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These two Black men in 1950s Los Angeles have few rights, little money, and no recourse under attack. But they have their ...
These two Black men in 1950s Los Angeles have few rights, little money, and no recourse under attack. But they have their friends, their wits, and their knowledge of the way the world really works to help them prevail.
MY USED-BOOK STORE had been open for just about a month when the police showed up. I hadn't called them, of course; a black man has to think twice before calling the cops in Watts. They came to see me late that afternoon. Two well-built young men. One had dark hair and the other sported freckles.
The dark one wandered around the room, flipping through random books, looking, it seemed, for some kind of contraband. "Where'd you get all these books, son?" the other cop asked, looking down on me.
I was sitting in my favorite swivel chair behind the makeshift table-desk that I used for book sales and purchases.
"Libraries," I replied.
"Stole 'em?" the dark-haired cop asked from across the room. There was an eager grin on his face.
"Front'a each page marked discarded," I said, editing out all unnecessary words as I spoke. "Library throws away thousands of books every year."
I reached for a paper folder at the far end of the table, and the cop standing over me let his right hand drift toward his holster. I removed a sheet of paper and handed it over slowly.
"This letter," I said, "is from the office of the head librarian downtown."
The freckled and frowning cop used his left hand to take the letter from me.
I was put out by the roust but not surprised. The police weren't used to a Negro in Watts going into business for himself. Most black migrants from the South usually got jobs for the city or did domestic work or day labor. There were very few entrepreneurs active among us at that time. That's why I had asked Miss Ryan, assistant to the president of the county library system, for a letter of explanation. She had written the letter on official letterhead, addressed "To whom it may concern," stating that any library book marked discarded was no longer the property of the library and could be disposed of in any way that the current owner saw fit.
Upon reading this the officer's hand moved away from his gun.
"The law says that you're supposed to post business hours clearly on the front door," he said, letting the letter fall back on the table.
There was no such ordinance, and I knew it, but I said, "Yes, officer. I'll take care of it tomorrow."
I felt no rancor toward them. Being challenged by the law was a rite of passage for any Negro who wanted to better himself or his situation.
I HAD OPENED my nameless bookstore on Central just down from 101st Street. It was the only one of its kind for miles. I carried everything from Tolstoy to Batman, from Richard Wright to Popular Mechanics. No new books, but a used book is just as good as a new one as far as the reading goes.
At first I was scandalized by the thought that a library would discard a book, but once I realized the possibilities for business, I made the rounds of every library in L.A., carting off almost two thousand volumes in just over three months. Then I paid first and last month's rent on a storefront that was down the street from a Holy Roller church called Messenger of the Divine.
My friend Fearless Jones helped me throw together some pine shelving and I was in business. I bought magazines two for a nickel and sold them at twice the price. I traded one book or magazine for two of equal worth.
Business wasn't brisk, but it paid the rent and utilities. And all day long I could do the thing I loved best-reading. I read Up from Slavery, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mein Kampf, and dozens of other titles in the first few months. Whole days I spent in my reclining swivel chair, turning pages and drinking Royal Crown colas. Every once in a while I'd have to stop in order to sell an encyclopedia to proud parents or a romance to a woman who needed more than her husband had left at the end of a hard day's work. I had a whole army of little children helpers who'd sort and alphabetize for comic book privileges and maybe a free taco now and then.
For a solid three months I was the happiest man in L.A., in spite of the cops. I had a checking account, and for the first time in my life I was caught up on my bills.
But then Love walked in the door.
It was a cloudless day in October, the year was 1954. It wasn't hot or cold outside, but her dress was definitely a summer frock, white with a floral pattern. The thin straps lay loose on her brown shoulders. She didn't seem to be wearing anything under that dress-not that she needed to. The sunglasses had been pushed up to the top of her head, nestled in the big, floppy curls she'd had done at some beauty shop.
Her face is what scared me. It was too wide to be pretty and too flat to be handsome, but she was beautiful anyway. I wanted to feel my cheek rubbing up against hers.
The last time I'd felt like that about a woman I almost got killed. So the fast beating of my heart was a coin toss between love and fear.
"Is Reverend Grove here?'" she asked me in a breathy voice.
"Reverend William Grove. He preached with Father Vincent and Sister Thalia."
The skirt came down to the middle of her knees. Her legs were bare and her ankles were bound with thin straps of white leather snaking up from delicate sandals.
"I don't know any Grove," I said, forcing my eyes back to her face.
The name had some meaning to me, but it felt so distant that I thought it must be someone from long ago, maybe from down in Louisiana. Certainly not anyone this beautiful girl and I would both know.
She looked around the room, twisting at the waist to see for herself. She had a figure made for that kind of movement. Her eyes lit on a burlap curtain that hung over a doorway.
"Where's that go?" she asked.
"My back room," I said. Then it came to me. "You must be talking about the Messenger of the Divine."
"Oh yes. Yes."
The hope in her voice brought me up out of my chair. She moved toward me. Her hands reached out for me.
"They had a place look like mine down the street," I said.
"But they moved out. Must be two months ago now."
"What?" Her face went blank.
"Moved," I said. "Went away."
"I don't know. They moved out in the middle of the night.
Took everything. All that was left was an empty space and a few paper fans."
I was sad to make my little report because now there was no reason for her to stay and twist around. I realized that I had spent a little too much time lately wrapped up in books. I had the notion that I should go out to the Parisian Room that night.
Just then the young woman leaned backward and then crumpled forward, into my arms. As I stood there holding her steady, the fear fled my heart. At close quarters her scent was floral, but it was also sharp, like the smell after lightning strikes.
"You got some water in the back?" she whispered.
I nodded and led her through the heavy burlap curtain to the back room and put her on my cot. She was mumbling and crying.
"Are you okay?" I asked, perching next to her.
"Where did they go?"
I couldn't find the words to hurt her again.
"What am I gonna do?" she cried, turning her head, looking around in the dark as if the room might somehow transform itself into the church she sought. "Reverend Grove is the only one who can help me now."
"What's wrong?" I asked, thinking, even then, that I didn't really want to know.
"I have to find William. If I don't-" She broke off in tears. I tried to console her but she was bereft.
After a moment or two I heard the front door to the store come open. She heard it too and took in a quick breath. Her fear made me wary again. I rose up and went through the curtain to the store.
The man standing there was a study in blunt. His hairless head was big and meaty. The dark features might not have been naturally ugly, but they had been battered by a lifetime of hard knocks: broken nose, a rash that had raged and then scarred over the lower left side of his face. His eyebrows seemed to be different sizes, but that might just have been the product of a permanent scowl.
"Wherethegurl?" he said in a tone so guttural that for a moment I couldn't make out the words. "Wherethegurl?"
He was about six feet tall (I'm only five eight), but he had the chest and shoulders of someone who should have been much taller. He was a volcano crushed down into just about man size. His clothes were festive, a red Hawaiian shirt and light blue pants. The outfit was ridiculous, like a calico bow on an English bulldog.
"I don't-" I said.
"Wherethegurl, muthahfuckah!" He had the build of a fire-plug but moved like a cat. He had me by the arm and in the air before I could invent a lie.
"Where is she?" He looked around the room and saw that the burlap curtain was the only exit besides the front door. He threw me at the curtain, and I tore it down falling into the back room. He came in right behind me, looking at all the corners and then at the bed.
My eyes were on him.
"This your last chance," he said, threat heavy in each word. I dared a glance at the bed and saw that it was empty.
"I don't know, man," I said as bravely as I could. "She come an' asked about a church used to be around here. I told her that they were gone. So then she said she had to go to the bathroom." I gestured with my hand. He saw the door and flung it open with so much force that one of the hinges ripped loose from the wall. All that was revealed was a lidless commode and tin sink.
"Where is she?" He dragged me to my feet with one hand.
"She must'a gone out the back, man. I don't know."
I think he slapped me, but I've been hit by blackjacks that had more give than his fingers. The taste of salt came into my mouth and the lightbulb on the desk multiplied into a thousand stars.
"Wherethegurl?" a parrot somewhere said.
"She must'a gone out the back," I repeated.
"I'll kill you, niggah, no lie."
He slapped me again and I tried to think of what I could say to save my life. But I didn't know anything, not even the frightened woman's name. I decided that, since he was going to kill me anyway, I would go out bravely. For once I would be as brave as my friend Fearless. I had never stood up to a bully in my life. So at least this one last time, in a back room in Watts, Paris Minton would show some backbone. Fuck you, asshole, was on the tip of my tongue.
"Please don't, brother." My trembling words betrayed me. "I don't know nuthin'."
He slapped me again. My head turned around so far that I was sure my neck had broken.
"You a dead man," my attacker said.
A child's voice squeaked, "Mr. Minton, you okay?"
"Who's that man?" another child screamed.
I fell to the floor, noticing as I hit that my killer wore leather sandals on bare feet. As I lost consciousness I thought that if a man was going to kill me, he should at least wear grown-up men's shoes.
Copyright (c) 2001 by Walter Mosley
Posted May 20, 2013
A writer has to capture my attention within the first chapter of a novel and Walter Mosley was able to do so, within the first few pages.
As an avid reader, I was instantly connected to Paris Minton's passion for reading and immediately identified with his love of books.
Each of the characters were introduced in vivid detail, allowing an established familarity that raises interest as to how they fit into the fast - paced storyline.
This novel draws the attention of both the fan and non-fan (like myself) of mystery novels, as the mystery is hidden in excellent story-telling, causing you to focus solely on the characters and wonder just how the story will end.
Excellent reading! I am now a fan of "Fearless Jones" and more endeared to Walter Mosley!
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 21, 2002
Walter Mosley expertly transports you back in time to a Los Angeles of long ago. It's obvious that Mosley has intimate knowledge of early Los Angeles as he intricately depicts his characters and tracks their movements. Only near the end as Mosley reconstructs the mahem that Paris and Fearless seems to stumble into at every turn does it get difficult to keep up with at times.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 11, 2011
Posted July 1, 2003
I saw The movie, Devil in a blue dress', but this was the first novel I read by Mosley ..it had the same feel as the movie, which I enjoyed watching .........nice work will read more of work in the future!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 11, 2003
Although I am an Easy Rawlins and Ray Alexander(Mouse)fan..this was a thrill to be introduced to new characters that are from the same era.The story was engrossing and fast paced and yet it had that wonderful slow and easy spin that Mosley gives his stories..Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 11, 2002
Posted August 16, 2002
New characters and outstanding story line! Walter Mosley is one of the best African American authors. If you enjoy a lot of action and suspense this is the book for you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 24, 2002
Fearless Jones kept you one the edge in each chapter. Just when you thought things got bad, Mosley turned around the drew up another delima. I love mysteries with a meaning. I hope that we have another mystery with Fearless in the near future.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 19, 2002
I loved this book! Walter Mosley's characters are strong black men trying to make their way in the world! I loved Fearless and look forward to more of him.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 5, 2001
Frearless Jones is fearless! Mosley takes you to places you've never been, into the lives of characters you've never known and through a reading you can't get enough of. I've read all of Mosley's works and they never cease to entertain, excite and enthrall me!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 6, 2001
Fearless Jones was a great page-turner that kept the reader guessing ---- What's Up? Paris the book reader plays the clue card reader and he's quite good at reading the clues. Paris's partner Fearless plays the strong man who fears nothing and he's quite a lady's man; willing to take great leaps and chances in life. The reader feels the 'passionate' desire that Paris has for a fancy lady named E. Love. Perhaps, some people would say it was a 'seek and conquer' desire that Paris had for E. Love. There are some interesting players in FJ -- read and find them. However, the key player will be determined by the individual reader. In my opinion, Walter Mosley gave the book character and a mysterious style. FJ was definitely a great page-turner.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 4, 2001
I am an AVID reader, but never have I picked up a mystery! Well, needless to say I am head over heels that I started with a Walter Mosley novel. 'Fearless Jones' is an advendture, a mystery, and a thriller all in one! The character development is amazing from the scars on everyone's face to the amazement of Paris' self-growth throughout the book! Every page had a different situation. When I get to the latter part of the book, I expect things to cool down a bit, but peices were still developing right until the last chapters! The title was rather deceiving and I was frustrated in the beginning, I guess because the title was the main narrator which leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions as to what the meaning of it is! Thanks to this excellent starter, I plan to read more of Mr. Mosley's works!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 5, 2001
Walter has done it again! With lots of break neck excitement and a large complement of 'you know I know somebody like 'em' characters, Fearless Jones will make you laugh, make your heart pound and shake your head and go 'um, um, um'! An intelligent, yet accessible read, Mosley mixes excitement, great dialogue, pots 'o plots with lots of social science thrown in for flavor! Read all his Easy Rawlins mysteries for more.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 8, 2001
Rather than reprising his popular central character, Easy Rawlins, deft wordsmith Walter Mosley introduces an equally intriguing hero - Fearless Jones. Again, Mosley shines at depicting black characters struggling to survive in an inhospitable white world. When Paris Minton's book shop door opens and gorgeous Elan Love walks in, so does trouble. Paris is a laid back black man content to run his store in the Watts area of 1950s LA. He's ill prepared to deal with all the woes that beset him such as being used for gun shot practice, being robbed, and seeing his business go up in flames. There's little choice for Paris except to send an SOS to his war veteran buddy, Fearless Jones - a man who more than lives up to his sobriquet. The pair embark on a surprise riddled chase fraught with excitement and danger. TV and film actor Peter Francis James gives tension filled voice to this riveting thriller.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 2, 2001
Fearless Jones is the finest new mystery I have read in decades. Its qualities place it alongside classics like The Maltese Falcon, while its deep exploration of human nature causes it to transcend the mystery genre. The story¿s subtle psychology reminds me of an ancient Greek drama. This book represents a new peak in the imagination and the writing of the immensely talented Mr. Walter Mosley. You have a rare treat in store. Start this book early in the day. You probably won¿t want to put it down. Like the frozen expressions on Greek tragedians¿ masks, Fearless Jones considers three kinds of human motivation: The self-interested satisfaction of the senses; the rational mind assembling the pieces of a puzzle; and good character that comes the heart. The narration builds from the rational mind and conveys all of the classic elements of the best noir mysteries. Mosley¿s point is that good character will naturally triumph because of the finer emotions and responses it will evoke in others. I suspect that you will agree with him, and feel uplifted by this tale despite the plot¿s pathway through many dark alleys of depravity. Few writers can take you inside the mind and body of the characters like Mr. Mosley. In this novel, you will think and feel along with Paris Minton, the owner of a used bookstore in Watts in 1954. Minton is a largely self-educated black man from Louisiana who came to California to find libraries that were open to all. His store¿s books are discards from local libraries. He has achieved a fragile kind of peaceful life, living and working in his bookstore (and reading when there are no customers). Suddenly, a beautiful woman, Alana Love, walks in the door seeking his help. From that moment on, his life will never be the same. Fast-paced action takes him from the contemplative life into the crosscurrents of desperate characters in moments. Like The Maltese Falcon, this story involves a treasure hunt with many clues, red herrings, and double-dealing villains. The plot connects back into the darkest shadows of the thirties and despicable acts of inhumanity. The plot evolves rapidly and spontaneously from the chance circumstance of Love and Minton meeting. I guarantee that you are likely to be kept on the edge of your seat and guessing right until the book¿s end. Minton realizes that he is badly out of his league. He takes the last of his savings and uses the money to pay a fine to get his friend, Fearless Jones, out of jail. Fearless Jones is a larger-than-life character who will cause you to rethink your own life. ¿Fearless was more free in that iron cage than I was, or would be, on the outside.¿ A World War II hero, the two met when Minton spontaneously bought Jones a drink during the post-war celebration. ¿He appreciated my generosity and gave me a lifetime of friendship for a single shot of scotch.¿ As you can see, Mr. Mosley writes like an angel in this book. Be sure to pay attention to the names of the characters and references to books. There are many interesting literary and pop culture allusions contained in them. No review of this book would be complete without observing that Mr. Mosley again demonstrates an unbelievable ability for capturing the black experience in Southern California in the post-war period. He has an equally uncanny skill for weaving a personalized view of that vulnerable, hopeful footing into the fabric of the overall society during those years. After you finish reading the book, I suggest that think back to the many moments of spontaneous generosity in the story. How did you feel when you read them? How would you feel if someone behaved in this way towards you? When was the last time that you offered the fullness of your heart¿s message to a stranger or near-stranger? How would you feel if you did so more often? Who are you? Who could you be? Who do you want to be? Live beyond your fears and your desires . . . and be free! Donald Mitchell, co-authorWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1954 Watts, Paris Minton feels very proud of himself because though he is a rare black shopkeeper, his used bookstore makes enough money to pay his bills. However, his world bursts apart when Elana Love enters his establishment and asks Paris a few questions about a former neighbor, a local church headed by Reverend Grove, that recently moved out in the middle of the night. A few minutes later, Leon Douglas enters the bookstore and begins beating Paris up while asking where Elana went. Only the arrival of neighborhood kids keeps Paris from a thrashing that could have killed him. After Leon leaves, Elana reappears from her hiding place. <P>Paris drives her to meet a Sol Tannebaum, but soon a car follows and fires shots at Leon. They escape and take a hotel room for the night. Elana seduces Paris, but in the morning she is gone and so is his money, credit cards, and car. When he goes to his store, he sees a burned out structure. Knowing he needs help, he bails out his friend FEARLESS JONES. Now the action begins. <P>Walter Mosley is the top dog when it comes to historical urban noirs with a sense of humor. His latest tale, FEARLESS JONES, is fabulous as he highlights a piece of Americana through his strong cast. The players line up early, but that just adds to the excitement of a top-notch thriller. Hopefully Mr. Mosley will return us to Paris for more fearless stories of 1950s America. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 15, 2011
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Posted January 4, 2011
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Posted November 11, 2014
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Posted January 22, 2010
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