Starting this year everyone around me started accepting reading challenges like a fearless Gladiator, while I was still stuck, mostly, with the books I had bought way back in 2012 and 2013. Most of these books were from writers I have tasted before. So, with a determination and a sense of adventure I created my own reading challenge of getting to know as much as new crime writers as possible. New as in the sense, that I am experiencing his work for the first time, and not necessarily the author is a debut writer. So, with this target in mind, I picked up DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS by the celebrated African-American novelist Walter Mosley.
The book introduces Ezekiel a.k.a Easy Rawlins, an African-American WW 2 veteran who finds himself being handed the pink slip by the owner of the aircraft factory where he had a job. Jobless, and facing a mortgage payment he wanders into a bar owned by his friend Joppy, who in the process of helping him introduces to a white man called Mr. DeWitt Albright who tells him that for a price he might have a job for Easy. The job would be to find out the whereabouts of a white girl called Daphne Monet. Standard PI job. Easy takes the money, goes out looking for the girl, and finds himself deep in the woods with gangsters, persecuting police, racist white men and a bundle of lies and deceit from almost everyone. Up to his neck in troubles, he calls his old friend from Texas, Mouse Alexander a.k.a. Mouse. Mouse happens to be a trigger happy gangster who wouldnt hesitate to kill his friend Easy, if he stood between Mouse and a bag of money.
Purely from a Crime fiction point of view, the book was too confusing without a dynamic ending to justify the confusion. The confusion was mainly due to the presence of innumerable characters who barely had single pages dedicated to them. Had the plot, which did have some nasty shades to it, or the motive or the climax, been more awe inspiring, then the confusion might have added to the pleasure of reading. But with a standard plot, and a not too fast speed the confusion did what it does best, it confused me. I had difficulty in keeping up with character names, who they were, and what purpose are they serving in the plot. But, the plot as I said earlier was a standard PI plot, meaning that it wasn’t bad. Yes it wasn’t great, but it did have the element of suspense as its very difficult to figure out the main motive or the culprit beforehand.
Easy Rawlins is a laid off black man, who lived in the days when racism was nothing to be ashamed of. Black skin meant that “a man will always be called boy”. So, being a PI with no training or experience meant that it would be hard for him to survive. And it was hard. He faced opposition from authorities, saw how a white man can treat him like a dog without ever saying a mean word. So, in the process he called his friend Mouse, of whom he is afraid. Now this is a peculiar relation between a main protagonist and his sidekick. Most of them have a buddy or a love-hate relationship, but none of them have a chemistry where the main guy is frightened of his sidekick. Here, Easy is frightened of Mouse. And, as he is without any experience Easy tries out his connection within the community for clues instead of the standard procedures of a PI like hounding the authorities or searching files or looking up for fingerprints.
So, will you read this book? Yes, you should, as this book is an important part of Crime writing. There are very few credible African-American protagonist out there. Easy Rawlins is one of them. And, if you are not a fan of crime writing you can atleast read this book to see what it actually felt to be a black man back then, or at times even now, especially in my country, India.