A warm welcome back, Easy Rawlins
If this is to be the end of the series about the African American detective, it is a fitting finale.
Every novel published by Walter Mosley is an event, a literary feast for lovers of the written word. Whether the book is an experimental science fiction adventure, a collection of short stories, or even a saucy erotic novel, there are few contemporary authors as consistently fine as Mosley. Good as the others are, however, when the book is in the Easy Rawlins series, readers know they are really in for a treat.
Through 10 laudable novels in the series, Mosley has covered more than three decades of American life, all viewed through the eyes of Easy Rawlins, an African American detective living in Los Angeles. From an angry, rootless young man in Devil in a Blue Dress, just back from the war and trying to find his way, to the settled, more measured father of Blonde Faith, Rawlins has grown into one of the richest characters in fiction.
Blonde Faith finds Rawlins putting himself on the line in an attempt to help an old friend - a familiar refrain in the series. As the story develops, there are actually two friends who need his assistance. The first is Christmas Black, the second is Raymond "Mouse" Alexander. Each requires different things from Easy, but what's never in doubt is that he'll do whatever it takes to help them.
The mystery in Blonde Faith is not particularly complex, and the way Rawlins goes about investigating it is not especially inventive. But the plot is largely just a framework that allows Rawlins to operate - after all, he has to be doing something. The meat of the novel isn't the intrigue, but rather the rich characters and the world they live in. That is where Mosley's strength as a storyteller really shines through.
As Mosley's career has progressed - and this is particularly noticeable in the Easy Rawlins series - he has tended to become more obvious in making his points, using a cleaver where a scalpel might prove more efficient. Mosley has a message he wants to send - primarily relating to the vast racism inherent in American society - and he spares no effort in making that clear.
Although keen-eyed observations of race relations have always been a hallmark of Mosley's writing, in several of his recent books the message has tended to dominate the stories to the extent that some of the joy has been lost. This is especially noticeable when contrasting the last few books in the Rawlins series to Mosley's work during that same period in his Paris Minton novels (Fear of the Dark, etc.), books that send the same central message, but do so in a subtler way that maintains the pure exhilaration of storytelling.
There is also a serious stylistic problem at the end of Blonde Faith, which can't adequately be revealed here as it would give away an important plot point. But after reading it, one can't help but wonder about the logic of that particular passage. Mosley has to, in effect, play a trick on the reader in order to make his point, and that robs the scene of much of the emotional resonance it might have had. As a result, the book ends on something of a sour note.
Despite these concerns, Blonde Faith is still one of the season's better mysteries. Given Mosley's abundant talent, it could hardly help being such. No matter what else he does, Mosley is such a powerful writer, with such well-honed prose and so strong a sense of place, that his books are always entertaining.
If this is, as has been reported, the end of the Easy Rawlins series, it is a fitting time to bid a fond farewell to this complex and very human man. He leaves like a champion going out before the game leaves him behind.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, October 28, 2007