03 August 2010

Review: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Texas-born Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is in a Watts bar on a 1948 afternoon because he recently lost his job and needs to figure out what to do next. When he notices a white man come through the door and start talking to the barkeep, he doesn't pay much attention until he's called over to the counter. Turns out DeWitt Albright is willing to pay Easy enough money to make his mortgage several times over; all he has to do is track down the blue-eyed, jazz-loving Daphne Money, who has recently gone missing.

Easy's not quite sure about Albright, but he's willing to do anything legal to keep from losing his house. How hard can it be to visit some jazz clubs and ask if anyone has seen a white girl? Well, as it turns out, pretty hard and pretty dangerous.

Devil in a Blue Dress is the first in Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mystery series, and it is written in the style of classic noir stories. Easy is smart and has survival instincts that he honed during World War II, but even so, Los Angeles can be a tough place for a black man in the 1940s.

This is a stark novel, and as Rawlins learns the ropes of conducting an investigation, figures out whom to trust, and picks up the trail of mysterious Daphne, he sees the seedier side of the city. But the violence, sex, racism, pedophilia, and police brutality are not gratuitous, they are part of the world Easy must navigate if he wants to finish the job.

Mosley has carefully placed each character, and we can never be sure who will be important to Easy's case and what role he or she will play. Both the plot and Easy Rawlins's character are complex, gritty, and full of surprises.

The audio edition (Audible, Inc.) was read by Michael Boatman, who easily handled the various accents and voices without stepping over the line from narrator to dramatist. For my full audio review, see the AudioFile Magazine website.

Devil in the Blue Dress was the winner of the 1991 New Blood Dagger Award and the 1991 Shamus Award for Best First Novel. It was a finalist for the 1991 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. For more on Walter Mosley, visit his website.


Published by Libri, 1990
ISBN-13: 9780393028546

Challenges: 100+
YTD: 69
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

13 comments:

Julie P. 8/3/10, 8:23 AM  

I'm not entirely sure but I think I might have read this one when it first came out and won all of those awards.

S. Krishna 8/3/10, 9:13 AM  

I've been curious about Walter Mosley and this looks like a good place to start!

raidergirl3 8/3/10, 9:13 AM  

And don't forget the movie, starring Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle - it's excellent.
I just read a later Easy mystery and was impressed. I must look for more in that series.

Sandy Nawrot 8/3/10, 9:47 AM  

Right, I was just going to mention the movie, who stars Flashdance woman as the one in the blue dress. (Jennifer Beals?) Not a bad movie, that.

bermudaonion 8/3/10, 10:27 AM  

A classic noir story with a great reader sounds perfect to me!

caite 8/3/10, 5:02 PM  

Mosley is one of those authors that people always speak so highly of...and that I have not read. I should do something about that.

Michele at Reader's Respite 8/3/10, 9:42 PM  

Since this book is known as Mosley's best work, it's been on my "list" for a long time. I'm glad you reviewed it....gives me the boost I need to start reading it!

Belle 8/3/10, 11:35 PM  

Sounds like a good mystery. The audio version sounds good.

Jen - devourer of books 8/4/10, 12:25 PM  

Ooh, I may have to check out the audio. By the way, I like how you handled the linking to Audiofile.

Margot at Joyfully Retired 8/4/10, 1:33 PM  

I've had Easy Rawlins on my list for quite some time. I guess I just needed a nudge in this direction. Thanks.

softdrink 8/4/10, 7:34 PM  

And now I've got the song stuck in my head!

Eva 8/5/10, 10:01 PM  

Ohh: I have this on one of my challenge lists, so I'm glad to hear the audio is good, maybe I'll try that. It'll be outside my comfort zone, though, since I'm not usually a noir/grit person.

dog eared copy 3/30/12, 12:24 AM  

Why yes, it is over a year-and-a-half since you wrote this review! I thought I would chime in anyway since I just posted my own review and you mentioned on twitter that you had listened to the audiobook. I definitely didn't feel this book the way you did. I've seen comparisons to the noir genre and noted your own appraisal of its stark qualities. Perhaps I'm too jaded after listening to gritty Irish noir; but this just didn't do it for me. I walked away feeling rather indifferent and disappointed . I didn't hate it, I just didn't love it either and, I think in a year's time that I'm going to have a hard time remembering much of it :-/

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