Walter Mosley Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is Easy Rawlins’s relationship to Mouse? Why does Easy seem unable to survive without Mouse?

What does the Los Angeles setting symbolize to Easy and the other black people in the stories? What does Houston symbolize?

How does Walter Mosley use children in the Easy Rawlins stories to build his characterization of Easy?

Why does Mosley make Kiki in RL’s Dream a victim of child abuse? How is the treatment of children a theme in the story?

What do the blues represent to Soupspoon? What does Soupspoon mean when he says that the blues is the music of the devil?

Why is the supermarket described in “Equal Opportunity” seen as a palace? If the supermarket is a palace, can Socrates be seen as a knight?

Does the lie that Socrates tells about being an ex-con mean that he is a dishonest person or will be a bad employee?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his novels, Walter Mosley (MOHZ-lee) has coedited Black Genius: African American Solutions to African American Problems (1999) and has written a critical analysis of capitalism, Workin’ on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History (2000). In What Next: A Memoir Toward World Peace (2003), he contends that the African American experience provides a unique and helpful perspective on the way to achieve world peace. As in his novels, in his nonfiction Mosley transforms social problems into palpable personal ones—in this case by drawing on his own family history. Mosley attacks American provincialism and provides his own idiosyncratic solutions to the problem in Life Out of Context: Which Includes a Proposal for the Non-violent Takeover of the House of Representatives (2006). This Year You Write Your Novel (2007) provides practical advice for starting and completing a novel within a year. Mosley’s short stories have been published in several collections, including Futureland: Nine Stories of an Imminent World (2001).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

A prolific author ofmystery, young adult, and science-fiction novels, Walter Mosley has become one of the most successful African American authors whose work has crossed over into mainstream fiction. His work has been compared favorably to that of classic African American authors such as Chester Himes and John Edgar Wideman. As Frances Smith Foster has observed, however, Mosley surpasses these authors and others in his ability to dramatize the lives of ordinary African Americans with a political consciousness and a sense of social history.

Mosley’s first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, was nominated for the prestigious Edgar Award, presented by the Mystery Writers of America, as well as the Shamus Award of the Private Eye Writers of America. In 1996, Mosley won an award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association as well as an O. Henry Award. Bad Boy Brawly Brown was nominated for the International Association of Crime Writers’ Hammett Prize. In 2005, Mosley received several honors: the Sundance Institute’s Risk-Takers Award; a Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the Twenty-first Annual Celebration of Black Writing, held by the Art Sanctuary of Philadelphia; and an honorary doctorate presented by the City College of the City University of New York.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

In Walter Mosley’s first detective series, he presents in Easy Rawlins a thoughtful, powerful African American detective who deals not only with the crimes and problems of the individuals living in Los Angles in the mid-twentieth century but also with the racial and social complexities of the time. Paris Minton and Fearless Jones of the second series deal with similar problems and demonstrate the complementary nature of their distinct personalities.

Mosley’s rich description and understanding of the black community in Los Angeles at this time reveal a part of the city not depicted by any previous detective writer. Other hard-boiled detective-fiction writers such as Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald set their work in Los Angeles, but none look as deeply and knowingly at the poor of that city and at the Watts area as does Mosley. Mosley’s work is most similar to that of Chester Himes in his novel If He Hollers, Let Him Go (1945), which deals with racial justice and black alienation in Los Angeles.

Mosley’s immediate popular success with the Easy Rawlins series as well as with the more recent Fearless Jones series demonstrates the interest in his subject matter. Mosley’s storytelling skills and refusal to offer simple answers to complex questions add to the success of these series.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bunyan, Scott. “No Order from Chaos: The Absence of Chandler’s Extra-Legal Space in the Detective Fiction of Chester Himes and Walter Mosley.” Studies in the Novel 35 (Fall, 2003). Reveals Chandler’s influence on the work of Mosley and Himes; also references the trickster motif.

Coale, Samuel. The Mystery of Mysteries: Cultural Differences and Designs. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999. Coale looks at the cultural issues in the works of mystery writers Mosley, Amanda Cross, James Lee Burke, and Tony Hillerman. Contains an interview with Mosley.

Gray, W. Russel. “Hard-Boiled Black Easy: Genre Conventions in A Red Death.” African American Review 38 (Fall, 2004): 489-499. Demonstrates how Mosley uses popular culture forms to critique racial hypocrisy.

Lock, Helen. “Invisible Detection: The Case of Walter Mosley.” MELUS 26 (Spring, 2001): 77-89. Mosley is presented as an exemplar of African American noir, hard-boiled detective fiction.

Mason, Theodore O., Jr. “Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins: The Detective and Afro-American Fiction.” Kenyon Review 14 (Fall, 1992): 173-183. Shows Mosley’s similarity to other modern African American writers in his emphasis on genealogy and origin.

Smith, David L. “Walter Mosley’s Blue Light: (Double Consciousness)2.” Extrapolation 42 (Spring, 2001): 7-26. Analysis of Mosley’s philosophy in Blue Light, in which blue light is associated with God.

Wesley, Marilyn C. “Knowledge and Power in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress.” African American Review 35 (Spring, 2001): 103-116. Examines the status of black empowerment after World War II, comparing Mosley’s work with British detective novels of the same period.

Wilson, Charles E., Jr. Walter Mosley: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003. This volume examines the life and works of Mosley, containing chapters on some of his most famous books.

Young, Mary. “Walter Mosley, Detective Fiction, and Black Culture.” Journal of Popular Culture 32 (Summer, 1998): 141-150. Discusses the use of African American folklore, the trickster, and the bad black man in Mosley’s work.