Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (Socrates Fortlow Series #1)

( 11 )

Overview

New York Times bestselling author Walter Mosley introduces an "astonishing character" (Los Angeles Times Book Review) in this acclaimed collection of entwined tales. Meet Socrates Fortlow, a tough ex-con seeking truth and redemption in South Central Los Angeles — and finding the miracle of survival.
"I either committed a crime or had a crime done to me every day I was in jail. Once you go to prison you belong there." Socrates Fortlow has done his time: twenty-seven years for ...

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Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (Socrates Fortlow Series #1)

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Overview

New York Times bestselling author Walter Mosley introduces an "astonishing character" (Los Angeles Times Book Review) in this acclaimed collection of entwined tales. Meet Socrates Fortlow, a tough ex-con seeking truth and redemption in South Central Los Angeles — and finding the miracle of survival.
"I either committed a crime or had a crime done to me every day I was in jail. Once you go to prison you belong there." Socrates Fortlow has done his time: twenty-seven years for murder and rape, acts forged by his huge, rock-breaking hands. Now, he has come home to a new kind of prison: two battered rooms in an abandoned building in Watts. Working for the Bounty supermarket, and moving perilously close to invisibility, it is Socrates who throws a lifeline to a drowning man: young Darryl, whose shaky path is already bloodstained and fearsome. In a place of violence and hopelessness, Socrates offers up his own battle-scarred wisdom that can turn the world around.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Elle Mournful, insightful, and mystical. It is also Mosley's best work of fiction.

Denver Post A wonderful book...[with] characters who seem as real as the reader.

San Francisco Chronicle Mosley has constructed a perfect Socrates for millennium's end — a principled man who finds that the highest meaning of life can be attained through self-knowledge, and who convinces others of the power and value of looking within.

Booklist Powerful...hard-hitting, unrelenting, poignant short fiction.

Sven Birkerts The New York Times Book Review Mosley's style suits his subject perfectly. The prose is sand-papery, the sentence rhythms often rough and jabbing. But then — sudden surprise — we come upon moments of undefended lyricism.

Publishers Weekly Unveiling a new, bigger-than-life urban hero...Mosley...confer[s] on the mean streets of contemporary L.A. what filmmaker John Ford helped create for the American West: a gun-slinging mythology of street justice and a gritty, elegiac code of honor...A maverick protagonist.

Playboy Tough but touching stories.

Amazon.com Gritty and lyrical, the interlinked stories are stamped with Mosley's unique brand of street-smart comedy.

Sonoma County Independent An insistently probing, philosophical gem...set in a world where standard notions of right and wrong have been blown to hell.

The Los Angeles Times Book Review Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned is the work of a writer unafraid of pushing forward his own notions of responsibility and entitlement.

Elle

Mournful, insightful, and mystical. It is also Mosley's best work of fiction.

Denver Post

A wonderful book...[with] characters who seem as real as the reader.

Booklist

Powerful...hard-hitting, unrelenting, poignant short fiction.

Publishers Weekly

Unveiling a new, bigger-than-life urban hero...Mosley...confer[s] on the mean streets of contemporary L.A. what filmmaker John Ford helped create for the American West: a gun-slinging mythology of street justice and a gritty, elegiac code of honor...A maverick protagonist.

Playboy

Tough but touching stories.

Sonoma County Independent

An insistently probing, philosophical gem...set in a world where standard notions of right and wrong have been blown to hell.

The Los Angeles Times Book Review

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned is the work of a writer unafraid of pushing forward his own notions of responsibility and entitlement.

Library Journal
Mosley introduces an unlikely hero in Socrates Fortlow, a rough-hewn yet thoughtful ex-con who, like his Greek namesake, is prone to asking big moral questions. Having spent 27 years in an Indiana prison and now living in Watts (in Los Angeles), Socrates is trying to redeem a misspent life while avoiding his own worst tendencies. He risks his safety to help a young boy struggling with his own conscience and tries to show mercy to an old friend dying of cancer. When he attempts to help a dog run over by a callous motorist, Socrates gives in to his anger and suddenly finds himself on the verge of returning to jail. While the novel can be a bit contrived or didactic in places, readers will find Socrates an intriguing enough character to overlook these flaws. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/97.]Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, Mass.
Elle
Mournful, insightful, and mystical. . .Mosley's best work of fiction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671014995
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1998
  • Series: Socrates Fortlow Series , #1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 230,999
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Mosley is the New York Times bestselling author of five Easy Rawlins mysteries: Devil in A Blue Dress, A Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty, and A Little Yellow Dog; three non-mystery novels, Blue Light, Gone Fishin', and R. L.'s Dream; two collections of stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, for which he received the Anisfield Wolf Award, and which was an HBO movie; and a nonfiction book, Workin' On The Chain Gang. Mosley is also the author of the Leonid McGill, and Fearless Jones mystery series, The Tempest Tales and Six Easy Pieces. He is a former president of the Mystery Writers of America, a founder of the PEN American Center Open Book Committee, and is on the board of directors of the National Book Awards. A native of Los Angeles, he now 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

Crimson Shadow: Section One

"What you doin' there, boy?"

It was six a.m. Socrates Fortlow had come out to the alley, to see what was wrong with Billy. He hadn't heard him crow that morning and was worried about his old friend.

The sun was just coming up. The alley was almost pretty with the trash and broken asphalt covered in half-light. Discarded wine bottles shone like murky emeralds in the sludge. In the dawn shadows Socrates didn't even notice the boy until he moved. He was standing in front of a small cardboard box, across the alley — next to Billy's wire fence.

"What bidness is it to you, old man?" the boy answered. He couldn't have been more than twelve but he had that hard convict stare.

Socrates knew convicts, knew them inside and out.

"I asked you a question, boy. Ain't yo' momma told you t'be civil?"

"Shit!" The boy turned away, ready to leave. He wore baggy jeans with a blooming blue T-shirt over his bony arms and chest. His hair was cut close to the scalp.

The boy bent down to pick up the box.

"What they call you?" Socrates asked the skinny butt stuck up in the air.

"What's it to you?"

Socrates pushed open the wooden fence and leapt. If the boy hadn't had his back turned he would have been able to dodge the stiff lunge. As it was he heard something and moved quickly to the side.

Quickly. But not quickly enough.

Socrates grabbed the skinny arms with his big hands — the rock breakers, as Joe Benz used to call them.

"Ow! Shit!"

Socrates shook the boy until the serrated steak knife, which had appeared from nowhere, fell from his hand.

The old brown rooster was dead in the box. His head slashed so badly that half of the beak was gone.

"Let me loose, man." The boy kicked, but Socrates held him at arm's length.

"Don't make me hurt you, boy," he warned. He let go of one arm and said, "Pick up that box. Pick it up!" When the boy obeyed, Socrates pulled him by the arm — dragged him through the gate, past the tomato plants and string bean vines, into the two rooms where he'd stayed since they'd let him out of prison.

The kitchen was only big enough for a man and a half. The floor was pitted linoleum; maroon where it had kept its color, gray where it had worn through. There was a card table for dining and a fold-up plastic chair for a seat. There was a sink with a hot plate on the drainboard and shelves that were once cabinets — before the doors were torn off.

The light fixture above the sink had a sixty-watt bulb burning in it. The room smelled of coffee. A newspaper was spread across the table.

Socrates shoved the boy into the chair, not gently.

"Sit'own!"

There was a mass of webbing next to the weak lightbulb. A red spider picked its way slowly through the strands.

"What's your name, boy?" Socrates asked again.

"Darryl."

There was a photograph of a painting tacked underneath the light. It was the image of a black woman in the doorway of a house. She wore a red dress and a red hat to protect her eyes from the sun. She had her arms crossed under her breasts and looked angry. Darryl stared at the painting while the spider danced above.

"Why you kill my friend, asshole?"

"What?" Darryl asked. There was fear in his voice.

"You heard me."

"I-I-I din't kill nobody." Darryl gulped and opened his eyes wider than seemed possible. "Who told you that?"

When Socrates didn't say anything, Darryl jumped up to run, but the man socked him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him, pushing him back down in the chair.

Socrates squatted down and scooped the rooster up out of the box. He held the limp old bird up in front of Darryl's face.

"Why you kill Billy, boy?"

"That's a bird." Darryl pointed. There was relief mixed with panic in his eyes.

"That's my friend."

"You crazy, old man. That's a bird. Bird cain't be nobody's friend." Darryl's words were still wild. Socrates knew the guilty look on his face.

He wondered at the boy and at the rooster that had gotten him out of his bed every day for the past eight years. A rage went through him and he crushed the rooster's neck in his fist.

"You crazy," Darryl said.

A large truck made its way down the alley just then. The heavy vibrations went through the small kitchen, making plates and tinware rattle loudly.

Socrates shoved the corpse into the boy's lap. "Get ovah there to the sink an' pluck it."

"Shit!"

"You don't have to do it..."

"You better believe I ain't gonna..."

"...but I will kick holy shit outta you if you don't."

"Pluck what? What you mean, pluck it?"

"I mean go ovah t'that sink an' pull out the feathers. What you kill it for if you ain't gonna pluck it?"

"I'as gonna sell it."

"Sell it?"

"Yeah," Darryl said. "Sell it to some old lady wanna make some chicken."

Copyright © 1998 by Walter Mosley

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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, November 13th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Walter Mosley to discuss ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED.


Moderator: Welcome to the barnesandnoble.com author Auditorium. We are excited to welcome Walter Mosley, who is here to talk about his new book, ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED. Welcome, Walter Mosley! Thank you for taking the time to join us online to discuss your latest book.

Walter Mosley: Thanks for having me. I am glad to be here.


Monique Charles from Metaire, LA: Why do you think in the past detective novels have always been limited to white audiences? And why do you think this recent resurgence of film noir has happened ("Devil in a Blue Dress" and "L.A. Confidential")?

Walter Mosley: Most cultures in America have been limited to white audiences, and that is changing. As far as your second question goes, there is always a resurgence of film noir. Until people realize that noir is low-budget, it will always have trouble.


Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: How autobiographical would you say the character of Socrates Fortlow is?

Walter Mosley: It is not at all autobiographical. I didn't go to prison for 27 years.


Jae Markham from Visalia,CA: I am a student at College of the Sequoias, and I am taking an African American literature class this semester. I was wondering if you were inspired to become a writer by any of the more famous black authors, and what type of books do you enjoyed reading, since you stated you don't read many mystery novels?

Walter Mosley: I started writing not because of other writers but because of storytellers, the most important one being my father. I love existentialism and novels like THE STRANGER, but also I am crazy for sci-fi and different kinds of literary works. I like to read.


Melinda from North Wales, PA: Have you met President Clinton? What did you two talk about and what were your impressions of his reading habits? I ask this because of his declaration that you are his favorite mystery writer.

Walter Mosley: I had dinner with him once at the White House, and I went once just to say hello. He seems to read an awful lot. He reads early in the morning, like 1 to 3am. He is a very smart man.


Kendra Lewis from Statesboro, GA: What type of research did you do for this novel?

Walter Mosley: I didn't do that much research. It is a novel about inner-city life juxtaposed with the Socratic method. I had already read Plato, and inner-city life I have had a pretty good knowledge of also.


Tonya from Detroit, Michigan: Do you read your book reviews?

Walter Mosley: Not always.


Peony from Las Vegas: The jacket cover of ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED is quite striking, but I'm not really sure what I am looking at. Could you tell me the evolution of this jacket cover -- what is it supposed to evoke?

Walter Mosley: Socrates. His most outstanding feature are his hands, which are called the rock breakers. It is the attempt of the designer to show hands of great character and great strength.


AnnaMaria Hardin from Atlanta, GA: Are we going to see more in the Easy Rawlins series? If so, will Mouse's character appear in that book? I must tell you that BLACK BETTY is my favorite of all of your books (although I liked them all).

Walter Mosley: Thank you very much for the compliment. My next book will be a sci-fi book but BAD BOT BRAWLY BROWN is my next Easy book, and we will have to see about Mouse.


Jessie from New Jersey: I understand that this book is coming out as an HBO original move. Did you write the screenplay for this movie? How much say did you get in the production of the movie?

Walter Mosley: Yes, I did write the screenplay for the movie, and I was the co-executive producer with Laurence Fishburne.


Lawrence from Hilton Head, SC: I read somewhere that you are diversifying the publishing industry. Is that true? How are you doing this?

Walter Mosley: I have started a publishing institute at the City College of New York. That publishing institute is running, and they have 58 students of color. We are trying and are very successful in having them support this institute.


Sarah from Birmingham, AL: What type of childhood did you have? How did you realize that you wanted to write for a living? Thanks -- I am a big fan of your books!

Walter Mosley: My childhood was kind of poor and then ended up being middle-class. I didn't realize that I wanted to be a writer until my early 30s.


SJennifer from Austin, TX: Where you happy with the movie version of "Devil in a Blue Dress"?

Walter Mosley: I thought it was a very good movie, and I think that Carl Franklin was very successful, because it was a movie about black people, but it could be identified with by anyone.


Loise from Baltimore: Who are your favorite mystery writers?

Walter Mosley: Stout, McDonald, etc. -- the regular guys.


Earl from San Diego, CA: Why did you write this book? Any more Easy Rawlins books coming?

Walter Mosley: I wrote this book because this was a way to address the deep thought coming out of the black community. Also it was a story that older and younger people could read. Easy will be back along with all the other things I write.


Paul from New York City: How much of ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED is based on SIMPLE TALES?

Walter Mosley: SIMPLE is a starting point for me. I wouldn't say they are based on the tales, but the idea of having a black man commenting on the times in Black Africa is one of the reasons why I decided I could write the Socrates stories.


Frederick from Montreal: Do you have any plans on writing nonfiction?

Walter Mosley: I am coming out with a series of essays from Norton. One is by me, and there are other writers. I am the editor of the book, which is my excursion into the realm of nonfiction. But fiction is really my love.


Michael Wilson from Atlanta: Mr. Mosley, I'm a big fan of your Easy Rawlins mysteries. Are real people inspirations for the characters?

Walter Mosley: Not really. Real people inform my stories, but the characters soon gain their own lives and go their own way.


Andy from New York City: Are you going on a tour for this book? Will you be doing a reading anywhere close to NYC? I can't wait to read your new book!

Walter Mosley: I will be reading at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square in New York sometime in December.


Daniel from Studio City, CA: I am curious to get your opinion of the whole film industry.

Walter Mosley: It is a hard question. The thing that is least mentioned in the film industry is that it is really a collaborative process. It takes a lot of people to make a movie, and any successful movie knows how to use all the people. The other thing about film is that it all starts with a pencil and a piece of paper.


Ollie from Albany, NY: Do you write original screenplays? If so, how would you compare writing screenplays to writing books?

Walter Mosley: Very different process A novel is creating a world in language and words, whereas a screenplay strives to create a world of images.


Danielle from Lexington, KY: Of all your numerous literary accomplishments, is there one single feat that you are most proud of?

Walter Mosley: I am happiest about being a writer. More important than any award or recognition is the joy I get from writing books and getting them published.


David from Statesboro, GA: Do you have any words of wisdom for an aspiring novelist?

Walter Mosley: Two things If you keep writing and adhere to writing, sooner or later you will be published. And in order to write and be most productive, you must write every day.


Brian from Cleveland: How did you get your first book published?

Walter Mosley: I had been at college and started writing. The teacher at the head of the program asked to see my book, which he did; then he came back the next week and had secretly given it to his agent. Within six weeks I had sold my book.


Miller from Philadelphia: How was writing this book different than writing your Easy Rawlins books? Do you relate better to Socrates or Easy?

Walter Mosley: I don't really relate better to anyone. This book and the way of writing it is more of creating 14 individual spheres and putting them in relationship to each other, while writing a novel is like writing one large globe that contains a larger story.


Michael from Oakland: What did you learn from writing RL'S DREAM?

Walter Mosley: I don't know what I learned, but I had a great time reveling in the blues as one of the central forms of life in America.


Ed from Seattle: What do you think you'd do for a living if you couldn't write?

Walter Mosley: If I wasn't making money being published, I would probably be teaching literature or writing, and if I couldn't do that, I would go back to my old standard, computer programming.


James from Los Angeles: I have been a fan of all the books you have written. Any plans for more movie adaptations of the Easy Rawlins series?

Walter Mosley: No plans yet, but it could happen in the next few years.


Bryan from Riverview, Michigan: How difficult a process is getting a book published, from start to finish?

Walter Mosley: Well, writing starts at the first sentence and ends with the last version of the last sentence. It takes a lot of work and it might be difficult, but it might be a labor of love.


John from Ann Arbor, MI: How long did it take from when you began to write until you first saw your name in print? Was it -- is it -- a struggle for you to write well, or are you just blessed with this talent?

Walter Mosley: Two and a half years. Writing is difficult -- it takes many drafts to make it work. It doesn't come that easy to anyone.


Tim from Louisville, Kentucky: What is next for Walter Mosley?

Walter Mosley: BLUE LIGHT, which should be in bookstores in about ten months.


Rory from Florida: Walter, two questions What is your novel BLUE LIGHT going to be about? Are there any characters in this book that relate to you?

Walter Mosley: Yeah, I relate to all my characters. BLUE LIGHT is about if the chromosomal base life is only half the equation of true life.


Moderator: Thank you very much for joining barnesandnoble.com, Mr. Mosley. Any closing comments?

Walter Mosley: Well, I appreciate the interview, and I hope all the people out there enjoy the new book.


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2006

    Walter Mosleys best work

    One word. Powerful. I couldn't put it down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Mosley -- Always a good read!

    The title is brilliant. My favorite Walter Mosley book is Walkin' the Dog. Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned is the first Fortlow book and introduces Socrates and the dog, as well. Like its title,the book is brilliant in its brevity and power.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2001

    Sonny Liston Lives!

    As a life long fan of Muhammad Ali's, I have come to develop a certain affection for some of the men that he beat- especially the Big Ol' Ugly Bear, Charles 'Sonny' Liston. Despite his public persona as the ultimate tough guy, Liston was a kind and decent man at heart. He was kind to children, animals, and especially devoted to his wife, Geraldine. Born black in the deep south, and one of something like 25 children, he lived a life that few of us, fortunately, know anything about. Because of his background, or despite it (you take your pick),There was a wisdom to the man, a decency, and it is that wisdom and decency that Walter Mosley has brought to life in the character of Socrates Fortlow. If Liston had not be rescued or destroyed by boxing (again, take your pick), 'Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned' could have easily have been his life story. A great and unforgetable work of literature!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2000

    Socrates too bad, too good.

    This collection of short stories demonstrates very convincingly that most of us have no clue about the African-American experience. There is a different code of ethics, different day-to-day priorities and different definitions about what makes a good life. Different definitions for words like ... possessions, love, time, life, death, place, security, children, want, lust. But Socrates becomes too predictable by the fourth or fifth story. You know he's going to maintain control of his violent impulses, except when used for good causes. Then he becomes an almost cartoon Superman. And when the most dreaded thing happens -- he faces going back to jail -- it's over a dog. That kind of sympathetic chain pulling is older than Charlie Chaplin. I liked Mouse better as a character formed by his upbringing and environment. This is not genre, like the Easy Rawlins books. This has potential for literature, but it's too easily bad and too easily moral. Socrates needs to make more mistakes and the endings of the stories need to be less pat. Needs subtlety.

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