Category Archives: Mosley, Walter

Triple Play: Noir

I’m going to try something new – instead of posts focusing on a single book, I’m going to, from time-to-time, publish posts that talk briefly about a few books that I’ve read recently. I’ll probably try to tie them together by theme, but that won’t always work. Happily, it does work here – these are all books that I would call “noir” in their sensibilities. I read them all in September, for my Halloween Bingo game.

Devil in a Blue DressDevil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Easy Rawlins #1
Publication Date: September 1, 1991
Pages: 263
Genre: mystery, noir
Project: halloween bingo

In Los Angeles of the late 1940s, Easy Rawlins, a black war veteran, has just been fired from his job at a defense plant. Easy is drinking in a friend's bar, wondering how he'll meet his mortgage, when a white man in a linen suit walks in, offering good money if Easy will simply locate Miss Daphne Monet, a blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs.

This book has been on my TBR for years. It finally made its way to the top of the reading stack (virtual stack, to be sure, because this was a public library kindle checkout) because I have been trying to diversify my reading, and Walter Mosley is an author of color. This book was also really interesting to me because it includes the historical black perspective in a piece of noir fiction, a genre that is really dominated by white, male, American authors like Raymond Chandler & Dashiell Hammett.

Earlier this year, I read a book called The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. This is a non-fiction treatment of a part of American history that has not been widely told: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, to get away from the Jim Crow laws and other pernicious discrimination and, often, violence, to which they were subjected in the South. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and will try to remember to put together a full post on it at some point.

Having just read The Warmth of Other Suns this year brought a dimension to my reading that I probably would have missed if I had read this earlier. Many of the individuals with whom Easy Rawlins associates – his peers and friends – were part of this great migration. Easy Rawlins himself hails from the South. He moved to L.A. after his discharge from military service, having fought in WWII, returning to a community that demand he behave with the subservient attitudes that black men are expected to display. Having experienced something quite different as a soldier, and far more respectful, he couldn’t do that.

WHEN I OPENED THE DOOR I was slapped in the face by the force of Lips’ alto horn. I had been hearing Lips and Willie and Flattop since I was a boy in Houston. All of them and John and half the people in that crowded room had migrated from Houston after the war, and some before that. California was like heaven for the Southern Negro. People told stories of how you could eat fruit right off the trees and get enough work to retire one day. The stories were true for the most part but the truth wasn’t like the dream. Life was still hard in L.A. and if you worked every day you still found yourself on the bottom.

This book is really good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The mystery wasn’t the best part of the book, nor did I feel it was really the point. The characters and setting were first rate, and seeing 1950’s Watts from a non-white perspective makes the book definitely worth reading despite it’s weaknesses as a mystery.

But I didn’t believe that there was justice for Negroes. I thought that there might be some justice for a black man if he had the money to grease it.

The Moving TargetThe Moving Target by Ross MacDonald
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Lew Archer #1
Publication Date: March 3, 1998
Pages: 246
Genre: mystery, noir
Project: halloween bingo

Like many Southern California millionaires, Ralph Sampson keeps odd company - there's the sun-worshipping holy man to whom Sampson once gave his very own mountain, and don't forget the fading actress with sidelines in astrology and S and M. Now one of Sampson's friends may have arranged his kidnapping.

Lew Archer follows the clues from the canyon sanctuaries of the mega-rich to jazz joints where you get beaten up between sets.

Welcome to the first Lew Archer, private investigator - a roving conscience who walks the treacherous frontier between criminal guilt and human sin. You are sure to find that Ross Macdonald's "The Moving Target" blends sex, greed, and family hatred into an explosively readable crime novel.

This is the first of MacDonald’s Lew Archer series. Lew Archer is the natural heir to Philip Marlowe, and operates within the same Los Angeles as Marlowe (and Easy Rawlins, as well). A place of bars and women, dirty glamour and seediness underneath the glitz.

The back room of Swift’s was paneled in black oak that glowed dimly under the polished brass chandeliers. It was lined on two sides with leather-cushioned booths. The rest of the floor space was covered with tables. All of the booths and most of the tables were crowded with highly dressed people eating or waiting to be fed. Most of the women were tight-skinned, starved too thin for their bones. Most of the men had the masculine Hollywood look, which was harder to describe. An insistent self-consciousness in their loud words and wide gestures, as if God had a million-dollar contract to keep an eye on them.

In this book, Lew is hired by a rich woman to locate her husband, Ralph Sampson, who may have been kidnapped, or he may just have gone off on a bender. He is described thus: “Ralph?…He started out as a wildcat oil operator. You know the type, half man, half alligator, half bear trap, with a piggy bank where his heart should be.” Things go about as well as the reader should expect in a piece of noir fiction, which is to say, not well at all, especially not for our protagonist of dubious character.

The plotting in this one had some weaknesses, and the reader is blindsided at the end by a character who behaves entirely out of the character that had been built through the entire novel, but overall, very enjoyable, especially for fans of the noir aesthetic.

The Concrete BlondeThe Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: Harry Bosch #3
Publication Date: June 1, 1994
Pages: 484
Genre: mystery
Project: halloween bingo

Detective Harry Bosch was sure he'd shot the serial killer responsible for a string of murders in LA . . . but now, a new crime makes him question his convictions.

They call him the Dollmaker, a serial killer who stalks Los Angeles and leaves a grisly calling card on the faces of his female victims. When a suspect is shot by Detective Harry Bosch, everyone believes the city's nightmare is over. But then the dead man's widow sues Harry and the LAPD for killing the wrong man--an accusation that rings terrifyingly true when a new corpse is found with the Dollmaker's macabre signature. Now, for the second time, Harry must hunt down a ruthless death-dealer before he strikes again. Careening through a blood-tracked quest, Harry will go from the hard edges of the L.A. night to the last place he ever wanted to go--the darkness of his own heart...

And last, but not least, we have Harry Bosch. Concrete Blonde is third in the extremely long-running Harry Bosch series – Connelly is up to 23 books in the primary Bosch series, and 35 in the Harry Bosch Universe (HBU), which includes some of his other protagonists – Jack McEvoy, Mickey Haller and Renee Ballard. The OG series is my favorite. I enjoy McEvoy and Ballard, but I rarely manage to finish the Mickey Haller books. I usually get bored and DNF.

Concrete Blonde is a serial killer book, which is why I picked it. It’s also one of my series favorites overall, and is the point in the series when Connelly stops messing around and settles in to really write this character. It was partially adapted for the Amazon Prime series in Season One, although they leave out the meat of the very clever Dollmaker Plot, which would have made an exceptional season all on its own. There is great plotting in this book.