The Right Mistake (Socrates Fortlow Series #3)

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Living in South Central L.A., Socrates Fortlow is a sixty-year-old ex-convict, still strong enough to kill men with his bare hands. Now freed after serving twenty-seven years in prison, he is filled with profound guilt about his own crimes and disheartened by the chaos of the streets. Along with his gambler friend Billy Psalms, Socrates calls together local people of all races from their different social stations—lawyers, gangsters, preachers, Buddhists, businessmen—to conduct meetings of a Thinkers’ Club, where ...

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The Right Mistake (Socrates Fortlow Series #3)

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Living in South Central L.A., Socrates Fortlow is a sixty-year-old ex-convict, still strong enough to kill men with his bare hands. Now freed after serving twenty-seven years in prison, he is filled with profound guilt about his own crimes and disheartened by the chaos of the streets. Along with his gambler friend Billy Psalms, Socrates calls together local people of all races from their different social stations—lawyers, gangsters, preachers, Buddhists, businessmen—to conduct meetings of a Thinkers’ Club, where all can discuss the unanswerable questions in life.

The street philosopher enjoins his friends to explore—even in the knowledge that there’s nothing that they personally can do to change the ways of the world—what might be done anyway, what it would take to change themselves. Infiltrated by undercover cops, and threatened by strain from within, tensions rise as hot-blooded gangsters and respectable deacons fight over issues of personal and social responsibility. But simply by asking questions about racial authenticity, street justice, infidelity, poverty, and the possibility of mutual understanding, Socrates and his unlikely crew actually begin to make a difference.

In turns outraged and affectionate, The Right Mistake offers a profoundly literary and ultimately redemptive exploration of the possibility of moral action in a violent and fallen world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A history of terrible violence including rape and murder followed by 27 years of incarceration in a prison with its own codified violence have helped shape Socrates Fortlow, previously featured in two short story collections, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned(1997) and Walkin' the Dog(1999). The hardened ex-con living in South Central L.A. has been chiseled by his experiences into a hulking essence of wise humanity. An initial gathering of diverse characters (a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a gambler, a singer, a lawyer, two killers, etc.) brought together by Socrates becomes an agent of change. The weekly "Thinkers' Meetings" grow despite internal dissension and attempts at suppression and subversion by authorities. The talks forge bonds, lead to actions, spread beyond L.A. and take on a life of their own. In the face of gangs, drugs, poverty and racism, Mosley poses the deceptively simple question-"What can I do?"-and provides a powerful and moving answer. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Socrates Fortlow returns in his third adventure (after Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Walkin' the Dog), ready to change his corner of South Central L.A. A reformed murderer and rapist, Socrates knows only too well his own emotional limitations and does his best to guide his friends, especially his ward, Darryl, in avoiding the same treacherous path. In an effort to stop talking and start doing, he gathers a diverse ethnic and religious group of community members for weekly "Thinkers' Meeting" discussions on different issues in his rented house, the Big Nickel. It becomes the spot for everyone to gather. From holding poetry slam nights to negotiating rival gang disputes, Socrates slowly starts to turn his community around but not without the constant harassment of local law enforcement. As the members of the meetings come away with their own personal victories and redemption, prolific author Mosley skillfully illustrates what can be accomplished in communities rife with racism and destitution. Highly recommended for popular fiction collections.
—Joy St. John

Kirkus Reviews
Ex-con Socrates Fortlow, the conscience of South Central Los Angeles (Walkin' the Dog, 1999, etc.), returns for another dozen interlinked adventures, most of them revolving around dialogues on tough or taboo subjects. Years after he was released from prison for rape and homicide, Socrates has a new project: the Big Nickel, a community center whose premises he cleverly acquires in the opening story. Every week, the Thursday Night Thinkers' Meeting convenes. During the meeting members discuss "the world and what would be the right thing to do." Since the Thursday night group includes gambler Billy Psalms, murderer Ronald Zeal, his attorney Cassie Wheaton, singer Marianne Lodz, her silent friend Luna Barnet, carpenter Antonio Peron, wealthy junk man Chaim Zetel and karate master Wan Tai, lively disagreements are guaranteed, especially when the discussion turns, as it often does, to race. While Socrates and his friends celebrate the power of arguments in their safe space to produce deeper insights, events from outside keep intruding. A much younger member of the group confesses her love to Socrates. He finds an unexpected source of funding that helps him dramatically expand his outreach. His adoptive son Darryl is shot. The LAPD, suspicious of the Big Nickel, uses an informant to infiltrate the group. A baseless search of the premises leads Socrates to threaten Capt. Telford Winegarten, of the Anti-gang Tactical Division, with a lawsuit. Socrates and Billy Psalms, on a trip to San Francisco, get arrested for Driving While Black. And in the climactic story, Socrates once more stands trial for murder. The debates meant to be the volume's backbone are heartfelt dramatizations of familiarpositions, and the Big Nickel's achievements seem a little utopian. The main attraction, as usual, is Socrates, whose manful attempts to live out his dialectic on the mean streets of Watts make him a hero worthy of his namesake.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465005253
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/6/2008
  • Series: Socrates Fortlow Series , #3
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 827,320
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Mosley is the author of the acclaimed Easy Rawlins series of mysteries, including national bestsellers Cinnamon Kiss, Little Scarlet, and Bad Boy Brawly Brown; the Fearless Jones series, including Fearless Jones, Fear Itself, and Fear of the Dark; the novels Blue Light and RL’s Dream; and two collections of stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, for which he received the Anisfield-Wolf Award, and Walkin’ the Dog. He was born in Los Angeles and lives in New York.


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:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 10 of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2008


    I have waited for years for Walter Mosley to revisit my favorite character,Socrates.It was well worth the wait! This book is riveting.I could not put it down,I finished it in 2 days.Once again Mr Mosley,i am a fan for life.You write it,ill read it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    The Right Book

    All fans of Walter Mosley will rave about this book, but I hope it reaches a much wider audience. Socrates Fortlow (like Mr. Mosley's other main characters) live in a world most of us have not personally experienced, but the wisdom and messages that come through are universal. Definitely a "good read" but also a book that will make you think about your own life and values.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    What a Book,What a Character

    Walter Mosley is a rare gem that one finds only a few times in their life. His character Socrates Fortlow is an amazing complex man who has his finger on the pulse of his neighborhood and life . Socco as his friends call him takes you on a journey of discovery in "The Right Mistake" .If you ever wanted to walk around in another mans skin,Walter Mosley takes you there. I whole heartedly recommend this book and all of Mosleys works. BRAVO Mr. Mosley Bravo

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  • Posted May 9, 2009


    Previous books by Walter Mosley I have enjoyed include others in the Fortlow Series. However, this one dragged. It was never too clear where it was going.
    This story may appeal to persons who are seeking an outlet for their own unaccomplished dreams, seeking to piggyback on Fortlow's. My recreational reading, while it may allow for some deep thought, also craves a somewhat linear storyline (not meaning there can't be some looking backwards) even though those lines can come from different directions. A challenge to figure out what is happening and where it's all leading, whether I'm right or wrong, holds my unforced attention. The end violence seems to come out of nowhere despite the hints of official interference and some things, like the civil suit, are unresolved. It just doesn't come together.
    I was also somewhat taken aback by a number of editing errors which I've never noticed before (perhaps because I was too busy reading go be distracted by such errors).
    I shall continue to read those of Mosely's works which I think will appeal to me because of the great satisfaction received from previous experiences with his books.

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    Posted January 24, 2010

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