Private Eye

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.


Let’s Discuss — Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

A man like Dewitt Albright didn’t die couldn’t die. It frightened me even to think of a world that could kill a man like that; what could a world like that do to me? (210)

Mosley creates an Ellisonian* figure named Easy Rawlins, to lead this hard-boiled crime story. Readers will tour the L.A underworld with Easy to find a woman named Daphne. Whether it’s a hole-in-the-wall bar, secret jazz club, local barbershop, sketchy apartment complex, or around-the-way brothel, Easy uses his social connections to extract the information he needs to find her. It’s through the connections and information that readers absorb his reality and race relations of the era. They add a layer to Easy’s persona. However, it’s not just blackness or whiteness, right and wrong. There’s a universal idea that regardless of background, money, fear and power can turn anyone.

There were a few things I could have done without, such as, the “voice”.** I thought it was kind of cheesy. Coretta and Daphne bothered me too. I didn’t have a problem with them seducing Easy, no, that was to be expected, but it’s unfortunate how they were simply objects of possession; easily used and discarded. I mean, after Coretta hooks up with Easy she’s murdered and that’s it. I don’t know, just seemed like a very masculine-fantasy way to go about things…I’m wondering if that’s just characteristic of this type of fiction.

Out of all the characters (and there are many), I hold a special dislike for Daphne. Not Albright, not Mouse, not Frankie Green–Daphne Monet. I hate that she was placed on a pedestal, although I understand why.  Her connection to a potentially large sum of money, the crimes she’s connected to, and the fact she was seemingly unavailable and unattainable, added to her enchantment. However, this doesn’t deter Easy one bit. He bends over backwards for this mysterious, white woman and puts himself in danger to help her, to be with her, to be her lover. But Daphne has her own secrets.

“She wanna be white. All them years people be tellin’ her how she light-skinned and beautiful but all the time she knows that she can’t have what white people have. So she pretend and then she lose it all. She can love a white man but all he can love is the white girl he think she is.”

What’s that got to do with me?”

“That’s just like you, Easy. you learn stuff and you be thinkin’ like white men be thinkin’. You be thinkin’ that what’s right fo’ them is right fo’ you. She look like she white and you think like you white. But brother you don’t know that you both poor niggers. And a nigger ain’t never gonna be happy ‘less he accept what he is. (209)

When Easy finds out the truth about Daphne, he’s devastated. He actually compares it to an earthquake and almost refuses to see her for what she is. A woman he lusted for, who caused him to search down in his soul, someone he could have died for had deceived him. On top of that, she was one of his own! …I love that Mosley was able to convince me to dislike a character so much.

In the end, we have an intriguing story of Easy Rawlins’ transition from war veteran and day laborer to private investigator in 1940s, Los Angeles.

* In the manner of Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man (fantastic book)

** The conscience that likes to pop up during high stress situations, and lead Easy to victory