Elegantly crafted...Mosley's best book yet.
Perceptive and poignant, humorous and horrifying...a rare blend of top-flight entertainment and incisive social comment.
Mosley's distinctive black investigator, Easy Rawlins, has moved from Watts to West L.A. with his two adopted children, but trouble still follows him. Hired to locate a sultry female acquaintance from his early days in Houston, Easy searches for her gambler brother and questions her Beverly Hills employer, unwittingly provoking racist police harassment. Meanwhile, friend Raymond (``Mouse'') has been released from prison and vows revenge on the snitch who put him there. Mosley, as usual, describes a historically correct ethos in deft, literate prose.
It's summertime 1961, and the livin' isn't so easy for Easy Rawlins. His real-estate deals--kept secret to avoid the reprisals that a black landlord in postwar Los Angeles might expect from both black friends and white enemies--have mostly gone bad, his wife has left, and he's attempting to raise two kids on his own. Easy needs money bad, so when a white private eye offers two grand to help find Betty Eady, a name from Easy's distant past, he takes the job. Meanwhile, the lethal killer Mouse, Easy's oldest friend, is out of jail and looking for the man who set him up. As in the three previous installments in Mosley's acclaimed series, the case at hand is never really the center of attention. While Mosley develops a plot and generates tension as well as anyone working in crime fiction, he has always had bigger fish to fry. As we've watched Easy try to make a life for himself and his loved ones in South Central L.A. from World War II onward, we've witnessed the rise and fall of hope in the black community. As the civil rights movement gains momentum and Martin Luther King, Jr., comes to prominence on the national scale, Easy feels something very different on the streets: I realized that I'd always be surrounded by violence and insanity. I saw it everywhere. . . . It was even in me. That feeling of anger, wrapped tight under my skin, in my hands. And it was getting worse. Just as he did with the war and the McCarthy era, Mosley gives us a recognizable moment in American history viewed through the eyes of a single black man. This perspective, rare in crime fiction, vivifies not only the black experience but the larger event as well. Here we feel the hot winds that would eventually ignite the Watts riots not as abstract issues in race relations, but as emotions in the hearts of individuals we have come to know and care about. In Easy's bitterness and in the bone-weary fatigue with which he greets each new act of senseless violence--whether the weapon is a white cop's fists or Mouse's Colt-.45--we feel the ineffable sadness that has come to envelop our urban landscape.
Black Betty is the fourth, and the strongest, installment in the
Easy Rawlins mystery series. The time is the late 1940s, the
place is Los Angeles, and the living is hard. Ezekial "Easy" Rawlins,
a former soldier who is still hurting from the departure of his
wife to Mississippi with another man, is facing pressure from his
real estate dealings and from the challenges of raising two children.
Desperate for work, he takes on an offer to find a woman,
Elizabeth Eady, a.k.a. Black Betty, who has vanished into thin air.
Her wealthy employer wants her back, and so the search begins.
Add Mouse, Easy's sidekick, and murder and mayhem soon
Mosley writes mystery, yes; but he also suffuses his stories
with a deeply intimate knowledge of the black community and its
struggles. This passage from Black Betty illustrates Mosley's skill
at re-creating the surface and depth of life in the middle-class
black communities of Los Angeles while at the same time addressing,
in his two-fisted way, the existential issues that dog all African
On the bus there were mainly old people and young mothers
and teenagers coming in late to school. Most of them were
black people. Dark-skinned with generous features. Women
with eyes so deep that most men can never know them. Women
like Betty who'd lost too much to be silly or kind. And there
were the children, like Spider and Terry T once were, with futures
so bleak it could make you cry just to hear them laugh. Because
behind the music of their laughing you knew there was the
rattle of chains. Chains we wore for no crime; chains we wore
for so long that they melded with our bones. We all carry them
but nobody can see it—not even most of us. All the way home
I thought about freedom coming for us at last. But what about
all those centuries in chains? Where do they go when you get
All that and a mystery, too.
Mosley continues a tradition of African American detective
fiction that uses this genre to explore issues of empowerment, a
tradition begun by novelists like Chester Himes (If He Hollers Let
Him Go and A Rage in Harlem), W. Adolphe Roberts (The
Haunting Hand, 1926), and Rudolph Fisher (The Conjure Man
Dies, 1932). Other books in the acclaimed Easy Rawlins series
include Gone Fishing, Devil in a Blue Dress, A Little Yellow Dog, A
Red Death, and White Butterfly.
Newsweek Elegantly crafted...Mosley's best book yet.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Marvelous storytelling.
San Diego Union Tribune Perceptive and poignant, humorous and horrifying...a rare blend of top-flight entertainment and incisive social comment.