Los Angeles, 1965, right after the Watts Riots, six summer days of racial violence--burning, looting, and killing--that followed the routine arrest of a black motorist for drunken driving. Although custodian and unlicensed PI Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins stayed safely inside during the turmoil, as an African-American male he understands all too well what it was about. "It's hot and people are mad," he explains in Walter Mosley's Little Scarlet
. "Theyve been mad since they were babies." Even with the rioting finally cooled, police remain on edge. So when a mid-30s, redheaded black woman named Nola Payne--aka "Little Scarlet"--turns up dead in her apartment, strangled and shot and showing signs of recent sexual contact, the cops are reluctant to storm L.A.'s minority community, looking for her murderer, especially since the culprit may well be an injured white man Payne had sheltered, and who's now disappeared. Instead, they ask Easy to see what he can find out about this crime.
The case forces Rawlins to address the ethnic tribulations of 1960s America, in microcosm, and his own discomfort with discrimination, in particular.
I spent my whole early life at the back of buses and in the segregated balconies at theaters. I had been arrested for walking in the wrong part of town and threatened for looking a man in the eye. And when I went to war to fight for freedom, I found myself in a segregated army, treated with less respect than they treated German POWs. I had seen people who looked like me jeered on TV and in the movies. I had had enough and I wasn't about to turn back, even though I wanted to.
But Easy can't tackle this investigation alone; assisting him are the casually homicidal Raymond "Mouse" Alexander, as well as a dogged white detective and a fetching younger woman, who threatens to overturn the settled life Easy has been working toward all these years. Nor can Rawlins wrap the case up easily. Harassed and attacked for his inquiries, he eventually connects Payne's slaying to a homeless man, allegedly responsible for killing as many as 21 black women, all of whom had the bad judgment to hook up with white men.
Little Scarlet, the eighth Rawlins novel (after Bad Boy Brawly Brown), is unusual for Mosley, because it focuses as much on the credible mechanics of crime-solving as it does on the exposition of character and the exploration of L.A.'s mid-20th-century black culture. Combined with the author's vigorous prose and prowess with dialogue, Easy's promotion to serious sleuth promises great things for what was already a standout series. --J. Kingston Pierce
From Publishers Weekly
Set during the Watts riots of 1965, this eighth entry in Mosley's acclaimed Easy Rawlins series (Bad Boy Brawly Brown
, etc.) demonstrates the reach and power of the genre, combining a deeply involving mystery with vigorous characterizations and probing commentary about race relations in America. Easy Rawlins, 45, is—like the rest of black L.A.—angry: "the angry voice in my heart that urged me to go out and fight after all the hangings I had seen, after all of the times I had been called nigger and all of the doors that had been slammed in my face." But Easy stays out of the fiery streets until a white cop and his bosses recruit him to identify the murderer of a young black woman, Nola Payne; the cops suspect an unidentified white man whom Nola sheltered during the riots, and are worried that if they
pursue the case, word will leak and the riots will escalate. Easy, an unlicensed PI who also works as a school custodian, agrees to investigate, drawing into his quest several series regulars, including the stone killer Mouse, the magical healer Mama Jo and his own family. There's also a sexy young woman whose allure, like that of the violent streets, threatens to smash the life of integrity he has so carefully built. In time, Easy focuses on a homeless black man as the killer, not only of Nola but of perhaps 20 other black women, all of whom had hooked up with white men. This is Mosley's best novel to date: the plot is streamlined and the language simple yet strong, allowing the serpentine story line to support Easy's amazingly complex character and hypnotic narration as Mosley plunges us into his world and, by extension, the world of all blacks in white-run America. Fierce, provocative, expertly entertaining, this is genre writing at its finest.
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