Book From A Library: Devil In A Blue Dress

By Walter Mosley

I remember seeing, and enjoying, the film adaptation of this book when it first came out; among a cast that included Denzel Washington as Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins, Jennifer Beals as Daphne Monet and Tom Sizemore as DeWitt Albright, I remember it particularly for the first time I’d seen Don Cheadle, playing the violent and unhinged Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander with raw power. So I was particularly happy to see the book in my library, and that I was the first person to borrow the new edition.

I was hooked on the book by the first line: ‘I was surprised to see a white man walk in Joppy’s bar.’ The style is obviously derived from Raymond Chandler and other hardboiled/noir influences, but it also has the unique selling point of talking about LA in the 1940s from the perspective of a black man, and Mosley has the perfect authorial voice. What’s amazing is that this was his first published book, but the confidence and distinctness of the prose is so strong from the start.

Easy Rawlins has lost his job at a factory because of his pride and integrity, so he accepts the offer of work that comes through his friend, Joppy, who owns a local bar, because Rawlins has a small house and a mortgage to pay. The job is to work for a large but dangerous white gentleman called DeWitt Albright to look for a girl, Daphne Monet, who likes to frequent black bars, where Albright can’t easily go. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as Easy would like, and soon people he knows are turning up murdered and he is being arrested by the police for questioning (something that distinguishes the character from the white perspective of, say, Phillip Marlowe – a black man in police custody at the time was automatically guilty).

Easy is an intriguing and complex character: a soldier who served in the Second World War, he has integrity, an affinity for private investigating despite no training or experience, and an understanding of the way the world worked for black men, but he has demons as well, such as ghosts from his youth in Houston, a ‘voice’ that talks to him when things get tough, and his psychopathically violent friend from the old days, Mouse. The combination makes for a great protagonist for the series of books that Mosley has written, and it’s all here from the start.

I really enjoyed this book, and will look out for the rest of the series; if the other books are as good as this one, then I’ll be happy. The only qualm I had was that the book felt as if it ended rather abruptly, with things tied up too quickly; I don’t know if this is a genuine reaction, or if it’s just a side effect of enjoying the book and not wanting it to end.

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