A Red Death (Easy Rawlins Series #2)

( 9 )

Overview

It's 1953 in Red-baiting, blacklisting Los Angeles, a moral tar pit ready to swallow Easy Rawlins. Easy is out of "the hurting business" and into the housing (and the favor) business when a racist IRS agent nails him for tax evasion. FBI Special Agent Darryl T. Craxton offers to bail him out if he agrees to infiltrate the First African Baptist Church and spy on alleged communist union organizer Chaim Wenzler. That's when the murders begin...
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Overview

It's 1953 in Red-baiting, blacklisting Los Angeles, a moral tar pit ready to swallow Easy Rawlins. Easy is out of "the hurting business" and into the housing (and the favor) business when a racist IRS agent nails him for tax evasion. FBI Special Agent Darryl T. Craxton offers to bail him out if he agrees to infiltrate the First African Baptist Church and spy on alleged communist union organizer Chaim Wenzler. That's when the murders begin...
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
New York Newsday The thriller or detective story, raised to a higher level...action, suspense, a well-crafted plot...fast-moving [and] enjoyable.

The Indianapolis News This is a master at work: we would be well advised to seek everything Walter Mosley writes.

Mirabella A Red Death is a straightforward, cleanly nasty treat. The writing is funky and knowing, with a no-fools cast.

Los Angeles Times Book Review Mosley...is here to stay and not to be missed.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is the second novel in Mosley's superb series featuring Easy Rawlins, a black private investigator living in 1950s Los Angeles. In July Norton will publish White Butterfly , a third Mosley mystery starring Rawlins, which received a starred review in PW (Fiction Forecasts, May 4).
New York Newsday

The thriller or detective story, raised to a higher level...action, suspense, a well-crafted plot...fast-moving [and] enjoyable.

The Indianapolis News

This is a master at work: we would be well advised to seek everything Walter Mosley writes.

Mirabella

A Red Death is a straightforward, cleanly nasty treat. The writing is funky and knowing, with a no-fools cast.

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Mosley...is here to stay and not to be missed.

Library Journal
A Red Death confirms just how ambitious Mosley's acclaimed Easy Rawlins series (e.g, Devil in a Blue Dress, Audio Reviews, LJ 9/15/94) means to be. The tale presents a social history of black life in Watts over the course of several decades via the conventions of the hard-boiled private eye novel. The early 1950s finds Rawlins working as a janitor in buildings he secretly owns. When the IRS nabs him for tax evasion, his only way out is to cooperate with the FBI in bringing down a leftist Jewish man who is organizing through black churches. Worse yet, Etta Mae Harris has left Easy's deadly friend Mouse and seems finally ready to reciprocate Easy's long-time passion for her, placing his life in jeopardy from Mouse. Reader Stanley Bennett Clay has a great time with the many character voices and gives a fine reading. Highly recommended.-John Hiett, Iowa City P.L
Library Journal
A Red Death confirms just how ambitious Mosley's acclaimed Easy Rawlins series (e.g, Devil in a Blue Dress, Audio Reviews, LJ 9/15/94) means to be. The tale presents a social history of black life in Watts over the course of several decades via the conventions of the hard-boiled private eye novel. The early 1950s finds Rawlins working as a janitor in buildings he secretly owns. When the IRS nabs him for tax evasion, his only way out is to cooperate with the FBI in bringing down a leftist Jewish man who is organizing through black churches. Worse yet, Etta Mae Harris has left Easy's deadly friend Mouse and seems finally ready to reciprocate Easy's long-time passion for her, placing his life in jeopardy from Mouse. Reader Stanley Bennett Clay has a great time with the many character voices and gives a fine reading. Highly recommended.-John Hiett, Iowa City P.L
Wall Street Journal
Fascinating and vividly rendered...exotic and believable, filled with memorable individuals and morally complex situations.
San Francisco Chronicle
No other American writer...has successfully managed to mold the detective form into a historical serial of this sort, and one can only admire the fision behind the adventure.
Detroit News/Free Press
Mosley's skills are, in a word, prodigious.
Kirkus Reviews
Watts, 1953. Easy Rawlins, fresh from his Edgar-nominated debut (Devil in a Blue Dress), reluctantly agrees to spy on Communist union- organizer Chaim Wenzler for Red-baiting FBI agent Darryl Craxton in order to get IRS agent Reginald Lawrence—hot on his trail for back taxes on his off-the-books apartment buildings _ off his back. But nobody (as Easy knows all too well) ever gets off a black man's back; and long before Poinsettia Jackson, one of Easy's hard-case tenants, is found hanging from a strap in the apartment she's stopped paying for and before Chaim Wenzler7#39;s work leads Easy to the African Migration movement, the First African Church, and Reverend Towne and Tania Lee are shot in flagrante delictinevitably to be followed by Wenzler himself—Easy realizes that the two federal men are playing him off against each other. Who pulled the trigger on Wenzler and the others? As in Devil in a Blue Dress, Mosley's plot is so tangled it hardly matters. But the laconic poetry of Easy's voice floats through a central situation much more original and compelling than before. This time Mosley earns the acclaim his first novel received.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743451765
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2002
  • Series: Easy Rawlins Series , #2
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 209,119
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Mosley is the author of four previous mystery novels in the Easy Rawlins series: Devil in a Blue Dress (basis for the acclaimed film starring Denzel Washington), A Red Death, White Butterfly, and Black Betty, a New York Times bestseller. In August 1995 he published his first non-genre novel, RL's Dream, to widespread praise. Mosley is the current president of the Mystery Writers of America, a member of the executive board of the PEN American Center and founder of its Open Book Committee, and is on the board of directors of the National Book Awards. His novels are now published in eighteen countries. He is at work on a book featuring a new character, a philosophical and tough ex-convict named Socrates Fortlow; sections have already appeared in Esquire and GQ. A native of Los Angeles, Mosley lives in New York City.

Biography

When President Bill Clinton announced that Walter Mosley was one of his favorite writers, Black Betty (1994), Mosley's third detective novel featuring African American P.I. Easy Rawlins, soared up the bestseller lists. It's little wonder Clinton is a fan: Mosley's writing, an edgy, atmospheric blend of literary and pulp fiction, is like nobody else's. Some of his books are detective fiction, some are sci-fi, and all defy easy categorization.

Mosley was born in Los Angeles, traveled east to college, and found his way into writing fiction by way of working as a computer programmer, caterer, and potter. His first Easy Rawlins book, Gone Fishin' didn't find a publisher, but the next, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) most certainly did -- and the world was introduced to a startlingly different P.I.

Part of the success of the Easy Rawlins series is Mosley's gift for character development. Easy, who stumbles into detective work after being laid off by the aircraft industry, ages in real time in the novels, marries, and experiences believable financial troubles and successes. In addition, Mosley's ability to evoke atmosphere -- the dangers and complexities of life in the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles -- truly shines. His treatment of historic detail (the Rawlins books take place in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the mid-1960s) is impeccable, his dialogue fine-tuned and dead-on.

In 2002, Mosley introduced a new series featuring Fearless Jones, an Army vet with a rigid moral compass, and his friend, a used-bookstore owner named Paris Minton. The series is set in the black neighborhoods of 1950s L.A. and captures the racial climate of the times. Mosley himself summed up the first book, 2002's Fearless Jones, as "comic noir with a fringe of social realism."

Despite the success of his bestselling crime series, Mosley is a writer who resolutely resists pigeonholing. He regularly pens literary fiction, short stories, essays, and sci-fi novels, and he has made bold forays into erotica, YA fiction, and political polemic. "I didn't start off being a mystery writer," he said in an interview with NPR. "There's many things that I am." Fans of this talented, genre-bending author could not agree more!

Good To Know

Mosley won a Grammy award in 2002 in the category of "Best Album Notes" for Richard Pryor.... And It's Deep, Too! The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992).

Mosley is an avid potter in his spare time.

In our 2004 interview, Mosley reveals:

"I was a computer programmer for 15 years before publishing my first book. I am an avid collector of comic books. And I believe that war is rarely the answer, especially not for its innocent victims."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 12, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Los Angeles, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Johnson State College
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I always started sweeping on the top floor of the Magnolia Street apartments. It was a three-story pink stucco building between Ninety-first Street and Ninety-first Place, just about a mile outside of Watts proper. Twelve units. All occupied for that month. I had just gathered the dirt into a neat pile when I heard Mofass drive up in his new '53 Pontiac. I knew it was him because there was something wrong with the transmission, you could hear its high singing from a block away. I heard his door slam and his loud hello to Mrs. Trajillo, who always sat at her window on the first floor-best burglar alarm you could have.

I knew that Mofass collected the late rent on the second Thursday of the month; that's why I chose that particular Thursday to clean. I had money and the law on my mind, and Mofass was the only man I knew who might be able to set me straight.

I wasn't the only one to hear the Pontiac.

The doorknob to Apartment J jiggled and the door came open showing Poinsettia Jackson's sallow, sorry face.

She was a tall young woman with yellowish eyes and thick, slack lips.

"Hi, Easy," she drawled in the saddest high voice. She was a natural tenor but she screwed her voice higher to make me feel sorry for her.

All I felt was sick. The open door let the stink of incense from her prayer altar flow out across my newly swept hall.

"Poinsettia," I replied, then I turned quickly away as if my sweeping might escape if I didn't move to catch it.

"I heard Mofass down there," she said. "You hear him?"

"I just been workin'. That's all."

She opened the door and draped her emaciated body against the jamb. The nightcoat was stretched taut across her chest. Even though Poinsettia had gotten terribly thin after her accident, she still had a large frame.

"I gotta talk to him, Easy. You know I been so sick that I cain't even walk down there. Maybe you could go on down an tell'im that I need t'talk."

"He collectin' the late rent, Poinsettia. If you ain't paid him all you gotta do is wait. He'll be up here soon enough to talk to you."

"But I don't have it," she cried.

"You better tell'im that," I said. It didn't mean anything, I just wanted to say the last word and get down to work on the second floor.

"Could you talk to him, Easy? Couldn't you tell'im how sick I am?"

"He know how sick you are, Poinsettia. All he gotta do is look at you and he could tell that. But you know Mofass is business. He wants that rent."

"But maybe you could tell him about me, Easy."

She smiled at me. It was the kind of smile that once made men want to go out of their way. But Poinsettia's fine skin had slackened and she smelled like an old woman, even with the incense and perfume. Instead of wanting to help her I just wanted to get away.

"Sure, I'll ask 'im. But you know he don't work for me," I lied. "It's the other way around."

"Go on down there now, Easy," she begged. "Go ask 'im to let me slide a month or two."

She hadn't paid a penny in four months already, but it wouldn't have been smart for me to say that to her.

"Lemme talk to 'im later, Poinsettia. He'd just get mad if I stopped him on the steps."

"Go to 'im now, Easy. I hear him coming." She pulled at her robe with frantic fingers.

I could hear him too. Three loud knocks on a door, probably unit B, and then, in his deep voice, "Rent!"

"I'll go on down," I said to Poinsettia's ashen toes.

I pushed the dirt into my long-handled dustpan and made my way down to the second floor, sweeping off each stair as I went. I had just started gathering the dirt into a pile when Mofass came struggling up the stairs.

He'd lean forward to grab the railing, then pull himself up the stairs, hugging and wheezing like an old bulldog.

Mofass looked like an old bulldog too; a bulldog in a three-piece brown suit. He was fat but powerfully built, with low sloping shoulders and thick arms. He always had a cigar in his mouth or between his broad fingers. His color was dark brown but bright, as if a powerful lamp shone just below his skin.

"Mr. Rawlins," Mofass said to me. He made sure to be respectful when talking to anyone. Even if I actually had been his cleanup man he would have called me mister.

"Mofass," I said back. That was the only name he let anyone call him. "I need to discuss something with you after I finish here. Maybe we could go somewhere and have some lunch."

"Suits me," he said, clamping down on his cigar.

He grabbed the rail to the third floor and began to pull himself up there.

I went back to my work and worry.

Each floor of the Magnolia Street building had a short hallway with two apartments on either side. At the far end was a large window that let in the morning sun. That's why I fell in love with the place. The morning sun shone in, warming up the cold concrete floors and brightening the first part of your day. Sometimes I'd go there even when there was no work to be done. Mrs. Trajillo would stop me at the front door and ask, "Something wrong with the plumbing, Mr. Rawlins?" And I'd tell her that Mofass had me checking on the roof or that Lily Brown had seen a mouse a few weeks back and I was checking the traps. It was always best if I said something about a rodent or bugs, because Mrs. Trajillo was a sensitive woman who couldn't stand the idea of anything crawling down around the level of her feet.

Then I'd go upstairs and stand in the window, looking down into the street. Sometimes I'd stand there for an hour and more, watching the cars and clouds making their ways. There was a peaceful feeling about the streets of Los Angeles in those days.

Everybody on the second floor had a job, so I could sit around the halls all morning and nobody would bother me.

But that was all over. Just one letter from the government had ended my good life.

Everybody thought I was the handyman and that Mofass collected the rent for some white lady downtown. I owned three buildings, the Magnolia Street place being the largest, and a small house on 116th Street. All I had to do was the maintenance work, which I liked because whenever you hired somebody to work for you they always took too long and charged too much. And when I wasn't doing that I could do my little private job.

On top of real estate I was in the business of favors. I'd do something for somebody, like find a missing husband or figure out who's been breaking into so-and-so's store, and then maybe they could do me a good turn one day. It was a real country way of doing business. At that time almost everybody in my neighborhood had come from the country around southern Texas and Louisiana.

People would come to me if they had serious trouble but couldn't go to the police. Maybe somebody stole their money or their illegally registered car. Maybe they worried about their daughter's company or a wayward son. I settled disputes that would have otherwise come to bloodshed. I had a reputation for fairness and the strength of my convictions among the poor. Ninety-nine out of a hundred black folk were poor back then, so my reputation went quite a way.

I wasn't on anybody's payroll, and even though the rent was never steady, I still had enough money for food and liquor.

"What you mean, not today?" Mofass's deep voice echoed down the stairs. After that came the strained cries of Poinsettia.

"Cryin' ain't gonna pay the rent, Miss Jackson."

"I ain't got it! You know I ain't got it an' you know why too!"

"I know you ain't got it, that's why I'm here. This ain't my reg'lar collectin' day, ya know. I come to tell you folks that don't pay up, the gravy train is busted."

"I can't pay ya, Mofass. I ain't got it and I'm sick."

"Lissen here." His voice dropped a little. "This is my job. My money comes from the rent I collect fo' Mrs. Davenport. You see, I bring her a stack'a money from her buildin's and then she counts it. And when she finishes countin' she takes out my little piece. Now when I bring her more money I get more, and when I bring in less..."

Mofass didn't finish, because Poinsettia started crying.

"Let me loose!" Mofass shouted. "Let go, girl!"

"But you promised!" Poinsettia cried. "You promised!"

"I ain't promised nuthin'! Let go now!"

A few moments later I could hear him coming down the stairs.

"I be back on Saturday, and if you ain't got the money then you better be gone!" he shouted.

"You can go to hell!" Poinsettia cried in a strong tenor voice. "You shitty-assed bastard! I'ma call Willie on yo' black ass. He know all about you! Willie chew yo' shitty ass off!"

Mofass came down the stair holding on to the rail. He was walking slowly amid the curses and screams. I wondered if he even heard them.

"bastard!!" shouted Poinsettia.

"Are you ready to leave, Mr. Rawlins?" he asked me.

"I got the first floor yet."

"Mothahfuckin' bastard!"

"I'll be out in the car then. Take your time." Mofass waved his cigar in the air, leaving a peaceful trail of blue smoke.

When the front door on the first floor closed, Poinsettia stopped shouting and slammed her own door. Everything was quiet again. The sun was still warming the concrete floor and everything was as beautiful as always.

But it wasn't going to last long. Soon Poinsettia would be in the street and I'd have the morning sun in my jail cell.

Copyright © 2002 by Walter Mosley

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2003

    A Red Death is to Die For

    I am an aspiring writer and I must confirm that, 'A Red Death,' has inspired me to continue in my journey as a writer. The characters, the plot, as well as the aroma of the story has an urban symphony feel to it. A brilliant piece of work, indeed! I therefore tip my hat in favor to Mr. Walter Mosley for such a classic piece of writing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2011

    Would have been better without the short story...

    Loved Devil in a Blue Dress so I decided to buy the 2nd book in the series. A Red Death was not as good as Devil in a Blue Dress but I still enjoyed it... but I think a lot to do with that is the short story spoiled A Red Death along with probably a few other books in the series. Seeing as the short story takes place years after A Red Death it tells you what main characters have died throughout the series as well as a few other plot points I would rather have not known. And worst of all, it doesn't give the ending of the short story, so there's not even that payoff. Ridiculous.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2006

    Post-WWII Detective Noir

    With his Easy Rawlins series (of which A Red Death is book number two), author Mosley treads the familiar noir-detective genre in post-WWII Los Angeles. The twist is that most of the main characters, like Mosley, are African-American, which provides a welcome fresh perspective. Populated with interesting characters and head-popping plot twists, the book is short and sweet (about 245 pages). Some of the detective work requires leaps of logic and faith, and some of the characters are a bit too pat at times, but Mosley's effort is still far ahead of most of the Mystery Fiction pack. Recommended for detective fiction fans, or anyone who appreciates a good mystery.

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