“This money is from me, Easy. I’m the one hirin’ you”
“Cheddar or blue?” I asked, taking the cash.
“I just wanna know what kind of cheese is in this trap.”
Thus Walter Mosley’s Los Angeles PI Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins takes a thick wad of cash from his long term buddy Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander, as a down payment on his latest case, to extricate 25 year-old Dr – of physics – Seymour Brathwaite from a murder rap. The fact that Easy, like a huge number of fellow Angelinos, could never say “no” to Mouse, is one thing; Mouse may well be the most dangerous man in the city, but the legendary Charcoal Joe is probably next in line. And it’s Joe who had called in a favour of Mouse.
Seymour Brathwaite has been found at a murder scene in Malibu beach with two corpses lying on the floor. When LAPD’s finest catch a black man at the scene of a shooting, that’s normally case closed, give or take a few minutes of paperwork, but this is different. Brathwaite has no connection with either the corpses or crime in general, and he seems to have a very powerful friend in underworld fixer, arranger of violent death and generally lethal string puller Rufus Tyler – better known as Charcoal Joe.
Joe is currently residing in one of LA’s more relaxed and well appointed correctional facilities, serving a short sentence for some minor infraction. Easy pays him a visit to learn more about why young Dr Brathwaite was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and finds Joe attended by his minders and gophers. He asks why Joe is so convinced of Seymour’ innocence.
“The young man is a doctor of science,” Rufus Tyler the prodigy intoned. “He’s teachin’ at UCLA right this semester while he finishes his postgraduate work. Now how’s a man like that gonna be some kinda niggah like the people you and me consort with?”
I could think of a dozen ways. The universities in the late sixties were hotbeds of bombers, Liberation bank robbers and stone-cold killers.
Despite his misgivings, Easy sets about his work. At this point, it may be the moment to bring people new to the series up to speed with the who, what and why of the world of Easy Rawlins. Our man fought for Uncle Sam in WW2, and returned to an America where the yoke of oppression may have been lifted in Western Europe, but not in hometown USA. Battling everyday racism, put-downs and casual affronts, he has survived death on several occasions by the thickness of a cigarette paper, managed to earn the grudging respect of certain members of the LAPD, and has raised a family – albeit an unconventional one. Conscious that his work is always attracting new readers Mosley – like the weaver of dreams he is – fills in the biography with the deftest of touches, as he goes along.
Inevitably, Easy is being lied to by pretty much everyone involved in the case of the naïve Dr Brathwaite. The body count is spectacular, and even as he mourns the loss of his best love, Easy manages to squeeze in a couple of ‘romantic encounters’. The euphemism is mine. One of Mosley’s skills is to dance his way deftly through the minefield that faces writers who tackle sex scenes. Where many tread too heavily and die, Mosley escapes unscathed.
The plot, as they say, thickens – to the point where you may need to skip back a few pages just to be sure that you are certain who has done what to whom. To me, this is neither here nor there. Sometimes cliches are unavoidable because they tell a simple truth, and with any Easy Rawlins novel it is all about the journey rather than the destination. An Easy Rawlins tale is what you get when a poet writes crime fiction. If Raymond Chandler were a deity, then I would worship him, but I would be hard pressed to summarise the detailed plots of Philip Marlow’s cases. I could, however, rattle off a dozen one-liners and brilliant descriptions which have made Chandler immortal. So it is with Mosley.
Easy goes to an illegal club called The Black Door Bar, and is reunited with an old flame.
“Hey, Easy,” Louise Lash said.
She was maybe forty with a face that would be beautiful twenty years after her death. Her skin was black and flawless. Even when she wasn’t talking her mouth seemed to be saying something elusive.
Read this book, and cherish it. Mosley is not an old man by today’s standards, but there will come a time when there will be no more Easy Rawlins, and the world will be a poorer place for his passing.
Follow the link to get your copy of Charcoal Joe.