First Impressions: Walter Mosley and Easy Rawlins

20342538It has been a ridiculously long time since I’ve done this feature.  I’ve been sticking to mostly-familiar authors for a while now. But I finally found a First Impressions book and author worth talking about, so here we go. A well-established author who is totally new to me. Let’s do this thing.

When I started tracking the diversity of the authors I read, I found that black men are among the most under-represented on my shelves. Walter Mosley is an incredibly prolific author, and I’ve been meaning to check him out for a few years now. So when I saw Rose Gold come across my desk, it seemed like the perfect time to jump in.

It’s 1968, and black power radical Uhuru Nolice has kidnapped Rosemary Goldsmith, the (white) daughter of a prominent weapons manufacturer. Or at least, so it seems. The FBI, the State Department, and the LAPD each turn to Easy Rawlins to track down Nolice, but Rawlins finds himself untangling a mystery that goes deeper than a simple kidnapping.

So I have to start out by saying that it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to start on the thirteenth book in a series (the first Easy Rawlins book, Devil in a Blue Dress, was published all the way back in 1990). I didn’t need those previous books to understand anything that was going on in the plot. Mosley makes plenty of references to earlier adventures–perhaps too many. But I know that by jumping in so late, I’ve missed how the character has evolved, and some of the depth of his relationships.

That didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, though. Rose Gold is fairly simple as mysteries go–what complexity there is in the plot comes in from the fact that Rawlins is spinning so many plates in the air at one time. But the style of the book was great. Rawlins was an interesting character. A philosopher-poet one minute, powerfully violent the next. I never quite knew how he was going to respond to a given situation. It was interesting to find out.

Stylistically, there’s an obsession with color in this book, and I don’t just mean race. One of the things that struck me most was that when Easy walks into a room, he notices the colors of everything, every scrap of clothing, every bit of upholstery and furniture and paint. It was exhausting, in a way, but it was an interesting trick to convey that he is a detective: his constant notice was clearly part and parcel of his profession. And when it did come to race, I have to say that I admired Mosley’s descriptive style. It can be exhaustive and reductive to read skin colors described with “food words” (chocolate, cinnamon, coffee…trust me, whether you notice it or not, you’ve seen it a million times). Mosley avoids all that almost entirely. Rawlins’ corner of L.A. is full of different cultures, and the people are tawny. Bronze and copper. Sand. Pink. And, yes, rose gold. There are food words here and there, but they’re judicious, and it was a breath of fresh air to see race described in a different way than the usual. The only complaint I sort of have regarding race is that there’s an American Indian character who is almost fetishized in the narrative.  It’s a fine line, and Mosley played a little too close to the “noble savage” trope for my taste. But otherwise, this book is very much about a clash of cultures, class, and race at a turbulent time in American history.

It’s also a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same; most of Rawlins’ uneasy and interactions with police and white people, unfortunately, ring as true in 2015 as they did in 1968. It’s sad that this is the case, but it’s a mark of a good writer that an historical character can read as true as a modern one.

I’m inspired enough by Rose Gold that I would like to go back to the very beginning. I’ll certainly be reading more of Mosley in the future.

 

 

 

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