait of life in black Los Angeles over the postwar period."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Devil in a Blue Dress (novel) 1990
A Red Death (novel) 1991
White Butterfly (novel) 1992
Black Betty (novel) 1994
The Walter Mosley Omnibus (collection) 1995
R. L.'s Dream (novel) 1995
A Little Yellow Dog (novel) 1996
Gone Fishin' (novel) 1997

∗Novels in the Easy Rawlins series.

Gary Dretzka (review date 1 July 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Black Gumshoe in 1948 L. A.," in Chicago Tribune—Books, July 1, 1990, p. 6.

[In the following review, Dretzka praises Mosley's debut novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, and anticipates comparisons of the author's work to other black writers of the detective fiction genre.]

A couple of months back, just after books by Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and Nancy Pickard hit the nation's bookstores, there was a flurry of articles about a boom in mysteries by American women writers.

The reporters, for Newsweek and other mass-market publications, finally had observed something readers of crime fiction long have taken granted: that our women could kill people off and solve crimes every bit as convincingly as Brits P. D. James, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and such American male counterparts as Tony Hillerman—and that, in fact, they had been doing so for years.

I wonder if a similar kind of fuss will be made when critics start oohing and aahing about Walter Mosley's sparkling debut novel, Devil in a Blue Dress.

The 38-year-old Mosley is black. And, thus, the inevitable comparisons to the great Chester Himes (Cotton Comes to Harlem, Blind Man With a Pistol, etc.) and Los Angeles' Gar Haywood (Fear of the Dark) almost certainly will be made—although, unfortunately, there are many fewer black mystery writers out there to build such a trend story around.

But there's really no need to go to all the trouble. Devil in a Blue Dress would be worthy of special notice whatever its author's race. (And, trust me, no one should wait for the bandwagon to arrive before jumping on Himes' and Haywood's work.)

Mosley's novel is set in Los Angeles in 1948, a time when many blacks were migrating to Southern California from the South to escape its twin treadmill of segregation and poverty.

The area's booming post-war aircraft industry especially lured those black World War II veterans who had first met white people on a relatively equal footing in the armed forces and were unwilling to return to the conditions they'd left behind.

Easy Rawlins, Mosley's hero, left Houston's rough 5th Ward for the army and, later, Los Angeles when he came perilously close to...

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Malcolm Jones (review date 9 July 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Down and Out in the City of Angels," in Newsweek, Vol. CXVI, No. 2, July 9, 1990, p. 65.

[In the following review, Jones finds that Mosley compensates for occasionally stiff prose and an overly complicated plot with his keen eye for detail, his "lowdown humor," and his development of the character of Easy Rawlins.]

The notion of a fictional black detective in '40s Los Angeles sounds gimmicky, but on the first page of his first novel [Devil in a Blue Dress], Walter Mosley proves he has the talent to make this idea work. Audaciously, he steals the opening of Raymond Chandler's Farewell My Lovely—where white detective Philip Marlowe visits a black...

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Digby Diehl (review date 29 July 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Stiff Shot of Black and White," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 29, 1990, p. 3.

[Diehl is an American columnist and critic. In the following review, he predicts Devil in a Blue Dress will whet readers' appetites for Easy Rawlins stories and lead to "a long, active career" for Mosley's hero.]

Reflexively you blink from the sting of the dark, smoky surroundings and lick your lips to wipe away the taste of the cheap Scotch, as the sweet sounds of an alto saxophone whine up out of the pages of this richly atmospheric detective novel of the '40s. Within the first 50 pages, Walter Mosley takes us through the back door of a little market at the corner...

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Herbert Mitgang (review date 15 August 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "New Black Detective and a Familiar Navajo One," in The New York Times, August 15, 1990, p. C12.

[Mitgang is an American editor, author, and critic. In the following excerpt, he asserts that Devil in a Blue Dress "marks the debut of a talented author with something vital to say about the distance between the black and white worlds, and with a dramatic way to say it."]

In Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress, a suspenseful novel of human detection more than simply a detective novel, the reader knows he's in the hands of an author with a new, original voice when a character is described as being in "the hurting trade." The character, whose...

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Sally S. Eckhoff (review date 18 September 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Crime Rave," in The Village Voice, Vol. XXXV, No. 38, September 18, 1990, p. 74.

[In the following review, Eckhoff notes that Devil in a Blue Dress suffers from some of the common weaknesses of the detective genre, faults she finds "troubling, but forgivably so."]

Though there are still reasons to tear into one, your classic '40s crime novel is the downtown store for social retrograde and overwrought tough talk. Raymond Chandler could turn a standard-issue B-girl into "a blonde that could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window," but she was still one-dimensional, a decoy. "High yellows" and Asians who slipped in and out of the shadows more...

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Elsie B. Washington (review date January 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Walter Mosley: Writing about Easy," in Essence, Vol. 21, No. 9, January, 1991, p. 32.

[In the following review, Washington discusses Mosley's characters in Devil in a Blue Dress and concludes, "Together Mosley's people make an old-fashioned page turner."]

When Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress, was growing up in the Watts section of Los Angeles, he didn't have to depend on radio, television or the silver screen for thrilling tales of love and anger, crime, passion and revenge. Right in the family's own living room, Mosley's father and other relatives and friends from New Iberia. Louisiana, and parts of Georgia and Texas regaled the...

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Charles Champlin (review date 14 July 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Criminal Pursuits," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 14, 1991, p. 9.

[Champlin is an American author, columnist, and critic. In the following excerpt, he remarks that A Red Death shows the success of Mosley's first book "was no accident. The new novel may be even better in its complexity and range."]

Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress won a well-deserved Mystery Writers of American nomination as the best first novel of 1990. His portrait of Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins, a kind of reluctant and unofficial private investigator trying to stay alive and loose in Watts, had the ear-perfect dialogue, the eye-perfect observance and the narrative...

(The entire section is 375 words.)

Herbert Mitgang (review date 7 August 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Murder and Mystery from Watts to Bologna," in The New York Times, August 7, 1991, p. C16.

[In the following excerpt, Mitgang praises the second Easy Rawlins novel, A Red Death, noting that Mosley "has depicted a special locale and a corner-cutting way of life that most readers will find far more riveting than the crime pages of their newspapers."]

Good writers, including mystery writers, somehow know how to make their fictional characters foretell events before they actually happen in real life. They strike the prescience key on their typewriters or computers and out comes a story that later bounces off the front pages and emits radiation from the...

(The entire section is 709 words.)

Sara M. Lomax (essay date April-May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Double Agent Easy Rawlins," in American Visions, Vol. 7, No. 2, April-May 1992, pp. 32-4.

[In the following essay, Lomax describes Mosley as possessing a "special talent for altering time and place with words and ideas" which "ripples across every page of his novels."]

Pecking absently at his computer during a lunch break six years ago, Walter Mosley wrote these words: "On hot sticky days in Louisiana the fire ants swarmed."

"I loved it," says the 40-year-old detective novelist, author of Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death and the soon-to-be-released White Butterfly. "I thought, Maybe I could do something with this."


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Dick Adler (review date 28 June 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Life and Death in 1950s' Los Angeles," in Chicago Tribune—Books, June 28, 1992, pp. 1, 9.

[Adler is an American author and critic. In the following review, Adler finds "some prime observations about racism, as true to today's times as they are to [Mosley's] period" in White Butterfly.]

Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, a Los Angeles apartment building owner who pretends he's the janitor and who solves crimes not for money but to save his own and his friends' skins, is trying to convince a grim secretary that he really does have an appointment to see the Oakland police chief.

"I had told her, in my best white man's English, 'I would like to be...

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Tom Nolan (review date 12 July 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Easy Does It," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 12, 1992, pp. 2, 12.

[In the following review, Nolan judges the ending of White Butterfly disappointing, but believes readers will finish the book with "a real desire to learn what will happen next to Easy Rawlins."]

Watts, 1956. Young women of easy virtue are being murdered and mutilated in especially repellent fashion. The police and the press pay little attention, as long as the victims are "Negroes," but when a young white woman is similarly killed, the powers that be demand action.

Problem is, the powers that be have little entree to the neighborhood.


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Herbert Mitgang (review date 7 August 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mysteries That Reveal More Than Just Whodunit," in The New York Times, August 7, 1992, p. C25.

[In the following excerpt, Mitgang determines that Mosley has grown "deeper and richer" with White Butterfly, noting that the author emulates the masters of the detective-fiction genre but "continues to reveal the inside of the black-and-white encounter in his own voice."]

If you're not careful while reading detective fiction, you're liable to learn something. While taking the reader for a ride before solving the mystery, the best writers in the field have something to say, about a city, a profession, a just cause, a moral climate. Of course, the detective...

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Maureen Corrigan (review date 16 August 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Easy Rawlins Rides Again," in Book World—The Washington Post, August 16, 1992, p. 6.

[Corrigan is a commentator and teacher of detective fiction writing. In the following excerpt, she discusses the perpetual negativity in the lives of fictional detectives and finds White Butterfly charged with "excitement, social commentary, and clever, syncopated dialogue" but nevertheless "sad as hell."]

There's a really depressing scene near the end of the third Easy Rawlins mystery, White Butterfly. Easy is sitting in his kitchen, sipping what must be his 20th vodka and grapefruit juice of the day. His wife, Regina, has just left him, taking their baby...

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Parnell Hall (review date 6 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "How Many Bar Girls Must Die?," in The New York Times Book Review, September 6, 1992, p. 25.

[Hall is the author of the "Stanley Hastings" mysteries. In the following review, he labels White Butterfly "standard stuff, to be sure…. But what elevates it is the character [of Easy Rawlins]."]

Walter Mosley's first novel, Devll in a Blue Dress, was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award and received the Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award. His second novel, A Red Death, proved the success of his first was no fluke. Now, with White Butterfly, Walter Mosley has established himself as one of America's best...

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Theodore O. Mason Jr. (essay date Fall 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins: The Detective and Afro-American Fiction," in The Kenyon Review, Vol. 14, No. 4, Fall, 1992, pp. 173-83.

[In the following essay, Mason examines Devil in a Blue Dress in relation to the theories of the novel developed by George Lukác and M. M. Bakhtin.]

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's bar. It's not just that he was white but he wore an off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk socks. His skin was smooth and pale with just a few freckles. One lick of strawberry-blond hair escaped the band of his hat. He stopped in the doorway,...

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Greg Tate (essay date October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ain't That a Shamus," in VLS, No. 109, October, 1992, p. 41.

[In the following essay, Tate highlights the elements of Mosley's writing that elevate it from simple mystery fiction to a more profound examination of racial and interpersonal issues.]

What makes Walter Mosley's mysteries so compelling isn't his man Easy Rawlins's powers of ratiocination but the black dick's racial metaphysics. Race politics foreshadow the action in these books the way decadence foreshadowed everything that happened in Raymond Chandler's. Mosley doesn't just raise the race card to thicken the plot. He beats you down with spades, then rubs your nose in ethnic stool. Says Easy...

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George Pelecanos (review date Winter 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of White Butterfly, in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 26, No. 1, Winter, 1993, p. 113.

[Pelecanos is an American fiction writer. In the following review, he notes that in White Butterfly, Easy Rawlins faces more danger from his "psychological demons" than from the numerous hazards of his trade.]

In the Los Angeles Watts district of 1956, women are being murdered and mutilated by an apparent serial killer. The cops are aware of the murders but not in any great hurry to see the killer brought to justice. The victims were only good-time girls, junkies and whores. More to the point, the victims were only black.

But when a...

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John Williams (review date 3 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fire and Ice," in New Statesman & Society, September 3, 1993, p. 41.

[In the following excerpt, Williams deems White Butterfly an "altogether harsher, more serious piece of work" than its predecessors.]

White Butterfly is the third novel by Walter Mosley, the man now doomed to be referred to continually as "Bill Clinton's favourite writer". This is an altogether harsher, more serious piece of work. Mosley's novels are intended to form a cycle, providing a massive portrait of life in black Los Angeles over the postwar period as experienced by the reluctant PI Easy Rawlins.

White Butterfly sees the action move to 1957....

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Walter Mosley with Bob McCullough (interview date 23 May 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 241, No. 21, May 23, 1994, pp. 67-8.

[In the following interview, Mosley and McCullough discuss the character Easy Rawlins and the author's development from his first novel through his expansion into writing outside the Rawlins series.]

"I'd like to be remembered in the canon of genre writers in this field," says crime novelist Walter Mosley. "I'd like my name to be mentioned with Raymond Chandler, Hammett, Ross McDonald, people like that."

"If people mention my race, I wouldn't be unhappy," continues Mosley, author of four murder mysteries based on the character of black detective Easy Rawlins, his...

(The entire section is 2066 words.)

Ernest J. Gaines (review date 5 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Easy Rawlins, Just a Little Older," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 5, 1994, pp. 3, 12.

[Gaines is an American novelist whose works include A Lesson before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. In the following review of Black Betty, he detects a weariness in the aging Easy Rawlins that could lead the detective to abandon his trade and implores Mosley to contime the series.]

In 1961, John F. Kennedy was president of the United States, Martin Luther King was leading civil rights demonstrators in Alabama and Georgia, and Easy Rawlins was searching for Black Betty out of South Central Los Angeles.


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Barry Gifford (review date 5 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "L. A. Raw," in The New York Times Book Review, June 5, 1994, p. 13.

[Gifford is a novelist and critic. In the following review, he observes that with his fourth Easy Rawlins novel, Black Betty, Mosley "beats hell out of most of today's contenders for consideration as the top-ranking writer in the mystery division."]

In Black Betty, Walter Mosley writes like a boxer who throughout his career has campaigned as a lightweight or welterweight and now, because he can no longer shed the necessary pounds, is forced to fight as a middleweight. To go the full 12 rounds a good fighter has to pace him-self, and Mr. Mosley, in his fourth novel about the black...

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Sarah Lyall (essay date 15 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Heroes in Black, Not White," in The New York Times, June 15, 1994, pp. C1, C8.

[In the following excerpt, Lyall reviews Mosley's life and career through the publication of Black Betty.]

Walter Mosley describes Los Angeles so precisely in his detective novels that it is a surprise to learn that he hasn't lived here in years. His descriptions are drawn partly from childhood memories, partly from his parents' stories and partly from the occasional consultation of street maps.

"L.A. is not my city," says Mr. Mosley, who lives in New York with his wife, Joy Kellman, a dancer. "It's not for living, I don't like to drive. In my neighborhood in New...

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Paul Levine (review date 26 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Easy on the Case," in Chicago Tribune—Books, June 26, 1994, p. 3.

[Levine is an American journalist and author of the "Jake Lassiter" series of novels. In the following review of Black Betty, he compares Mosley's Easy Rawlins to Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and praises Mosley's powers of description, asserting that he "captures a time and place with dead-on perfect detail and evocative language."]

Ezekiel "Essay" Rawlins, the reluctant P.I., is older and wiser in Walter Mosley's latest period mystery, but that doesn't stop him from taking on the case of the sensual and dangerous Elizabeth Eady, a. k. a. Black Betty.

Easy was a...

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Malcolm Jones Jr. (review date 4 July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kick Back with Crime," in Newsweek, Vol. CXXIV, No. 1, July 4, 1994, pp. 66-7.

[In the following review of Black Betty, Jones discusses the ironies that drive Mosley's writing.]

Driving around Los Angeles a few weeks back, Walter Mosley had every reason to be in a fine mood. His latest novel, Black Betty, was the one novel creating a big buzz in town at the American booksellers' convention. Elsewhere in the city, Jonathan Demme was producing a film of his first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington as his detective hero, Easy Rawlins. But none of that seemed to matter much to Mosley. He was much more interested in...

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David L. Ulin (review date 6 August 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Where Memory and Reality Intersect," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 6, 1995, pp. 3, 8.

[Ulin is a nonfiction writer, poet, and critic. In the following review, he praises Mosley for taking a break from the Easy Rawlins series and finds much to admire in RL's Dream, but deems the novel flawed because of its false premise about blues music.]

You've got to give Walter Mosley credit for having guts. Last year, Black Betty, the fourth novel in his Easy Rawlins mystery series, sold more than 100,000 hardcover copies and was acclaimed by no less a fan than President Clinton, who declared Mosley his favorite mystery writer. Later this summer,...

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Gary Giddins (review date 13 August 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Soupspoon's Blues," in The New York Times Book Review, August 13, 1995, pp. 11-12.

[Giddins is an American critic and biographer. In the following review of RL's Dream, he applauds Mosley's "superb reportorial eye" and notes that "several episodes are as well tuned as anything he has written," but finds the book flawed by occasional lapses into sentimentality and burdened by excessive profundities from the main character.]

The "RL" of Walter Mosley's new novel, RL's Dream, is Robert Johnson, the Delta blues singer who died young and violently in 1938. (No one knows why Johnson called himself RL, and Mr. Mosley doesn't attempt an explanation.)...

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Julius Lester (review date 20 August 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Living the Blues," in Book World—The Washington Post, August 20, 1995, p. 7.

[Lester is a novelist whose And All Our Wounds Forgiven was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. In the following review, he criticizes Mosley for using "a story line that is manufactured, rather than proceeding logically from the lives of its characters" in RL's Dream as well as the Easy Rawlins novels.]

In White Butterfly, the third of Walter Mosley's four detective novels, there is a reference to bluesmen "Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Lightnin' Hopkins, Soupspoon Wise." The first three are historical. Soupspoon Wise is not, and Mosley makes...

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Paula L. Woods (review date September-October 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Play Mystery for Me," in San Francisco Review of Books, Vol. 20, No. 4, September-October, 1995, pp. 12-13.

[Woods is an editor, short story writer, and critic. In the following review, she sees connections between RL's Dream and the Easy Rawlins novels but deems it able to stand on its own, concluding that the book is "without doubt the author's finest achievement to date."]

Countless fine writers have been diminished by being pigeonholed into the category of "mystery writer." But what, ultimately, do mysteries do but reveal the secret passions and fears within the human heart? On four fascinating, previous occasions Walter Mosley, one of the more...

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Danille Taylor-Guthrie (review date 17 September 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Blues Muse," in Chicago Tribune—Books, September 17, 1995, p. 5.

[Taylor-Guthrie is an educator and editor of Conversations with Toni Morrison. In the following review, she asserts that in RL's Dream Mosley "has succeeded in making the reader understand the emotional and intellectual reality of the blues life."]

Walter Mosley is known for his four highly successful mystery novels, the Easy Rawlins series that began with Devil in a Blue Dress. One reason for the success of those novels is their tone and Easy himself, whose present life in Los Angeles is always linked to his past in Texas, where survival was far from assured.


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Adam Lively (essay date 22 September 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Blues Out of Watts," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4825, September 22, 1995, p. 24.

[In the following essay, Lively examines Mosley's themes in Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death, and White Butterfly (collected in The Walter Mosley Omnibus) and their relation to his departure from detective fiction in RL's Dream.]

Walter Mosley is a writer who has made a sudden and sharp change of direction. He has made his name with three hard-boiled crime novels, all set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s and 50s, all featuring the same tough-guy protagonist and all now collected in one volume [The Walter Mosley Omnibus]. But his new novel,...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 April 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Little Yellow Dog, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXIV, No. 8, April 15, 1996, p. 565.

[In the following review, the critic describes the plot of A Little Yellow Dog as "only average for this celebrated series," but praises the author's ability to convey the tenuousness of his characters' lives.]

Easy Rawlins has been working for two years as a supervising custodian in Sojourner Truth Junior High School when he finds alluring math teacher Idabell Turner in her classroom much too early one morning for anything but trouble. Armed only with a wild story about how her husband, Holland Gasteau, has threatened to kill her dog, she's got Easy...

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Bill Ott (review date 1 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Little Yellow Dog, in Booklist, Vol. 92, No. 17, May 1, 1996, p. 1469.

[In the following review, Ott contends that Mosley's placement of Easy Rawlins in true historical context is the primary reason for the success of the series.]

Most successful mystery series find a good groove and stay put, holding their audience with the pleasures of familiarity. Only the best crime writers manage to rework their grooves, staying put but never letting comfort supersede substance. Then there's Walter Mosley, whose Easy Rawlins mysteries break most of the rules. By allowing Easy to grow older in real time (in five books, the series has moved from the...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Review of Gone Fishin', by Walter Mosley. Publishers Weekly (18 November 1996): 65.

Positive review of the sixth, but chronologically first, Easy Rawlins novel.

Reid, Calvin. "PGW to Distribute Mosley Novel from Black Classic." Publishers Weekly (5 August 1996); 276.

Article explaining Mosley's decision to use a small independent African-American publishing company to distribute Gone Fishin'.

(The entire section is 75 words.)