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by Walter Mosley
Little, Brown, July 2004
320 pages
ISBN: 0316073032

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Los Angeles, 1965: there are riots in the streets between the blacks and white policemen. Easy Rawlins is working in his office when he ventures out to visit his friend Theodore who has a shop next to Easy. When a voice asks Easy to come with him to the police station, he knows trouble is brewing and he will be involved in this crisis.

Enter the police commissioner, who asks Easy to look into a murder, that of Nola Payne, aka Little Scarlet, because of her red hair. It seems Nola was last seen helping a white man escape from a crowd that had been beating this individual up for traveling in a black neighborhood. The police feel this person is the prime suspect in her murder, but as Easy investigates, he realizes there is someone more dangerous out in the streets.

Easy is working with a white detective, Melvin Suggs, and both men discover that there is a person killing black women who have been having affairs with white men. It seems the killer feels that he is being betrayed by these people. As the tension from the riots mount, and the pressure to convict rises, both men realize this killer has to be stopped before word gets out and vigilante justice takes control of the streets.

With the usual cast of characters, the book moves rapidly from one scene to the next, seamlessly integrating a burgeoning romance between a young woman, Juanda, and Easy, who still is in love with Bonnie. Mouse has hurt another woman, Benita, while recovering from his previous adventure. The author seamlessly throws this little subplot in to show that Easy is able to convince Mouse that he needs to be more careful with other people. At one point, when Easy saves Benita from dying through her unintentional overdose of sleeping pills, Mouse reflects that he owes Easy some respect and honor.

The book shows how both whites and blacks had to deal with the frustrations of life in the 1960s, when equality was still far away. There are several minor characters who also stand out with Mosley's deft strokes of characterization. Easy is able to walk both lines, but is also very conflicted about having to help the white man, but at the same time, he has this power trip which enables him to stand up to the white man.

The ending is somewhat predictable, but as the reader will see, a certain amount of true justice has been served that cannot be gotten through the white man's court system or through the governmental laws that encompass society as a whole. This is a remarkably deep, thought-provoking read thrown in through the use of a mystery novel.

Reviewed by Steven Sill, August 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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