Book Review: Readings

Walter Mosley

Readings

Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins Mystery

by Walter Mosley

Little, Brown, 320 pp., $24.95 Little Scarlet is Walter Mosley's eighth outing for his African-American pseudo-sleuth, Easy Rawlins. Beginning with Devil in a Blue Dress, set just after World War II, the author has moved each book forward in time by a few years. One gets the feeling, now that he's reached the Sixties, he'd like to stay awhile. The sense that the kettle has boiled over once and might just do it again at any moment seems to add a new thrill to his already superb writing.

The action fades in after six days of rioting in Watts during the summer of '65. The trouble is winding down, but it's not over. Some white peckerwood wants to know why those Negroes wanna run around burnin' everything down. "Because it's hot and people are mad," says our hero. "They've been mad since they were babies."

Amid this madness, Nola Payne, a black woman with red hair, is attacked and murdered. The police want Easy to find the suspect, a white man, before his brethren do and start the trouble all over again. The chief even gives Easy a signed letter that amounts to safe conduct, allowing him to walk freely down the street in the white parts of town without getting arrested. But even without the note, Easy feels a new sense of empowerment and isn't afraid to bluff it out.

Raymond "Mouse" Alexander, his best friend, who leaves a pile of dead bodies and broken hearts wherever he goes, has tended to steal the show in previous novels, but in his spare yet vivid appearances here, Easy more than holds his own. It's a new world.

This is Mosley's edgiest novel yet. Despite the abundant emphasis on social message, the suspense plotting seems more tautly crafted than ever. Not that you ever read an Easy Rawlins mystery just to find out whodunit, anyway. And I don't think it'll give too much away to mention that, in the end, Easy is told that if he wants an official private investigator license, all he has to do is ask. Just in case you were wondering if there'll be another installment.

Walter Mosley will be at Barnes & Noble Arboretum (10000 Research, 418-8985) on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 7:30pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins Mystery, Walter Mosley, Little, Brown

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