Walter Mosley has been a prolific writer for the past three decades, best known for his popular Easy Rawlins series of color-inspired mysteries (Devil in a Blue Dress, White Butterfly, A Red Death, Little Scarlet, Black Betty, etc.), some of which were turned into films. Mosley has also written several other mystery novels (multiple books featured a character named Fearless Jones) and dabbled in non-crime genres of fiction and non-fiction. This guy certainly isn’t rusting away from idleness.
I just enjoyed reading one of his most recent novels, Known to Evil, the second book in a new mystery series he started that features a detective named Leonid McGill. This ain’t no cheap throwaway thriller. Like the first book in the series, The Long Fall, this one incorporates spare, tough dialogue, reminiscent of the old noir era of mystery writers such as Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler. Unlike the Easy Rawlins novels, which weaved an historical path through several decades of criminal life in urban Los Angeles, the Leonid McGill books take place in modern day New York City.
McGill is one of Mosley’s more interesting creations, a chubby middle-aged black man who was given a Russian name by his Communist-loving father. McGill may be an old school guy, but he’s got an iPod and does online research so he’s not totally living in the dark ages. He’s also an ex-boxer who still gets in the ring to “work out” once in a while. His wife cheats on him, and he cheats on his wife. His youngest son is a great kid with a bubbly personality but McGill worries about the boy’s illegal extracurricular activities. His oldest son is a moody sort who doesn’t speak to him. Like the Easy Rawlins books, the McGill novels are packed with an eclectic cast of characters, both criminals and ordinary folks. McGill has lived a violent life that requires both street smarts and cerebral intellect. After being on the wrong side of the law for many years, he is now trying to walk a straighter path as a private detective. But problematic investigations keep preventing him from doing things the traditional — or legal — way. The third book in the Leonid McGill series, When the Thrill is Gone, will be published in March. Hey, that’s this month! I’ll be eagerly waiting for that one.
My favorite Mosley books are the ones that feature a wise and intriguing character named Socrates Fortlow. The first of those was the outstanding short story collection Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. These are vital, life-affirming stories that leave you thinking about life and love, justice and redemption. The most recent of the Socrates Fortlow novels, The Right Mistake, is another great, ambitious effort. Like the short stories, the plot in this novel veers more towards social commentary and philosophy than mystery. One review called it, “a gripping inner drama,” and that’s a very succinct way of describing it. Gripping indeed.