39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
There aren't many good African American mystery writers and there are even fewer black private eyes that you'd want to read about. Walter Mosley and Easy Rawlins, however, satisfy both of those criteria in solid fashion.
More than that, though, this is simply a good, fun read .
The setting is Los Angeles in the 1940s, probably the most fruitful noir time and place there is. During those boom years of post-war expansion, a man could make a good living and even buy a place of his own.
That's all that Easy Rawlins wants. When he's laid-off, though, he can't make his mortgage. He's going to lose his house and he'd rather do almost anything than that. He finds, though, that he has to do more than he bargained for.
When a mysterious white man offers him $100 to find a missing white woman, it seems simple enough. Nothing, of course, is ever as it seems. Rawlins quickly finds himself in trouble and there is no easy way out. It takes a hardness that he tries to hide for him to come out alive.
For a first novel, this book is very solid with a lot of personality. Mosley captures a people and culture that we don't get to read much about. Easy is a good, fresh character; one of the best new entries to the mystery scene in a while.
This book is recommended to everyone who enjoys a good hard-boiled mystery, especially fans of Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, and Ross Macdonald
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Easy Rawlins is not the typical private detective, but he is the freshest one to come around in a long time. Easy is an African American WWII veteran from Texas, now living in 1948 L.A. where he proudly owns a modest home. The home is all he has to be proud of since he got fired from his job at a defense plant. Life for Easy is not easy at all. Then one day, a white man dressed in a white suit offers Easy good money to locate a beautiful blonde known to hang out at black clubs. For a man with a mortgage and no money coming in, the offer is too good to be true. But then offers like this usually are.
The plot sounds typical, but Mosley's writing is anything but. Mosley paints a clear and atmospheric picture of racial segregation in post-war L.A., but that picture is not overexposed. Easy not only has to endure the dangers of finding this girl, he must do it in a hostile background where white policemen and higher-ups look for any type of crime that they might pin on him. The story of the transplanted man from the south living on the west coast is not unfamiliar, but making him a black man facing prejudice on every side makes the story more alive and the plot more tension-filled. Again, this is not done in a heavy-handed way, but with a subtle touch that makes you want to turn the pages.
Mosley is very much at home with the hard-boiled style of crime noir and it shows on every page. This is not a Hammett or Chandler re-hash. This is a fresh, lively, exciting mystery from a very fine writer. If you haven't experienced Mosley and Easy Rawlins, pick up the Blue Dress and try it on for size.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"Devil in a Blue Dress" takes the reader to post-War Los Angeles, a city burgeoning with new industry and opportunity in 1948. The hero is Ezekiel "Easy" Rollins, a war veteran who came to L.A. for sunshine and good jobs, but now finds himself laid off and in danger of losing his home. A friend introduces him to a sleazy character named DeWitt Albright, who offers Easy the opportunity to make some money fast. Albright is looking for a woman named Daphne Monet. In a city that is largely socially segregated, Miss Monet, who is white, frequents black night clubs and has black friends -some of the same clubs and friends as Easy. Whether in desperation or out of pride, Easy accepts the job and sets out to find her. His search takes him on a tour of the city's shadows: underground jazz clubs, bootleggers and blackmailers, political corruption, and finally to the irresistible and mysterious Daphne Monet.
"Devil in a Blue Dress" is a pleasant, brisk read. Walter Mosley paints a colorful and intriguing picture of post-War Los Angeles. And his prose effectively expresses the fear and temptation that constantly compete for Easy Rollins' psyche. Easy Rollins is a working class detective who is lent a certain romanticism and distinction by the time and place in which the novel is set. This combination of qualities make Easy an ideal detective novel protagonist who will appeal to a wide array of readers. The character of Daphne Monet is less than believable, I'm afraid. But it is more essential that she be sexy and mysterious than that she be believed, so it is not a serious flaw. "Devil in a Blue Dress" has a little of everything -a likable hero, period ambiance, hard-boiled dialogue, sex, violence, mystery- without losing its focus. It won't appeal to fans of "cozies ", but most mystery buffs will find something enjoyable in it.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2002
Walter Mosley's Devil In a Blue Dress is a fantastic mystery/crime drama set in Post World War II Los Angeles. The protagonist Easy Rawlins finds himself an unlikely but strong willed black detective sorting out a mystery-in-progress. The case begins as a simple `lost female' case but soon spins and develops into a multiple tiered story of blackmail and cover-up. The case begins to involve everyone from black bootleggers and gunmen to white mayoral candidates and prejudiced policemen. The beauty of the novel is its ability to put Easy in both situations of Black culture and White aristocracy. Both situations Easy runs headlong into, always managing to keep his pride intact. Like Chandler's Marlowe the story seems to evolve as characters fly in and out of Easy's life. But unlike Chandler, Mosley has accomplished the effect of creating truly perilous drama and action. There is a sense of immediacy and danger when Easy tells his story. Much of this feeling could be explained by the fact that Easy must battle not only for the truth, but also his right to grasp the truth as a black man. The novel works on a cultural critique level, making judgments and offering lessons on the hardships of American blacks and the importance of race in American culture.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2008
Unemployed and days away from losing his hard won house, Easy Rawlins takes a job he knows better than to get involved with. It sounds easy enough, look around some local black nightspots for a girl on the lam. Rawlins knows, though, that more is going on than he's being told. Shortly after asking his first questions in his investigation, Rawlins is dragged in by the police - turns out some of his recent contacts have been murdered. Rawlins has few friends and his wits to help him find the woman, get paid, avoid being charged with murder and, perhaps most difficult, stay alive.
In Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley creates an attractive protagonist and effectively evokes a time and place (albeit one that likely never existed). In so doing he provides a scene in which the reader very much wants to be involved - gritty, smart, sexual. The narrative, however, goes little beyond evoking a background. We learn very little about Easy Rawlins and his associates. Indeed, we learn very little about the story we are told. The narrative could be effectively summarized in a few short pages and the material surrounding the plot oftentimes does nothing more than fill the space. Interesting? Yes. Satisfying? Unfortunately not.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2001
Book Review for Devil in a Blue Dress By Walter Mosley Kristen Shepard Montgomery High School
This is one of the best mystery books that I have read. I have never read any of Mosley's works so lets just say that he made a good first impression on me. I've always been interested in the spy/investigative books so that is what brought me to read Devil in a Blue Dress. The setting is Los Angeles in the 1940's and Easy Rawlins, the main character and a private eye, is a black veteran. He was just fired from his job at the aircraft factory and he can't pay mortgage for the home he loves. Joppy Shag is the owner of an illegal bar and is friends with Easy. My favorite character was Dewitt Albright. " His grip was strong but slithery, like a snake coiling around my hand" (p.2). Dewitt is friends with Joppy too, and is a white attorney/thug, who needs someone to find this white woman named Daphne Monet. Daphne is known to patronize the black jazz clubs. Dewitt asks Easy to do this search. Things aren't exactly going to well for him and he needs all the money he can get, so he accepts the deal. As he gets deeper in the case more and more bad things start happening; for example people start showing up dead. Easy decides to call a good friend who still lives in Easy's hometown, Huston. His name is Mouse and he was probably the worst thing to do at that time for Easy since he has been killing quite a few people. Somehow Easy is being blamed for some of the murders and if he can't find out who has been killing all these people then he can be sent to death row. There is still the problem of finding Daphne and what he finds out is that she isn't all that she seems to be, for she is in love with a very wealthy man named Mr. Carter and tries to be something she's not. When investigating Easy finds that he has the talent for questioning people in a way of getting the info he needs, take for example him and Mr. Carter, a man with a lot of power. Soon he finds himself talking to all sorts of rich white men like they were best friends. Still, being black in a white-ruled society heads him to information that he might not otherwise be able to obtain, even if the reason is degrading. This book was great. It made me another one of the many Walter Mosley fans and I am in the process of choosing between "A Red Death" and "White Butterfly" as the next Easy Rawlins mystery to read. I recommend this book to anyone who is at all interested.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
The first Easy Rawlins book is more enjoyable for its physical and cultural setting than it is for its mystery or characters. Set in Los Angeles a few years after WWII, Mosley does a masterful job of depicting a multiethnic city that's still a sleepy collection of neighborhoods in many senses, but has a distinctly seedy side (not unlike James Ellroy's LA Confidential). The story is about Easy, an ex-soldier who loses his job for standing up to his white boss at an aircraft manufacturing plant. Desperate for money so he can meet his mortgage and not lose his pride and joy of a house, he's offered a lot of money to look for a white woman who's been hanging out at illegal after-hours black clubs. Of course, he's not the only one looking, and soon he's up to his neck in bootleggers, crooked politicians, racist cops, and round-the-way girls.
In noir fashion, the mystery is fairly complicated, perhaps overly so with a number of minor characters who run together. As events move beyond Easy's grasp, he has to call on his old friend from Houston, Mouse, to help him out. Mouse is a thoroughly nasty bit of work, and there's some good tension between him and Easy. Ultimately, the "big" twist at the end isn't that surprising. The book is so thoroughly steeped in race that it's the only plausible solution to a number of thorny questions.
As an average hardworking black man, just trying to live with dignity in a racist world, Easy is well-drawn and sympathetic. What doesn't work as well is when he hears "the voice" inside his head, which appears at moments of stress and urges him not to take any [...] and stand up for himself. It's a device that's remarkably amateurish, given the solid control Mosley exhibits over the rest of the narrative. It should be noted that the book's female characters will probably not be to the taste of many female readers, and indeed, while Mosley seems to have a very clear comment to make about race, his take on gender is rather ambiguous.
It's a fine book, but nothing truly spectacular or new. It does a nice job of depicting LA at a certain time, but comparisons with Chandler and Ellison are a stretch, other than Chandler wrote in the same genre, and Ellison also wrote about race.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2002
With the debut of self-styled sleuth Easy Rawlins in Devil in A Blue Dress, Walter Mosley has fashioned a determined survivor. Easy's life is anything but, as each hazy post -World War 2 L.A. day brings a new wave of brutal physical and psychological challenges the likes of which are seldom approached on the other side of the tracks in Raymond Chandler's universe. Fired from his defense plant job and struggling to make the mortgage payments on his beloved, modest house, Easy soon finds himself in the employ of a mysterious fellow bar patron who wants him to find a missing blonde beauty. The subsequent search is an odyssey through both the black world of jazz clubs and bootleggers, and the white world of sterile, corrupt and ominous institutions. At heart the mystery is about race and all the complicated struggles that attend that issue. When justice is at best a sham, Easy and his friends and enemies must navigate in a murky moral realm where loyalty to one's friends and optimism of will are essential to survival. Easy's loyal but vicious friend Mouse, one of Mosley's most colorful characters, sums up the credo of their black world when he says to Easy, " You gotta have somebody at yo' back, man. That's just a lie them white men give bout makin' it on they own. They always got they backs covered." The strength of Devil in A Blue Dress is that it can tackle the knotty issue of race within the format of the fast-paced, entertaining crime fiction genre.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2002
Set in post-war Los Angeles, Walter Mosley's debut novel Devil in a Blue Dress is a riveting story that makes you want to read the whole series. Easy Rawlins is a black war veteran who wants nothing more than to pay his mortgage on time. This is difficult because he has been recently fired from his job at an airline factory. He thinks that his problem has been solved when a white man offers to pay a fair sum of money for him to locate Daphne Monet, a young white woman who likes to frequent black bars. But when two people are murdered, including his friend Corretta, he must do his best to save Daphne and himself. Mosley has stunning descriptions of Los Angeles that put you into the book. You can hear the characters talking when you read the dialog. I couldn't put Devil in a Blue Dress down. It it is perfect for mystery lovers or those just looking for a good entertaining book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2005
Walter Mosley is one of the Great Contemporary American Writers, and he achieves this status from his reworking of a familiar genre - Raymond Chandler styled detective fiction - and giving it a fresh voice.
Easy Rawlins has the hallmarks of a Sam Spade, if you like, but he's an unwilling detective, a black man who just wants to get ahead in the promising environment of post-war Los Angeles. But he's thrown into a mystery that takes us, page-turningly, through the various strata of LA society and leads us both to a statisfying yet violent resolution of the whodunnit, while also taking us to a place of deeper understanding.
In fact Mosley's series of Easy Rawlins stories that follow this excellent novel maintain the high quality of suspense writing while tracing a credible, thoughtful post-war social history of modern USA, as seen through the astute and increasingly wary eyes of Rawlins. The series is great reading, and while Mosley uses the suspense genre to tell a deeper story he always writes with wry humour, deep passion, an eye for the ladies and a twitchy attitude to violence as part of life. His invention of Raymond "Mouse" as Rawlin's disturbingly trigger-happy friend from Texas keeps the plotting always one step from catastrophe.
This is one novel, incidentally, where the film version is every bit as good. Denzel Washington captures Easy Rawlins just perfectly, and the film direction is quite superb.