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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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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