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Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins Mystery

4.6 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0316073035
ISBN-10: 0316073032
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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. "They’ve 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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Product Details

  • Series: Easy Rawlins Mysteries (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (July 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316073032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316073035
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #791,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the many gifts of President Bill Clinton was introducing me-- and I suspect many other white readers- to the great mystery writer Walter Mosley. Early in his presidency on a vacation to Martha's Vineyard, the president laden down with books, including Mosley's then latest, as he left a local bookstore, was accosted by the media. (That Mr. Clinton read Mosley comes as no surprise since Toni Morrison has described him as the first black president in America.) So the press wanted to know what Mr. Clinton read for pleasure-- and what a pleasure reading Mr. Mosley is, particularly when he writes of the adventures of the indefatigable Easy Rawlins. He returns here at the time of the Watts race riots in '65 where he is recruited by a detective from the infamous LAPD to help solve the murder of a young black woman, Little Scarlet, who may have ben killed by a white man. Mr. Mosley weaves a complex tapestry here with many characters of all colors, some new of course, and many returning from previous novels, Mouse, Bonnie, Feather, Jesus et al.

As always, Mosley through Rawlings makes cogent statements about race in America. He tackles unflinchingly both self-hatred in the black community and the hierarchy of color there. In the hands of a lesser writer this story would be little more than an angry diatribe about the treatment of blacks by whites in this country; but that does not happen. Mr. Mosley creates black characters who are less than perfect and white ones-- including one from the LAPD-- who are actually decent people. As the writer's fans know already, his prose is as succinct as a grocery list but beautifully descriptive. Rawlins describes his clan as "my beautiful patchwork family." A cook prepares eggs "just an instant past running.
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Format: Hardcover
They're back. Both Easy Rawlins and his sidekick, "Mouse" has delighted fans of Walter Mosley for years and his latest, Little Scarlet, is no exception. It is 1965 and the city of Los Angles has been embroiled in rioting, killing, and other forms of violence in Watts for several days. Now a young black woman is dead and her aunt is insisting that a white man did it. This white man happened to be in Watts at the height of looting and violence where he was dragged from his vehicle and badly beaten. He escaped into a building to the home of the victim. Now the aunt is in a psychiatric facility, supposedly for her own protection and the police are calling on Easy to investigate the allegations.

The police have never been Easy's friend and now they want his help. What's up with that? He knows it is because if the word gets out that a white man killed a black woman, the now dormant riot would explode all over again. With thorough detective work, it does not take long for Easy to track down the mysterious white man. But things are never that easy and Easy is convinced Peter Rhone did not kill Nola Payne AKA Little Scarlet. A mishmash of neighborhood characters provide clues of other possible suspects and with the help of his old friends, Mouse and Jackson Blue, he is off and running. One of his informants is Juanda, a young woman who catches Easy's eye. But he can't go there for he is devoted to Bonnie, his woman of several years. His household is replete with his adopted children, Jesus, now eighteen years old and his daughter, Feather. He owns several properties, has a steady job as a custodian supervisor with the school district and an office in Watts where he conducts his private investigation business. What more could a brother with humble beginnings by way of Louisiana and Texas want?
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Format: Hardcover
Word is that Mr. Mosley has tried to let Easy rest for a while but we readers (as expressed through the editors) demand his reappearance. How can we help but want more Easy?!? As a character he is believable, smart, kinda gritty but wholey honorable.

In "Little Scarltet," however, my enjoyment of the story was more than just the hankerin' for more Easy Rawlins .Because I grew up in South Central L.A,. because I was a burgeoning adolescent at the time of the story's setting, because the events in this story (the '65 Watts Riots) were the ones that began the formation of my view of the socio-political world... and above all because it was well written and entertaining... I LOVED IT!

Mr. Mosley has skillfully driven another of his fiction-vehicles to a place where the reader hits pay dirt. For those who might not otherwise have a clue, here is a cruise through understanding what the '65 Watts Riots were about from more than one perspective. For those of us who traveled the mostly-bitter-sometimes-sweet road, he reminds us of the moral, political and spiritual lessons learned.

The plot drove the telling of all this in an engaging, entertaining manner and left me wanting more Easy Rawlins--sorry Mr. Mosely LOL!

I have enjoyed the Easy Rawlins series enough to have ordered some of his works in other genres and look forward to more of that good Hot-Fudge-Sundae fiction!
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Walter Mosley spins a tale so deftly that the reader soon becomes completely absorbed in the action and the characters surrounding it, and quickly forgets that the printed text is merely a portal linked to the fictional world created by the author's imagination. This eerie effect is experienced even more profoundly in Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries, and LITTLE SCARLET is his best addition yet to this remarkable series.

Although the reader is deprived of ever meeting the woman known as Little Scarlet, her presence looms throughout the novel as Easy is enlisted by the racist and corrupt police department to assist in solving her seemingly senseless murder. During his quest, Easy encounters familiar characters from Mosley's previous works, such as the ever charming and murderous Mouse, the brilliant, but cowardly Jackson Blue, beautiful and loyal Bonnie, and Easy's "adopted" children, Feather and Jesus. A serial killer, carried over from Mosley's last short story collection (which also re-introduced the previously "deceased" Mouse), rears his monstrous head again, although the reader learns a little more about what motivates his conduct and can even empathize with him near the novel's conclusion.

Also present in LITTLE SCARLET are Mosley's trademark wit and inimitable writing style. From his realistic use of street vernacular to his clever turn of a simple phrase, Walter Mosley, easily, is one of the most thought-provoking literary craftsmen of all time.
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