Monday, April 05, 2021

Blood Grove - Walter Mosley

Blood Grove, Walter Mosley’s fifteenth Easy Rawlins Mystery, is the author’s first addition to the series since 2016. Mosley introduced Easy Rawlins to the world in 1990 with Devil in a Blue Dress, and although he is still best known for this series, Mosley has also published three Fearless Jones novels, six Leonid McGill novels, three Socrates Fortlow novels, and three short novels in the “Crosstown to Oblivion” series. That does it for series books, but Mosley has also written two short story collections, two books of erotica, six nonfiction books, two plays, one graphic novel, three science fiction novels, and eleven standalones (among which are my personal favorites). That’s a lot to choose from, but even with all of that, a new Easy Rawlins novel, especially after such a long wait, is a big deal to series fans.


Ezekiel “Easy” Porterhouse Rawlins is a black, unlicensed detective working the streets of Los Angeles. Now, keep in mind that Easy was born in late 1920 and that he is a World War II veteran who saw much of the fighting in that war’s European Theater. Easy, in fact, attributes his calmness under fire to those war experiences. As Blood Grove opens in 1969 Los Angeles, it looks like Easy is doing pretty well for himself. He lives in what most people would call a mansion inside a privately owned and well-guarded compound of similar homes in the Los Angeles hills with his adopted thirteen-year-old daughter. His adopted son (who does not make an appearance in the novel) is away and doing well on his own. Easy has plenty of money in his pocket; loyal, longtime friends all over the city; and enough business to keep him and his agency employees plenty busy. But the good times are just about to get complicated.


Things start to fall apart when an obviously shellshocked young white man comes to Easy for help. Craig Kilian wants to know if the black man he got into a fight with died from the knife wound to the chest that the man suffered during their scuffle over a white woman that the man was beating when Kilian came upon them in a deserted orange grove. The case has trouble — all kinds of trouble — written all over it, and Easy knows better than to get involved. Racial tension, an aftermath of the rioting in Watts a few years earlier, is still high, but Easy self-identifies as a combat veteran as much as he does with his race — and Craig Kilian, as it turns out, is a Vietnam War vet who needs help:


“Because of that bloody history, Craig Kilian was as much my brother in blood as any black man in the U.S. I had to help him because I could see his pain in my mirror.”


This earlier passage offers more insight into who Easy Rawlins is through his own eyes:


“I’m a black man closer to Mississippi midnight than to its yellow moon. Also I’m a westerner, a Californian formerly from the South - Louisiana and Texas to be exact. I’m a father, a reader, a private detective, and a veteran. I’m sure as shit a vet.”


Of course, nothing is a simple as the story Easy gets from Kilian…and Kilian is not exactly the innocent do-gooder he claims to be. There’s a lot going on in this sometimes over-complicated tale of interlocking crimes and criminals (keeping all the names straight can be difficult), but the real crux of the story is the intimate look at the social mores and race-relation issues of the day. Although race has always been an issue in the Easy Rawlins novels, Mosley seems to stress those issues more in these “woke” times than he has in previous novels, sometimes with longish passages such as this one:


“In America everything is about either race or money or some combination of the two. Who you are, what you have, what you look like, where your people came from, and what god looked over their breed — these were the most important questions. Added into that is the race of men and the race of women. The rich, famous, and powerful believe they have a race and the poor know for a fact they do. The thing about it is that most people have more than one race. White people have Italians, Germans, Irish, Poles, English, Scots, Portuguese, Russian, old-world Spaniards, new-world rich, and many combinations thereof. Black people have a color scheme from high yellow to moonless night, from octoroon to deepest Congo. And new-world Spanish have every nation from Mexico to Puerto Rico, from Columbia to Venezuela, each of which is a race of its own — not to mention the empires from Aztec to Mayan to Olmec.” 


Or the slightly more optimistic (especially for the times):


“One thing I never forgot was that I was a black man in America, a country that had built greatness on the bulwarks of slavery and genocide. But even while I was aware of the United States’ crimes and criminals, still I had to admit that our nation offered bright futures for any woman or man with brains, elbow grease, and more than a little luck…”


Bottom Line: Blood Grove brings Easy Rawlins to his next chapter in life in a very satisfying manner, but for a better understanding of the plot, I suggest jotting down the names and affiliations of the various characters as soon as they appear in the story. There were too many for me to keep up with them comfortably, and I wish I had done that for myself before it was too late. As already mentioned, the “wokeness” of Blood Grove is more obvious than in earlier Easy Rawlins novels, but it all adds to the completeness of the character and our understanding of him. My favorite quote from the book is one of its saddest: “We had forever and now it’s gone.” That is so true of so many things.


Walter Mosley


7 comments:

  1. Hi Sam, Your fine review has me interested and I know Walter Mosley is an acclaimed writer in the mystery genre and it sounds like for his 16th book he wanted something relevant to right now although the book is set in the 60's. I am thinking I might start with the first book in the Easy Rawlins series because that's when we first get to know him and whether we want to follow him through subsequent books.

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    1. Easy Rawlins is an interesting character. Since all the books are set in the past, it's hard to get it into my head that he would be 100 years old in the real world. :-)

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  2. I've never read any of Mosley's books, but I like the sound of Easy Rawlings. :)

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    1. Knowing your tastes a little bit, Lark, I'd say that he's definitely worth a look. You might like his main characters a lot...and they sometimes show up all at the same time in the same books, even.

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    2. I do get attached to favorite characters. :)

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  3. I never read Mosley's books, either, but like Lark, Easy Rawlins sounds like a great character. Sixteen books means I could start at the beginning and not have to worry about waiting for the next one. :)

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    1. He's definitely a quality writer, and one of the more respected of our authors currently writing. His books are very different from each other in style and contents, humor and seriousness, etc. so I'm wanting to explore more. Just found a nice quality paperback printing of the first Easy Rawlins book at Barnes & Noble today for six bucks. I'm looking forward to it.

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