Crime Fiction

Let’s Discuss — Black Betty by Walter Mosley

Home meant that everybody already knew what you could do and if you did the slightest little thing different they’d laugh you right down into a hole. You lived in that hole. Festered in it. After a while you either accepted your hole or you got out of it (31)

In this Easy Rawlins mystery we find Easy living with his son Jesus, and other adopted child, Feather. In the heat of an L.A summer, they’re scraping by, but they’re making it. Easy’s ready to settle down with a regular ‘9 to 5’ and abandon the underground private eye practice. He’s ready to get out of his hole because his family needs the consistency and safety. Of course, his desire to do so is blocked by another mystery. This time Easy has to find Black Betty, a woman from his past.

The reader is introduced to Black Betty via Easy’s flashbacks. Elizabeth, “Betty” was an around-the-way-girl. And she was the first woman to leave an impression on Easy. It’s obvious that Easy only wants to air out the mystery of her disappearance because she’s a notable person from his past.  The build up to meeting Betty outbalances the actual encounter and reason for why Betty disappears. In fact, the entire story line is somewhat cloudy, until the end, which turns out to be very simple and kind of boring. But the Easy Rawlins series has never been about story lines, it has always been about the characters. And the most important one, Easy, has changed.

Whiskey is a living thing capable of any emotion that you are. It’s love and deep laughter and brotherhood of the type that bonds nations together. Whiskey is your friend when nobody else comes around. And whiskey is solace that holds you tighter than most lovers can (144)

Once upon a time, if there was a problem, Easy would drink himself into oblivion. But he no longer desires that level of unconsciousness. Easy has matured since Devil in a Blue Dress. He’s still a risk taker, but he’s smarter, more sensitive, keen to everything and everyone around him. Not nearly as hardened by solitude, sex and savagery as he used to be. Easy knows he needs to be aware because if he isn’t, Fate may finally catch him.

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Let’s Discuss — White Butterfly by Walter Mosley

I kept my silence and Hobbes took his friendly hand back. I was in a hurry to get to my house. I felt bad about turning down the policeman. I felt miserable that young women would die. But there was nothing I could do. I had my own life to attend to–didn’t I? (20)

So what’s new with Easy? Well, he’s living with his adopted son, Jesus, a new wife and baby. They’re one, big, happy family–except not really, or not for long anyways. Easy’s called on once again to help the police find a serial killer of exotic dancers/strippers/women of that variety. But the time Easy spends away from home, enveloped in secrets of the L.A underworld, eventually takes a toll on his family life.

This story is as much about personal transgression as it is criminal wrongdoing. What do I mean by personal transgression? …well it seems Easy married his wife, simply so he can say he has a wife at home. And then there’s his daughter who is named Edna–daringly close to his ex-lover/best friend’s ex-wife’s name, Etta. Now, I’m sure he loves his wife and daughter, but I’m also sure he’s more in love with the idea of having a wife and child at home, in the house he bought all those years ago. It’s an attempt to grasp some normalcy and it ties back in with his struggle over possession in A Red Death.

In the end, we see where creeping around at questionable hours, in questionable places gets him and the family he always wanted. Easy once built up, is stripped down.

Let’s Discuss — A Red Death by Walter Mosley

I didn’t believe in history, really. Real was what was happening to me right then. Real was a toothache and a man you trusted who did you dirt. Real was an empty stomach or a woman saying yes, or a woman saying no. Real was what you could feel…Chaim was a good man; better than a lot of people I knew. But he was dead. He was history, as they say, and I was holding my gun in the dark, being real (286)

We meet up with Easy Rawlins five years later, sweeping the floors of some apartment complex at the corner of 91st Street and 91st Place. We learn that life has been a little kinder to him, but it won’t last for long. It never does. Rawlins is forced to strike a deal with an FBI agent, to spy on Chaim Wenzler, a big, bad communist working within the First African Baptist Church.

Easy Rawlins is a great protagonist because he’s layered. In A Red Death it’s all about Easy’s possessions; the possession of self, and his desire to possess what is not his. As for the last part, I’m referring specifically to his affair with his best friend’s wife, Etta Mae. The dynamic between the members of what I call his inner circle, (Etta Mae and Mouse) is an interesting one. Easy respects Mouse, fears Mouse even, but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with Etta Mae. Even though Easy knows Mouse is a bad man, there is still a great deal of envy. He never admits this, but the feeling is inherent in his willingness to help Mouse make things right with his family–the family Easy wishes he had.

The communist twist left me slightly ambivalent because Easy holds no intense animosity towards Chaim Wenzler. However, Easy has to deceive Wenzler to keep his possessions. In this case, communism isn’t a redefined “enemy”, it’s simply another added element of danger. Another risk for a man trying to do good for himself in a bad world.