The Washington Post
Little Scarlet (Easy Rawlins Series #8)by Walter Mosley
At the height of the riots that cripple LA in the summer of 1965, a white man is pulled from his car by a mob and escapes into a nearby apartment building. Soon
Walter Mosley delivers at last the compelling master work everyone's been waiting for--a novel so intriguing, so soulful, so unstoppably dramatic that it will rank among the classic mysteries of our time.
At the height of the riots that cripple LA in the summer of 1965, a white man is pulled from his car by a mob and escapes into a nearby apartment building. Soon afterward, a red-headed woman known as Little Scarlet is found dead in that apartment building--and the fleeing man is the obvious suspect. The police ask Easy Rawlins to investigate. What he finds is a killer whose rage, like that which burned the city for weeks, is intrinsically woven around race and passion. Rawlins's hunt for the killer will reveal a new city emerging from the ashes--and a new life for Easy and his friends.
Mosley's lean and muscular vernacular captures the heat and the rhythm of Los Angeles' heart, where danger is the common currency of everyday life.
The Washington Post
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
The morning air still smelled of smoke. Wood ash mainly but there was also the acrid stench of burnt plastic and paint. And even though I knew it couldn't be true, I thought I caught a whiff of putrid flesh from under the rubble across the street. The hardware store and Bernard's Stationery Store were both completely gutted. The Gonzalez Market had been looted but only a part of its roof had been scorched. The corner building, however, Lucky Dime Liquors, had been burned to the ground. Manny Massman was down in the rubble with his two sons, kicking the metal fixtures. At one point the middle-aged store owner lowered his head and cried. His sons put their hands on his shoulders.
I understood how he felt. He had everything in that liquor store. His whole life. And now, after a five-day eruption of rage that had been simmering for centuries, he was penniless and destitute.
In his mind he hadn't done a thing wrong to anyone down in Watts. He had never even thought about calling someone a nigger or boy. But the men and women down around Central and Eighty-sixth Place took everything of Manny's that they could carry, then smashed and burned the rest.
Four young black men passed in front of the liquor lot. One of them shouted something at the white men.
Manny barked back.
The youths stopped.
The Massman sons stepped forward with their chests out and their mouths full of angry sounds.
It's starting all over again, I thought. Maybe we'll be rioting a whole year. Maybe it won't ever end.
The black men crossed the threshold of the Lucky Dime's property line.
Stephen Massman bent down to pick up a piece of metal that had once been attached to their counter.
One of the angry youths shoved Martin.
I held my breath.
"Halt!" a man shouted through a megaphone.
A dozen or more soldiers appeared out of nowhere. A black soldier wearing a helmet and camouflage khakis talked to the black men while four white soldiers stood in an arc in front of the store owners. The rest of the troop stood across the property line cutting off the ravaged lot from the street.
Most of the National Guardsmen brandished rifles. A crowd was gathering. My hands clenched into fists so tight that my right forearm went into a spasm.
While I massaged out the knot of pain, the black soldier, a sergeant, calmed the four youths. I could hear his voice but my fourth-story window was too far away for me to make out the words.
I turned away from the scene and fell into the plush blue chair that sat at my desk. For the next hour I just sat there, hearing the sounds of people in the street but not daring to look down.
It had been like that for the past five days: me holding myself in check while South Los Angeles went up in the flames of a race riot; while stores were looted and snipers fired and while men, women, and children cried "Burn, baby, burn!" and "Get whitey!" on every corner familiar to me.
I stayed shut up in my home, in peaceful West L.A., not drinking and not going out with a trunk full of Molotov cocktails.
WHEN I FINALLY roused myself the street down below was full of black people, some venturing out of their homes for the first time since the first night of rioting. Most of them looked stunned.
I went to my office door and out into the hall.
There was the smell of smoke in the building too, but not much. Steinman's Shoe Repair was the only store that had been torched. That was on the first night, when the fire trucks still braved the hails of sniper bullets. The flames were put out before they could spread.
I went to the far stairwell from my office and down the three flights to Steinman's side entrance. There was a burnt timber blocking the way. I would have turned around if it weren't for the voices.
"What the hell you mean you don't have my shoes, white man?"
"Everything is burned up," a frail voice replied in a mild German accent.
"That's not my fault, man," the angry voice said. "I give you my shoes, I expect to get them back."
"They are all burned."
"And do you think if this was my store that I could tell you I didn't have nuthin' for ya?" the customer said. "Do you think a black man could just say his store done burned down so he don't have to make good on his responsibilities?"
"I don't have your shoes."
I shoved the timber out of the way, smudging the palms of my hands with sooty charcoal. When I came into the burned-out room, both occupants turned to look at me.
Theodore was a short, powerfully built white man with little hair and big hands. The irate customer was much larger, with a wide chest and a big face that would have been beautiful on a woman.
"Hey, Theodore," I said.
"Wait your turn, man," the Negro customer warned. "I got business to take care of first."
He swiveled his head back to the cobbler and said, "Those shoes costed me thirty-six dollars and if you can't give 'em up right now I want to see some money across this here hand."
I took a quick breath and then another. There was an electric tingle over my right cheekbone and for a moment the room was tinged in red.
"Brother," I said. "You got to go."
"Are you talkin' to me, niggah?"
"You heard me," I said in a tone that you can't make up. "I been in the house for some time now, trying not to break out and start doin' wrong. I've been patient and treadin' softly. But if you say one more word to my friend here I will break you like a matchstick and throw you out in the street."
"I want my shoes," the big beautiful man said with tears in his voice. "He owe it to me. It don't matter what they did."
I heard his cracked tone. I knew that he was just as crazy as I was at that moment. We were both black men filled with a passionate rage that was too big to be held in. I didn't want to fight but I knew that once I started, the only thing that would stop me would be his lifeless throat crushed by my hand.
"Here you are, sir," Theodore said.
He was handing over a ten-dollar bill.
"Your shoes were old, you know," the shoemaker said. "And they both needed soles. It was a good make and I would have bought them for seven dollars. So here's ten."
The burly man stared at the note a moment. Then he looked up at me.
"Forget it," he said.
He turned around so quickly that he lost his balance for a moment and had to reach out for a broken, charred timber for support.
"Ow!" he shouted, probably because of a splinter, but I can't say for sure because he blundered out, tearing the front door off of its last hinge as he went.
There was a sleek antique riding saddle on the floor, under a shattered wooden chair. I moved away the kindling and picked up the saddle. Theodore had received it from his uncle who was a riding master in Munich before World War I. I'd always admired the leatherwork.
Setting the riding gear on a fairly stable part of his ruined worktable, I said, "You didn't have to pay him, Mr. Steinman."
"He was hurting," the small man replied. "He wanted justice."
"That's not your job."
"It is all of our job," he said, staring at me with blue eyes. "You cannot forget that."
It was a question asked in a voice filled with authority. It was a white man's voice. Putting those bits of information together, I knew that I was being addressed by the police.
Copyright © 2004 by Walter Mosley
Meet the Author
Walter Mosley is the author of the acclaimed Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones series of mysteries, as well as numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction. He has won the Anisfield-Wolf award, a Grammy Award, and in 2004 received a PEN USA lifetime achievement award. He was born in Los Angeles and lives in New York.
- New York, New York
- Date of Birth:
- January 12, 1952
- Place of Birth:
- Los Angeles, California
- B.A., Johnson State College
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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If you haven't entered the world of Easy Rawlins, this is as good a place as any to start. A good mystery with a phenomenal backdrop (1960s Watts after the race riots). This book gives an excellent insight into how an intelligent black man felt at this time in history and the injustices and anger he felt at having to survive in the white man's world. Highly recommend to anyone. The writing is superb - as always.
This novel was a big improvement over Brawly Brown. Easy Rawlins seems to have matured. Although the mystery is less than tight, his journey through a world that has forever changed is what makes this book compelling. Mosley writes with anger but still has compassion for all the victims of the riots, black and white.
Its the early sixties and there is trouble in Watts. Then a murder occurs and the police come to Easy Rawlins for help. And, so the ride begins for another wonderful excursion into the world of Black America as seen through the eyes of Easy Rawlins (Walter Mosely). Mr. Mosely has developed a style that is as much sociological documentary as it is a wonderful mystery story. The characters he weaves seem to breathe the very life that toke place back through our recent history. This time Easy must do for the white establishment what they themselves are unable to do because of the very riots that are taking place in the Black neighborhoods of Watts. Find out who killed Little Scarlett. The police believe they know who the killer might be and want Easy to find the perp. But Easy wants to find out who the killer is and why the killer did the act. Nothing is easy for Easy and Easy goes through his own metamorphosis as he uncovers and then finds the killer and discovers justice for all concerned. This story is really 4 1/2 stars!
Always Outnumbered; Always Outgunned; Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones are two men you do not want to meet in a dark alley.It was great to meet them both in the same book!! This book is a MUST READ!!!!
Because I grew up there, because I was a burgeoning adolescent at the time of its setting, because the events in this story 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. For those of us who know the bitter-sweet road from our own journeys, he takes us on a trip down memory lane that can renew focus, sharpening the edges of our consciousness and memory.
Set during the 1965Watts riots---the acrid smell of charred ruins, the property destruction, the tension in the air---the reader is quickly drawn in to the ninth installment of The Easy Rawlins Series. The L.A. Police department taps ¿Research and Delivery¿ expert Easy Rawlins to help them solve the murder of a black woman last seen with a white male suspect. Detective Suggs reason for making this request of Easy is thin¿to keep fresh riots from erupting. But once Suggs tosses out a few scenarios where the cops would have grounds to take Easy into custody if he refuses, he reluctantly begins the investigation. With more than thirty characters, this tale flies as quickly as rounds from a sniper¿s rifle. After the disappointment of Bad Boy Brawley Brown I was glad to see Mouse¿s return, though his resurrection was not explained. I also liked that the list of players included Paris Minton and Fearless Jones, but the meandering way these two characters where pulled in added nothing to the storyline. Mosley captures the feeling of the time, the fear that had everyone on edge and the loss and the promise of the riots aftermath. Easy is older and feeling his age at every turn, refusing young sex and losing against young fists. This book continues the noir that we fell in love with in Mosley¿s Devil In A Blue Dress and brings us back to the subject of passing and self-loathing, which unfortunately, still exists in our culture today. Little Scarlet is a must read for fans of the series.
I have not ready any of Mosley's Easy Rawlins series. I'm only familiar with the lame Denzel Washington movie version of Devin in a Blue Dress. But I purchased this book based on the very positive review in the LA Times. I loved it. I enjoyed the crisp language and the tentative relationships between Easy and the various LAPD brass and rank and file he has to deal with. My coworker borrowed this book and has similar praise. Our only complaint is that the book is almost too sparse. I would have like to see even more development of the Easy-LAPD relationship. Maybe that's in the next book.
The eighth Walter mystery starring Easy Rawlings, a mid forties African-American PI in Los Angeles, is as tense, dramatic, and unputdownable as its predecessors. Accomplished television actor, Michael Boatman, brings Easy to life, revealing his tension filled days, fears, and determination. With Little Scarlet it's the mid sixties in L.A.; the aftermath of the Watts riots. When a red-headed woman known as Little Scarlet is found murdered in her apartment building, the police who are Caucasian for the most part come to Easy for help. It seems a man was pulled from his car at the height of the rioting. Lucky for him he escaped and ran into the dead woman's apartment building. Of course, he's now a major suspect in her murder. He's also nowhere to be found. Police are reluctant to return to that neighborhood to search for him lest they trigger further violence. Easy is their answer. With the help of his buddy, Mouse, Easy begins to investigate only to find that the killer's rage is even more intense than the heat of the recent fires. A mesmerizing listen. - Gail Cooke