My favourite crime novels – No. 17

Devil in a Blue Dress – Walter Mosley’s triumph takes the LA of Raymond Chandler and turns it on its head. Easy Rawlins is an out of work black WWII veteran with a house to pay for and debts that are slowly racking up. He is sitting in a bar when a white man named DeWitt Albright walks in and offers him a job to find a woman named Daphne Monet. Monet, a young white woman, is rumored to be frequenting African American bars and Albright needs Easy, who knows a lot of people in these places, to find her. From here the plot takes several major twists and turns involving stolen money, ethnic identity and an examination of what it meant to be black in America during that period. It is tightly plotted, beautifully written and gave readers a look at a side of LA that wasn’t covered by Chandler. It is also a tight, fast-paced and short read, almost (but not quite) too short considering the shenanigans that occur during it.

Easy Rawlins is a superb character, and has a great narrative voice, capable of extreme violence when pushed but ultimately he’s an normal man who tries to be a good guy. The scene-stealer though is his sidekick Mouse Alexander – a psychopathic scumbag who Rawlins’ is forced to turn to when things start getting out of hand, even though he ultimately doesn’t trust him – who rains destruction on those foolish enough to cross his path.

The later novels deepen Rawlins’ character, but Devil is ultimately my favourite Mosley. I love the easy-going narrative voice and I love the insider’s view of an LA that is reduced to a lot racial epithets in James Ellroy’s outsider’s view of it.

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