Monday, May 13, 2013

Pierce’s Picks: “Little Green”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Little Green, by Walter Mosley (Doubleday):
At the conclusion of Mosley’s 10th Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins novel, Blonde Faith (2007), we found his Los Angeles private eye drunk, depressed at the loss of his longtime girlfriend, Bonnie Shay, and wheeling his automobile over a cliff on the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu, California. “The back of my car hit something hard,” Easy told readers, “a boulder no doubt. Something clenched down on my left foot and pain lanced up my leg. I ignored this, though, realizing that in a few seconds, I’d be dead.” It was hardly unreasonable to think that Mosley had thereby delivered his final Rawlins outing.

Six years later, though, Easy is back, if not in great condition--the plummet from that precipice had thrown him free, but it took most of a day for his old buddy, the ever-armed-and-dangerous Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, to locate him and get him medical attention. After spending two months in bed in a semi-coma, the detective finally reawakens to the world of 1967 ... only to have Mouse ask that he take on a new assignment: locating Evander “Little Green” Noon, a man of 19 or 20 (“but he’s immature for his age”) who disappeared after calling his mother to tell her that he’d met some girl on the Sunset Strip.

A lesser, perhaps smarter man might have said no way, that he needed considerably more bed rest before tackling anything so difficult. But Easy has never been one to fail a friend, and so, bucked up by a “voodoo elixir” supplied by “Southern witch” Mama Jo, he sets off in a bright red 1965 Plymouth Barracuda to bring Evander home--and in the meantime, protect the young man from folks who would rather he ceased breathing immediately. All of this, despite risks to his own life. (“It’s always been my opinion,” Easy tells us at one point, “that if a man’s going to be a fool he should go all the way.”) As the case unfolds, Rawlins will rub elbows (and more intimate body parts) with free-spirited hippie chicks, run afoul of gun-wielding thugs, do his best to hide a small fortune in tainted cash, and try to figure out why Evander’s mother hates Mouse so, despite the lengths Mouse is willing to go to rescue her oldest child. There’s a secondary plot here, too, which has Easy helping another longtime pal, Jackson Blue, squeeze out from under a blackmail threat.

Walter Mosley may have taken a half-dozen-year break from his man Easy, but in the course of it he lost none of his sure footing with this series. Little Green ranks as one of the finest Rawlins novels to date, and that’s no small compliment. These pages are filled with the author’s typically incisive characterizations and careful attention to historical detail. (You can almost smell the patchouli oil and pot smoke so beloved by America’s sexually liberated generation.) While this tale is certainly a mystery, challenging “research and delivery” man Rawlins to sort out why Evander vanished and remains in danger, it also boasts strong social commentary. Easy is always sensitive to the unfairness and insults any black resident of the United States experienced during the mid-20th-century; yet he senses things might be changing a little, that in the age of Martin Luther King Jr. and the African-American civil-rights movement, blacks may see more acceptance and evenhandedness in their future. For a guy who recently died, such revelations can be powerful incentives to go on living.

* * *

Also worth looking for at your local bookshop: Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland (Putnam), the second of Ace Atkins’ remarkably successful efforts--following last year’s Lullaby--to extend Parker’s best-selling Spenser series. This time out, the Boston P.I. and his sometime sidekick, Zebulon “Z” Sixkill, rush to the aid of gym owner Henry Cimoli, who faces mounting pressure and threats from a commercial developer intent on purchasing his condominium at Revere Beach, once the site of an oceanfront amusement park and dog-racing track. ... Complex 90 (Titan), by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, in which take-no-shit shamus Mike Hammer (last spotted in 2012’s Lady, Go Die!) precipitates an international incident by, first, traveling with a conservative politician on a fact-finding mission to the Soviet capital, Moscow, and then being arrested for murder. ... Steve Ulfelder’s Shotgun Lullaby (Minotaur), which finds his redemption-craving series protagonist, Conway Sax, trying to help a recovering substance abuser named Gus Biletnikov stay sober--and also stay alive, amid what look like pretty clear threats to the life of Gus, someone who reminds Sax a bit too much of his estranged son. ... And Original Skin (Blue Rider Press), David Mark’s second novel featuring Yorkshire Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy. The Scottish-born McAvoy--previously seen in The Dark Winter--and his fellow members of the Serious and Organized Crime Unit start by probing the apparent suicide of a “swinger,” only to have that lead them to the trail of a killer linked to the local erotic sex scene and powerful politicians who would think nothing of breaking a too-curious copper.

READ MORE:Call It Noir If You Want to: Talking to Walter Mosley About His New Book, Little Green,” by Jeannette Cooperman (St. Louis magazine); “Resisting Little Boxes: The Soul of Walter Mosley,” by Amy Goldschlager (Kirkus Reviews); “America’s Blackest Jewish Writer,” by Harold Heft (Tablet); “Easy Rawlins Lives! Walter Mosley’s Little Green, by Gar Anthony Haywood (Los Angeles Review of Books).

No comments: