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The Big Easy

Walter Mosley
Mystery Man: Easy Rawlins creator Walter Mosley

Photo by Kwame Brathwaite

Walter Mosley reads from his first Easy Rawlins novel, 'Gone Fishin'

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

AFRICAN AMERICAN author Walter Mosley, who appears at San Jose State University's Major Author Series on Jan. 23, has created the great antiheroes for our age. Easy Rawlins is an unemployed black man who makes a living "doing favors": solving mysteries by trading on his wits, his fists and his extensive knowledge of Los Angeles' African American community and the Texas/Louisiana immigrants who fill it.

Easy is a free-swinging, free-shooting man who will seemingly do anything to solve a case or get himself out of trouble: frame a suspect or sleep with any woman in order to wheedle out the information he needs. Easy's saving grace is that he has a conscience; he struggles with his dark urges, broods on his misdeeds and tries to make up for his excesses.

His best friend and sometime partner, Mouse Alexander, has no such difficulty. Mouse possesses no scruples whatsoever; he is an early incarnation of inner-city black gangstas, a man whose arsenal of guns equals his weight and whose favorite line is "Can I shoot him, Easy?"

Easy and Mouse are the perfect characters for our era of racial cynicism, when we are unsurprised that the CIA sheltered crack dealers in the African American community in the 1980s. The two are as memorable for our times as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were for Victorian England.

Mosley has written the two characters into the highly successful Easy Rawlins mystery novels (Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty, A Little Yellow Dog and the just released "prequel," Gone Fishin'), earning him the presidency of the Mystery Writers of America. Black Betty and A Little Yellow Dog were on The New York Times' bestsellers list. Devil in a Blue Dress was the winner of the 1990 Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and was later made into a movie starring Denzel Washington. Mosley has published one nonmystery novel (RL's Dream) and is currently at work on several projects, including a science-fiction novel.

Mosley himself thinks that the success of the Easy Rawlins series has come because, although Rawlins spends some of his time solving exotic mysteries, he spends most of his time trying to deal with the day-to-day problems of his life. Much of the plot of A Red Death, for example, concerns Easy's attempts to settle back taxes with the IRS, as well as his affair with the wife of his best friend, Mouse.

"The people who buy my books are ... interested in ... finding themselves on the page," Mosley said in a 1995 interview. "They're trying to see themselves in the situations confronting Easy. What do I do when I lose my job? What do I do when I can't pay the rent? What do I do when my wife is messing around? How Easy solves these questions is a kind of release for a lot of my readers."

Walter Mosley reads from Gone Fishin' Thursday (Jan. 23) at 8pm at the Student Union Ballroom, San Jose State University. Tickets are $10. He also appears at a reception at 6pm; tickets for reception and reading are $30. (408/924-4306)

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From the January 16-22, 1997 issue of Metro

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