White Butterfly Summary
by Walter Mosley

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White Butterfly Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

White Butterfly takes place in 1956. Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, the hero of Walter Mosley’s previous two detective novels, is now married to a beautiful black nurse named Regina. Easy and Regina are rearing two children, their infant daughter, Edna, and Jesus, a young Mexican American boy rescued by Easy in an earlier adventure. This life is not idyllic, however. Easy has not told Regina about his secret business holdings or the detective work he does on the side for friends and the police. There are also other instances of miscommunication between the two that cloud the future of their marriage.

The situation worsens when Easy is approached first by black policeman Quinten Naylor and then by a slew of high city officials for help in tracing a serial murderer loose in Watts. This final burst of attention is brought about by the first white victim, Robin Garnett. Up until this time, the victims had been black prostitutes and exotic dancers. The white victim, however, was a college student from a respectable family. Like the other victims, her body was partly burned and mutilated. Easy resents the sudden concern of the white officials, apathetic when the victims were black. He is nevertheless coerced into helping when the police threaten to pin the crimes on Easy’s best friend, Mouse.

Easy goes to work, frequenting bars and asking questions that lead him to a suspect and to a disturbing revelation. The white coed led a double life, coming down to Watts to work as a stripper/prostitute known as “the White Butterfly.” When Easy reports this to the police, he is told to abandon this line of inquiry, partly because the girl’s father is a former district attorney. Curiosity gets the better of Easy, and he goes to speak to the girl’s mother, who is understandably upset. The police chastise Easy and penalize him by arresting Mouse. Easy talks the police into releasing Mouse, and the two of them track the suspect, a black man, to San Francisco. They locate him just in time to witness his death in a bar fight, one set up by the local police. They also learn that San Francisco has had a chain of similar serial murders about which the black population was never informed. The suspect’s death becomes the final step in a scandalous coverup.

Frustrated, Easy returns to Los Angeles, where he learns that Robin Garnett supposedly had a baby. When he attempts to put the girl’s parents in touch with the woman keeping the baby, he is arrested for extortion. Easy reveals that Robin was killed by her father, Vernor Garnett, in order to avoid embarrassment over his daughter’s conduct. Garnett’s connections to law enforcement officials had given him knowledge of the serial murders, and he had tried to pass his daughter’s murder off as another in the series.

Amid all this, Easy decides to be more open with Regina, but it is too late. Regina has run off with another man, taking Edna with her. Easy is left heartbroken, turning to the bottle until Mouse and Jesus bring him back from the brink of self-destruction.

A side plot involves Mofass, the man who manages Easy’s business holdings. Mofass gets himself into trouble with white developers from whom he received a bribe. Although Easy will not bail Mofass out of trouble, the two work together to get the upper hand over the white businessmen. Although Easy’s marriage fails, he is able to solidify his finances and, therefore, his independence.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

White Butterfly takes place in 1956. Easy is married and raising two children, an infant from his new marriage and Jesus, the orphan from the earlier books. This life is not idyllic, however; Easy has not told Regina, his wife, about his secret business holdings or about his detective work. Moreover, there are other important instances of miscommunication between the two that cloud the future of their marriage. On the other hand, Easy is staying away from bars and living a cleaner, healthier life.

The situation worsens when Easy is approached—first by...

(The entire section is 1,098 words.)