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Mon March 3, 2008
Blonde Faith is the tenth Easy Rawlins mystery. The character, based on Mosley's own African-American father, was born and raised in Houston, saw fierce combat in the European Campaign in WWII, especially the Battle of the Bulge, and returned home to find he could not live in overtly bigoted Houston, so moved to make his life in LA, where the prejudice was more subtle and somewhat less lethal.
By Don Noble
It is always reassuring to hear that the President of the United States reads and enlightening to know what he reads. President John F. Kennedy let it be known he read Ian Fleming, and the James Bond craze was launched. Bill Clinton mentioned that his favorite writer was Walter Mosley, and Mosley's stock soared. Much can be learned. The Kennedy years were a time of Cold War spies and arch-villains. Mosley's fiction, on the other hand, is post-Cold War, and domestically we are still coming to terms with prejudice, integration, and multi-culturalism in all its useful and ridiculous forms.
Blonde Faith is the tenth Easy Rawlins mystery. The character, based on Mosley's own African-American father, was born and raised in Houston, saw fierce combat in the European Campaign in WWII, especially the Battle of the Bulge, and returned home to find he could not live in overtly bigoted Houston, so moved to make his life in LA, where the prejudice was more subtle and somewhat less lethal. Easy burst on the scene in 1990 in Devil in a Blue Dress, Mosley's first book. In that year, Mosley was thirty-eight years old and a successful computer programmer. (The rage to write mystery novels seems not to have afflicted the computer programmers of America as virulently as it has afflicted our attorneys. I think this is probably too bad.)
Since Devil in a Blue Dress, set right after WWII, Rawlins has aged some. Blonde Faith takes place in 1967 when Easy is forty-seven. He is now an official Private Investigator, with a license. He was very unofficial in the first few novels, operating of necessity on both sides of the law. Rawlins novels are somewhat cumulative, so Easy still has his old sidekicks like the extremely dangerous, in fact homicidal, Ray "Mouse" Alexander and new ones he has gathered along the way like Jackson Blue, a genius computer programmer.
By 1967 Easy has also won and lost the love of his life, Bonnie, and accumulated several adopted children and several pieces of real estate. But life is, pardon me for saying so, far from easy.
Rawlins is engaged to find Mouse, who is wanted for killing one Pericles Tarr. If the L.A. police find Mouse first, they will execute him. Easy also becomes involved with cleaning up a gang of ex-Army men who are importing drugs from Southeast Asia. (It's 1967, remember, and Vietnam is still heating up.) Rawlins has to protect his own family, find Pericles Tarr, and break up the drug ring. Along the way he becomes briefly involved with the beautiful blonde, Faith. This novel is full of action, violent and romantic, and the writing is silky smooth, beautifully crafted.
L.A. as the setting for all this is as perfect as it was for Raymond Chandler, Earl Stanley Gardner, or Dashiell Hammett, and with race added. The police positively enjoy harassing or, on occasion, injuring or killing black citizens. The Rodney King riots of 1992 are still far in the future, but the Watts riots are in L.A.'s recent past and tensions run high. What is amazing to the reader is the amount of planning, difficulty, and sheer waste of energy Easy, a black man, has to put out at every moment of the day he is dealing with white L.A., from driving carefully past a parked patrol car to getting a reservation at a posh restaurant to being alone in an elevator with a white woman. It is simply exhausting to be that alert at all times and to be operating at such a high level of awareness, as if perpetually on patrol behind enemy lines, but Pogo, the Vietcong are us.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.