Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

that sex scene was 💀


Having enjoyed two of Mosley’s latest novels (Trouble Is What I Do and Blood Grove) I was looking forward to delving into his earlier work. Devil in a Blue Dress is the first book in his Easy Rawlins series and, while it has many of Mosley’s best traits, overall it isn’t quite as compelling or complex as say the #15th book of this series. Set in the 1940s Los Angeles Easy is in his late twenties and has recently been fired from his job at a defence plant. A white man offers him money if he can find Daphne Monet, a young woman who often hangs out in Black locales. Easy accepts and soon finds himself in over his head. His employer is a clearly dangerous man and he isn’t the only one wanting to find Daphne.
What follows is very much a classic noir detective story populated by seedy characters and nighttime landscapes. In his line of questioning, Easy ruffles a few feathers and makes an enemy or two, all the while trying to locate Daphne, a beautiful woman who has clearly been up to something.
Mosley’s social commentary was the most interesting part of this story. He depicts the everyday racism and injustices Easy experiences and has experienced, from his run-ins with two racist policemen out to ‘get him’, to the condescending way he is treated by white strangers and acquaintances alike. Mosley also depicts the PTSD that Easy and other characters who fought in WWII experience, referring more than once to the violence and brutality of war.
While I liked his use of tropes in his other novels, here they lacked subtlety. Take Daphne. The woman is this Femme Fatale who acts like an angel but soon enough reveals what a ‘vixen’ she is. There was this horrid sex scene which made me want to scratch my eyes out and could only have been written by a man (if you know, you know) and I did not entirely like how Mosley resorting to the ‘Tragic Mulatto’ archetype (doomed because of who she ‘really’ is). His female characters in general left a lot to be desired, they are very much objects (sex objects more often than not).
If anything this proves just what a long way Mosley has come as a writer. His storytelling and characterisation are much more accomplished in his most recent work, however, even here you can clearly see signs of his talent (his crackling dialogues, his exaggerated yet wholly effective metaphors, his story’s strong sense of place, and his piercing commentary). Still, if you haven’t read anything by him, I encourage you to give his newest novels a go before venturing into his older stuff.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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Blood Grove by Walter Mosley

“Life is one long side street with about a million crossroads, Sorry used to tell me when I was a boy. Every hour, sometimes every minute, you got to make the choice which way to go. Some of them turns don’t matter but don’t let that fool ya. The minute you start to think that one way is just like t’other, that’s when the shit come down.”

Blood Grove is hard-boiled crime at its best. Walter Mosley’s smooth and level-headed narrator is a Black private investigator in 1960s LA. Easy is, excuse my pun, easy to root for. While Easy is close friends with some not so morally upright individuals, his integrity and empathy set him apart from other hard-boiled PI. The mystery is intriguing if labyrinthine, and I enjoyed seeing how things would unravel. Easy’s latest case is a knotty one. A young white veteran clearly suffering from PTSD claims he may or may have not killed a man who was attacking a young woman. Easy, who fought in WWII, feels sympathy towards this clearly traumatized young man and so begins his investigation.

Throughout the course of the novel, we encounter big and small crime bosses, racist and incompetent policemen, prostitutes with hearts of gold, and Femme Fatales. Mosley’s commentary on race, sexism, inequality, corruption, war, and violence felt at times all too pertinent to our own times (showing how some things change, and some things don’t). I found Easy’s unflappability reassuring and the inclusion of his home life (such as his bond with his daughter) made him all the more endearing.
Not only does Easy’s narration have style but the crackling dialogues and vivid descriptions (“If a smile had a sound his would have been a death knell.”) make for some spectacular reading material. Also, for those wondering whether you have to read the previous novels in order to be able to appreciate this one, I, personally, did not have any trouble ‘catching’ on to things. Mosley doesn’t reiterate the events that occurred in the previous novels but he gives us an idea of who’s who.
If you are a fan of Raymond Chandler, Dennis Lehane, or if you, like me, loved S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland you should definitely read this.

my rating: ★★★★☆

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And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall — book review

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“Boyfriends and husbands, baby daddies and one-night stands were always madly, deeply, truly in love. Bloody love. Crazy love. Love-you-to-death kind of love.”

Last year I read the first book in Rachel Howzell Hall’s ‘Detective Elouise Norton’ series. It had a great sense of place and a brilliant main character. And Now She’s Gone shares many of its strengths. Once again Hall brings Los Angeles life and culture to life. From its more bourgeois or hipster-y venues to its neighbourhoods with their different identities. While And Now She’s Gone lacks some of Land of Shadows‘ grit, the narrative does touch upon sensitive topics.
Grayson Sykes, who goes by Gray, works at a P.I. firm, founded by an old friend of hers, and she’s just been assigned her very first ‘big’ case (previously she was tracing missing dogs).
Ian O’Donnell’s girlfriend and his dog have seemingly vanished without a trace. In spite of Ian’s seeming respectability, he’s white, wealthy, a successful doctor, Gray soon begins to question his relationship to his missing girlfriend. Isabel Lincoln, the missing woman, has an elusive past and her disappearance is anything but a straightforward affair.
Interspersed throughout the narrative are fragments from Gray’s own traumatic past. Her experiences inform her investigation, and she soon begins to question whether she wants to unite Ian with Isabel.
The novel juggles quite a few storylines. At times I did feel more invested in Gray’s story than in Isabel’s disappearance. Perhaps because the case becomes a rather thorny affair, and there were certain revelations that seemed a bit convenient. Still, I really liked Gray and her character arc. Hall pays attention to the smaller, and often overlooked, moments that make up a P.I’s investigation (such as non-functioning pens or dying batteries). Gray’s was an admirable and relatable protagonist. I do wish that some of those ‘then’ scenes were cut, merely because I would have preferred more time with Gray in the ‘now’.
Gray’s circle of friends were entertaining and served to lighten the overall mood. In spite of its serious themes, the story did have a breezy tone (a more modern Janet Evanovich?) and I definitely liked Gray’s sense of humour: “The Armed Forces Career was steps away from Panda Express. From broccoli beef lover to proud marine in less than twenty yards.”
The romance subplot kind of irritated me. While the sexual tension between these two was clear, and I wanted Gray to be happy, I did found the whole ‘you’re not ready for a relationship’ line to be rather presumptuous (who is he to decide whether Gray is read or not?). While there were some twists that I didn’t see coming, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the story’s resolution. It felt a bit too fantastical.
Still, I did find this novel to be entertaining. Hall’s descriptions managed to be colourfully amusing:
“Las Vegas in the morning was like the hot guy in a dark club who, in the light, had buck teeth, hair plugs, and smelled like a fifties-era bowling. Morning Vegas needed to stay in bed until dusk, until the neon and the glass and full-on commitment to the illusion worked best.”
I liked how aware the narrative is of certain tropes (Gone Girl is indeed mentioned). There were quite a few nasty individuals in this novel. Ian was a repulsive guy (more than once he comes out with ‘I’m a nice guy’ and says racist shit along the lines of ‘I don’t see colour’). We also have an abusive man who does come out with non-to-credible lines: “We could’ve ruled the world”.
Another minor thing that annoyed was Gray’s necessity for ‘bottled’ water (if you don’t like tap water just buy one of those water filters!).
And Now She’s Gone would probably make a great summer read. It has compelling protagonist, a fast-paced narrative, and a vividly rendered setting.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley — book review

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“I was so hardened to suffering that somehow even the casualties of history fell outside the borders of my self-imposed sovereignty.”

In spite of its short length Walter Mosley’s Trouble Is What I Do packs a punch. This is noir at its finest. Mosley doesn’t waste words, and we can tell that by the fact that each description and dialogue in his novel has a certain significance.

“Slowly, he lowered onto a chair, looking at me as if I was the bad news he’d been waiting for his entire life ”

The very first opening pages of Trouble Is What I Do grabbed my attention. Mosley’s first person narrator is Leonid McGill who as a ‘crook’ turned P.I. is all too familiar with navigating the crime world. When Phillip Worry, known as Catfish, a 92-year-old bluesman, asks Leonid to deliver a letter it would seem like a fairly straightforward task. Except that this letter is addressed to Penelope Sternman, heiress of one of America’s most wealthy and influential families, and the contents reveal her black lineage. Her father, Catfish’s son, is a corrupt racist who will stop at nothing in order to keep his parentage secret.
Thankfully, Leonid is the man for the job. Aided by old ‘friends’, he sets out to deliver this letter.

“Catfish had given me drink and song and trust. These were sacred gifts and, in a way, I was born again.”

Leonid’s distinctive narration makes him stand out from other P.I.s. He is charming, incisive, and, unlike many other detectives, doesn’t take himself too seriously. He doesn’t need to throw his weight around, his reputation precedes him: “This man you’re walking up on is Leonid McGill. He’ll break half the bones in your body for business and the other half for fun.”
Yet, in spite of his past, readers will be able to see how humane he is. His moral compass does waver, but only occasionally. Speaking of his past, Mosley manages to give Leonid a lot of history without rehashing his whole life story.
The dialogues are snappy, in equal measure amusing and tense. Leonid’s lyrical narrative provides us with evocative descriptions that truly bring his world to life.
Leonid’s engrossing assignment provides a relevant commentary on race that doesn’t provide readers with simple answers. The ending is surprisingly heart-rendering.
I would definitely recommend this to fans of James Lee Burke and Dennis Lehane or for those who are interested in reading a more poetic take on noir.

“At one time I blamed my father’s abandonment for these sins, but I had learned that in the end, wrong is wrong and every man has to carry his own water.”

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney — book review

“That was Wyatt’s philosophy when it came to the past: Stay out of it. ”

The Long and Faraway Gone is a well written if somewhat uneven novel.

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I can definitely see why it has drawn comparisons to books by Dennis Lehane. Both authors render a strong sense of place, so much so that the settings of their stories transcend the role of backdrop, becoming an active character into their narratives, one that can—and will—sway the direction of the story.

One of the links between two apparently unrelated storylines in The Long and Faraway Gone is that they both take place in Oklahoma City. In the summer of 1986 two young individuals experienced tragic and traumatic losses: Wyatt was the only survivor in an armer robbery while Julianna’s alluring—and troubled—older sister Genevieve went missing during the annual State Fair.
Years later Wyatt—now a private investigator—and Julianna—a nurse—grow increasingly preoccupied over the past . Soon their obsessions will derail the course of their everyday lives as they jeopardise personal relationships, and their careers, by undertaking investigations of their own.

Wyatt’s humour and emphatic nature made him into a compelling protagonist. His story seemed a lot more fleshed out and coherent than Julianna’s. While I was willing to look past Wyatt’s mistakes, and understood why his stay in Oklahoma City affects him so much, I was unable to reconcile myself with Julianna’s appalling behaviour. Her narrative seemed to have a lot more padding, and while her ‘investigation’ definitely had some tense moments, I was always looking forward to return to Wyatt’s story.
It was interesting to see how their storylines occasionally mirrored one another, yet Lou Berney never resorted to throw an unlikely connection between the two as a way of linking these two stories together.

Berney, similarly to Lehane, is skilled in giving each of his characters—regardless of their role—a convincing personality. With a few clever descriptions, and by articulating those idiosyncrasy relating to an individual’s mannerisms or their way of speaking, Berney creates realistic and memorable characters. Regardless if we like them or not, his characterisation is such that they do not fall neatly into a ‘good person’ or ‘bad person’ category. Because his characters are rendered in such vivid detail, his dialogues crackle with energy. There are so many great lines and exchanges that make The Long and Faraway Gone into such an engaging novel.
The resolution to the main characters’ interrogation of their past, although unexpected, is surprisingly mundane. Berney doesn’t try to make the characters’ tragedy into part of larger and unlikely plot, providing instead solutions that are far more realistic.

In spite of a few minor quibbles—mostly relating to Julianna’s narrative—I thought that The Long and Faraway Gone was an engaging read and I am eager to read more by Berney.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4)

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The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz — book review

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For the most part The House of Silk was an entertaining read. Horowitz captures the essence of the dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and Watson so that readers will find his portrayal of these two famous characters to be all too familiar. As per usual Horowitz also cleverly combines more than one mystery together, throwing in many literary devices that have become conventions of the detective genre (ie. red herrings).

Readers, alongside Watson, will be for the most part in the dark when it comes to Holmes’ idiosyncratic investigations. This was intentionally frustrating, and more than once Holmes fails to explain his investigation to his friend—and by extent us. Still, I was intrigued by our duo’s exploits, and by the way two seemingly unconnected cases intermingled with one another.
Horowitz’s humour and wit are as per usual present and a source of great amusement. Although I was captivated by the fast-pace and evocative narrative, I was frustrated by a certain plot point (view spoiler) and it seemed that the latter half of this book could have been paced better.

Although Horowitz’s has created a realistic and richly described historical setting I appreciated the way Watson’s narrative and running commentary reflect contemporary sensibilities…and given his modern audience Horowitz is unafraid to tackle the darker aspects of the society he writes of.
In spite of a few minor quibbles, I’m glad I read this and I recommend it to fans of detective fiction, even those who aren’t all that familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle‘s work.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars

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The Stories You Tell by Kristen Lepionka — book review

39298457._SX318_.jpgThe Stories You Tell will quite likely by one of my biggest reading disappointments of 2019. This third instalment featuring PI Roxane Weary has made the characters established in book 1 and 2 sketches of their former selves. What is perhaps even worse is that much of The Stories You Tell is a blatant rip-off of (view spoiler).

In many ways The Stories You Tell negates the characters’ dynamics and developments that occurred in The Last Place You Look and What You Want To See. Roxane’s personality, which so strongly dictated the storylines of book 1 and 2, has receded into a mere parody of her former self. While previously she struck me as headstrong and resilient in spite of her troubles, in The Stories You Tell she was annoying, self-centred, and rude. Most of her interactions with the various individuals connected to disappearance of this Mackenzie seemed to follow the same formula: she poses stupid questions, makes poorly veiled accusations, and does not advance the case.
The ‘story’ as such is made up by scenes in which Roxane ‘interrogates’ various people…these dialogues were for the most part boring so much so that you could predict the way the would conclude (spoiler: nothing much would be revealed).
Then we have Roxane whining about her relationship to her deceased father, whining that her girlfriend doesn’t demonstrate her love for her (and yet for Roxane it is okay to keep her gf at a distance…double standards much?), whining some more about this and that. The suspects and persons of interest were so forgettable that I kept confusing them for one another.
Roxane joined the trend of constantly dismissing the men she encounters as ‘ugh those straight men’, ‘ugh those white men’. Let’s keep in mind that I am 1) a woman 2) not straight, and yet, this constant and obvious ‘haha men suck’ banter was really cheap. If the story and the characterisations of these men could have conveyed that they were ‘bad’ good, but being told time and again ‘they suck’ isn’t reason enough why I should dislike them.
Roxane’s girlfriend is dismissed early on in the narrative and, rather predictably, she turns into (view spoiler)
The ‘twist’ was both laughable and unimaginative. There are a few lines that can be found in a lot of ‘domestic thriller’ novels:
(view spoiler)

Roxane is made to seem this iconic woman who takes no shit from anyone but is actually unable to act like an adult or do her job properly.
With great sadness I bid this series goodbye as I won’t be following Roxane’s journey into mediocrity.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2 stars

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Sacred by Dennis Lehane

Kenzie and Gennaro are hired by an incredibly wealthy – and dying – Trevor Stone to find his missing daughter. Things soon start to get complicated. Kenzie’s own mentor was looking for Desiree Stone and is now also MIA. Kenzie and Gennaro will venture from a shady Grief Counselling organisation, that is possibly connected to a religious cult, to sunny Florida. Money and the power that comes with it play a big role in this novel, and as the protagonists soon find out, money is a good motive.
While Lehane does incorporate more affecting moments into his storyline grief is a big theme of the novel – I found that this instalment was much more lighthearted that the previous ones. Horrible people do horrible things in this story but there was a ‘flashy-ness’ a dramatic aspect to their behaviour that undermined the seriousness of their actions. Still, while there were some high-end film-like scenarios, Lehane’s characters convey incredible realism: their dialogues and reactions ring true to life. I also deeply appreciated that we are shown that what happened in the previous novels has affected Kenzie and Gennaro. Their partnership is a vital aspect of this serious and I was happy to see how solid their relationship is,
Deeply entertaining and fast paced, Lehane packs another suspenseful and highly-strung story.

My rating: 3.75 stars

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Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

“Guns, guns, guns. Three hundred and sixty degrees of pure violence.”

The thing about Lehane is that he can write bloody good thrillers. His gritty stories –reminiscent of hard-boiled crime novels– never fail to entertain. Moreover, he always, always, manages to surprise – if not shock– you.
Kenzie and Gennaro’s investigation is full of well-paced twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Like the other Kenzie & Gennaro novels, Darkness, Take My Hand has a great sense of place. The urban setting is vividly rendered through characters and the sharp descriptions of the narrator. Lehane’s observations are always nuanced, and while Kenzie might gives us the majority of the ‘picture’, all of the characters contribute to it. Lehane doesn’t elevate Kenzie’s opinions and intentions, in fact, time and again, he challenges the actions of his protagonist.
The narrator is another of this series’ strengths. Kenzie’s wise-ass commentary is always engaging. However, in comparison to A Drink Before the War I think there is more serious, or more complex, tone to him, one that brings his character fully to life. This added depth is also found in all of the other characters. Lehane’s has an ear for dialogue and the little things that characterise different people; it might be the way they talk and or move, as much as their own backstories.
Kenzie’s investigation never takes a predictable turn. From the very start we are given numerous factors that lead us away from what seems to be Kenzie’s main investigation, leaving us desperately in need of answers. Lehane shows interest in the psychology of criminals (fans of Mindhunter…read this): he does not give us easy answers, he is always fighting against the ‘good/bad’ morality.
Gripping and suspenseful, this novel is brimming with dangerous characters and an intricate mystery. It is a fast-paced thriller full of sharp-witted dialogues and action set against a mobile backdrop that thrums with life.

My rating: 4.5 stars

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A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

“Come on, kids.”
I stood. “Where?”
“There’s a bar around the corner. Lemme buy you drink before the war.”

Despite having read two of the later instalments of Kenzie & Gennaro, I was still able to enjoy this first investigation of theirs. They are perhaps less weathered than their future selves but their line of enquiry is equally engrossing. Lehane’s distinctive wit characterise a lot of the narration, and Kenzie’s wisecracks pepper his story. The tone of his later novels are somewhat less jokey: experience might have diminished Kenzie’s – very entertaining – wise-ass commentary.

No one spoke for a few moments. I think we were all too impressed by the realization that we knew someone who used “conundrum” in casual conversation.

The story is rooted in Boston: Lehane’s vivid rendition of the city pulses with life. He swiftly illustrates neighborhoods through amusing and accurate observations. Here is a nugget of his sharp-witted descriptions:

If Donald Trump puked, Copley Place is probably what would hit the toilet.

Yes, the building has marbles fountains and golden statues.
Lehane also takes time for more serious and reflective contemplations. A lot of his commentary addresses the way in which certain neighbourhoods appear to one another and how these preconceptions inflamate hate.
Part of the focus of this novel is the strife between the opposing gangs, however, I think Lehane incorporates a lot more than that through his plotlines. There are the ‘powerful and untouchable’ politicians, the police, the ones who have to live in a ‘war-torn’ terrain. Lehane emphasizes how they all similarly try to drive a wedge between them and ‘the others’. Kenzie is not a flawless rendered judgment-free character. He too shows – to his own remorse – prejudiced behaviour.
Kenzie is one of the novel’s strengths. He is so incredibly engaging that it is hard for the readers to want to leave him.

“I go on the presumption that everyone’s full of shit until proven otherwise, and this usually serves me in good stead.”

The story propels us through Kenzie’s investigation which include more than a few ‘rough’ encounters. While the action drives forwards the plot, we also get a lot of interesting and unhurried scenes which helps to give us a fuller picture of the characters involved.
Characters are another of Lehane’s fortes. Besides the endearing protagonist, we have a series of believable and complex characters vividly depicted through Lehane’s skillful style.
For example, through a few remarks, he aptly evokes Bubba’s ‘essence’:

“If Bubba could have been born in another time, like say the Bronze Age, he would have been all set.”

While the mystery and the plot are not as complex and intricate as the following instalments, this first novel introduces us to Kenzie, Gennaro and Bubba, and on the whole, it allows us for a more depth reading of their characters.

“The world according to Bubba is simple – if it aggravates you, stop it. By whatever means necessary.”

My rating: 4.5 stars

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