The idea of reviewing books about bicycling has been in the back of my brain for a bunch of blogs. But I have Milly Schmidt from Australia (The Cat’s Write) and Shalini from India (Books, Reviews et al. by Shalini) to thank for reminding me that writing in different genres is perfectly acceptable (despite what some pro bloggers may say) and that reviewing books is a good thing to do for aspiring writers. I’ve just finished award-winning Walter’s Mosley’s Charcoal Joe: An Easy Rawlins Mystery, so don’t be blue. Without further ado, here is A Dude Abikes’ review. For you. It’s true! And brand new.
Ezekiel Rawlins: A Man of Mystery
Sometimes rhyming happens, it’s a mystery. You know who else is? Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, our protagonist. He has been in 13 previous books, and I’ve read them all.
When the series seemed to come to an end in 2007, I was chagrined. But when it returned just one book before this one in 2013, I was happy. Some characters just get ingrained in your mind, and you want to know how their story continues to unfold and eventually comes to its denouement. That’s French for el fin. Which is also French.
In my mind’s eye, this one happens to look like Denzel Washington, because the first book was made into an HBO movie, Devil in a Blue Dress. But on his website, (in an article you do not want to read to avoid a SPOILER!), the author discusses how Rawlins is really an avatar for his father. So he also reminds me of Mosley himself. Maybe it’s just the hat. Either way, Rawlins himself is a bit of a cypher. Which is fine. A man’s gotta have his secrets. They don’t call it a mystery for nuthin’.
Mosley, the Master of Moody Mystery
I’ll get to the story in a moment. To quote Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, about whom I wrote in a previous post titled “My Morning Chocolate: The Dark Master,” “The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts.” It’s hard to capture hundreds of pages into hundreds of words, but one thing I can say about this series, and this particular book holds true to that, is atmospheric. With these books, I just feel like I can visualize the people, the places, and the mood. That’s all due to Mr. Mosley’s masterful storytelling and descriptive powers. There’s a reason he won the 2016 Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America.
Obviously I don’t want to ruin the story for you — my goal is to entice you with the brilliance of my review to get you to read the book. I got mine from the local library. But a case comes to Rawlins brought by his oldest friend Mouse, a dangerous criminal in his own right, from an even more dnagerous criminal: the eponymous Charcoal Joe. As Easy begins to investigate the framing of a young black physics student for two murders at a house in Malibu. The “thought plickens,” as we say, and pretty soon he’s got all kinds of bad men (and women) after him. In between the close calls, secretive stakeouts, and well, violence, there are idyllic or even mundane scenes.
Our private eye is also a father to two adopted kids — Feather, who’s still in high school and the other, Jesus, scarcely mentioned, unfortunately, as he’s grown and moved out. Rawlins is also originally a Texan, about to be engaged, but a ladies man, a veteran of WW II, — so a lover and a fighter. Easy’s a loyal friend, a smoker (down to one a day), a friend to some police and enemy to others, a drinker and a thinker. He has both street smarts and the book kind. He’s human, he’s complex, gruff and sympathetic. Honest as much as he can be but constantly in a grey area where justice and the law don’t jibe. He’s living in a time and place where the police can still frame a black man because his skin is black.
The Essence of Easy
If I had to distill the underpinning of these books — and maybe even most of Mosley’s writing, even his science fiction — it seems to me to be about the struggle by African-Americans to reconcile being descended from slaves brought from Africa but to live in the historical moment in America, which isn’t slavery but isn’t true freedom, either. Times were still tough in the late 60’s; recall the Civil Rights Act only passed in 1968, and took a while for its voting and other protections to be translated into black people actually being treated like equals.
In one moment Mosley may be describing a conversation between Rawlins and someone else, or describing a character and the color of their skin in more words you thought possible, or telling a plot point or a geographic location, or unspooling a chase or fight scene. But then he’ll make an observation about the characters’ relationship to each other and the powers that be that’s unexpected. It can be sublime, stunning, nuanced and simple all at the same time. Here’s a random quote to give you an idea;
“Paris Minton and Fearless Jones were what I called a perfectly mismatched pair. Paris was as well-read and intelligent as Jackson Blue; he was just as much of a coward too. Fearless was not so smart but his will was indominatble, his heart attuned to truth, and physically he was the strongest man I ever met…. Separately, Fearless and Paris were just two more black men destined for ignominy, but togheer they formed the perfect genius of the American spirit.”
— from Walter Mosley’s Charcoal Joe, Copyright © by The Thing Itself, Inc.
Lots of Characters, and Well Worth the Read
To me that’s just good writing, but what do I know? But it’s not all roses. If there’s one thing I don’t really care for in this novel like most of Mosley’s work, it’s keeping track of all the characters. When someone gets a paragraph earlier in the book but then turn out to play a pivotal role much later in the plot, that makes it sometimes hard to connect the dots. This probably more of what we call “a me problem.”
Either my brain isn’t retaining details as well as it used to — I haven’t been much of a reader lately — or I’m just not paying enough attention. I do tend to read the books over a week or more to savor them. At the same time, the intricacy of the interweaving story lines as they build to their crescendo is fascinating to try to sort out. Like any good mystery, you’re kept guessing til the end. When it’s over, all the furrows on Easy’s brow and ours, as readers, are smoothed out. The conclusions are satisfying. Justice is served. Cold, usually.
So when it comes to Easy Rawlins, I’m, well, easy. Like Sunday morning. (The Commodores song title.) You will be too if you start reading these books. My advice is to start at the beginning and read them in order. By the way, at one time and maybe still, Mosley was said to be former President Bill Clinton’s favorite mystery author. That may turn off some of you Clinton haters (I’m not a big fan myself), but A Dude is like the Honey Badger: he just don’t care. For more about Mosley, go to www.waltermosley.com.
Buddy got some stage time! The neighbors are bloggers too. Here’s a post they did about testing Buddy’s DNA on http://www.DogTipper.com (they also run http://www.CatTipper.com). Pretty cool! Whatever Buddy’s origins are I welcome them: A Dude is not a canine racist — a caninist. We walk, sleep, eat, and play ball or stick together. We do not drink out of the same fountain though, but that’s just because he’s got gross dog mouth breath from licking his… well, you know. He has toucous cooties.
There was nice weather today, but A Dude was just too tired after the all-day move yesterday and the usual being up too late to ride his bike. You can read yesterday’s post in Spanish by translating it using an online service if you don’t know Spanish.
SWSW is approaching, so my de-campment from the holler is imminent. That will be an adjustment. As long as there’s no scary guys in suits chasing me like in that sci-fi flick with Matt Damon Adjustment Bureau that come with the ch-ch-ch-changes (David Bowie).
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This is exactly 1,500 words.
6 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW #1: Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley – An Easy Rawlins Mystery”
Yes, he was great! I write a post on that.
Concise and to-the-point review. It is great that you have read all the books in the series. I have not read any of the author’s books, and that is because I do not normally read genre fiction except for horror. But the review made me curious. Good job.
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Thanks. I just met him tonight quite unexpectedly. New post in progress. Really nice guy!
You mean the author? Wow.
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