This was another new series for me, as part of my challenge to myself to broaden my own literary horizons, now that I have a bit more time for such things; I have to say that, at least for the two I read, I liked Mosley’s series better than the previous three I tried. As with the previous new (to me) series, I picked two of the author’s earlier works1: A Red Death and White Butterfly.
For those who’ve aren’t familiar with the series: it’s set in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s, primarily in the Watts neighborhood, and the protagonist is an African-American veteran of WWII trying to make a life for himself, in a country and an era which gives most of the advantages to the Caucasians2. Though he has no credentials3, Rawlins works indirectly with the police force in L.A., as they acknowledge there are things which the cops cannot do; even whites clam up when presented with police inquiries…and blacks have much more reason to distrust police. The plots of the two I read are fairly easily described. In A Red Death, Rawlins gets in hot water with the IRS for not declaring rental income from his real estate–this NONdeclaration isn’t surprising, since the properties were purchased with a hot $10,000, and he can’t very well explain how he got the money to purchase them. An FBI agent offers to deal with the IRS on his behalf if Rawlins infiltrates the First African Baptist church to spy on a WWII resistance fighter working for the church. In White Butterfly, a serial killer’s been targeting black women in L.A. (and as it turns out in the S.F./Oakland area as well) but the case receives little attention until a white coed, daughter of a prominent lawyer, is herself found dead, presumably by the same killer. Rawlins is again called in for his ability to work in the black community without raising hackles.
I like Mosley’s work most of the books new to me which I’ve read for this blog–indeed, it’s the only one so far that’s left me wanting to continue reading the author’s works beyond my “assignment”. Not so much because of the writing, which is slightly better than mediocre4, but because it’s about an African-American man written by an African-American man from an African American perspective. One of the reviewers on Goodreads said something whiney about how zie thought that Mosley wrote too much about the racial aspects…not so. Frankly, there hasn’t been enough written like this, judging by the two communities’ reaction to The Other Side of the River. Without the setting and the characters, the stories are a bit flimsy, but that’s not why they should be read by the melanin-challenged among us; Mosley does editorialize a bit, but it needs to be said5, even more today.
As for what to read next, as with many books and series, that depends on why you like this one. If it’s the setting and ‘noir’ style, try John MacDonald’s Lew Archer series. If, however, it’s the other ‘noir’ aspects of the mystery series, I’d strongly suggest Barbara Neely’s Blanche White series, about a black woman supporting herself as a domestic employee6 for, in the main, white families; they’re described from a similar racial/cultural perspective, though female rather than male.
1two to make sure I didn’t pick the one dog of the lot and earlier works because, amongst the series of which I *have* read most/all, I’ve preferred the earlier works to the later.
2things have improved a bit, but not nearly enough.
3according to Goodreads, Rawlins does get his P.I. license later in the series.
4though I would like to point out this places it firmly at markedly better than the other ‘new to me’ mysteries I’ve read for this blog!
5Devil in a Blue Dress came out before the L.A. riots in 1992
6‘maid’ doesn’t quite cover it, at least from the snobby multi-servant household’s perspective, as she cooks too. Maid of all work, perhaps.