Devil in a Blue Dress is a mystery novel first published in 1990, and that is when Walter Mosley first introduced Easy Rawlins to an always eager crowd of readers looking for new and unusual literary heroes to follow.
Ezekiel Rawlins is a war hero, but he is a black man in 1948 Los Angeles, so he does not get the appreciation he deserves. Instead, he is recently fired from his job at a defense plant and is contemplating ways to pay his mortgage that is soon due. A peculiar white man approaches him in a bar and wants a woman found. The woman is known to hang out in black jazz clubs and seems to have connections to people with whom Easy can more easily gather some information. Easy is reluctant but he does need the cash. Unfortunately, searching for a wandering girlfriend gets considerably more perilous when murder is added to the mix.
I have been meaning to get to Walter Mosley’s works for some time and have no real good reason for taking so long. He does not shy away from the social issues of the time concerning how our black citizens were treated during that time, and he shouldn’t. Of course, the challenges makes Easy more admirable as a protagonist because although he is understandably suspicious and cautious, he is not ruthless and embittered. He is shrewd yet likable. Easy is a complicated guy with a colorful background, yet it is easy for this reader to root for him. The crazy friend known as Mouse finally shows up to lend a hand, and I was strangely relieved to see him. Mouse has a much more direct method of dealing with threats, and his presence brings out some mixed reactions from Easy. As a white man, it’s not always easy to be reminded how dreadfully black people were treated, particularly just after the Second World War, but I was too enthralled by the caper ensnared Easy to really dwell on it.
There are echoes of the hard-boiled detective fiction which was produced by Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane, but Mosley brings a welcome and unusual perspective with a black protagonist who was facing the era before the Civil Rights Movement that would begin not too many years later. And Mosley just spins good detective yarn as well. Easy is a guy just trying to survive in a world that fails to appreciate his sacrifices and talents and discovers that he has pretty good investigative instincts.
Although it is regretful that I didn’t read this novel sooner, it is a relief that I have no reason to regret finally reading it now.
Now it is time to return to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with Captain James Kirk in command. Christopher L. Bennett continues his contribution to the franchise with the Star Trek novel entitled The Higher Frontier.