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The Barcelona Review


Blood Grove
Walter Mosley
Mulholland Books, 2021

It’s always exciting to learn a new Easy Rawlins novel is out. If you happen not to know him, Easy is a Black private detective in L.A. and the urban noir landscape he roams is filled with crooks of all stripes, strippers, femmes fatales, sleazy men and women, corrupt cops, FBI with attitude, and some loyal, if dubious, mates to help see him through; while race politics infuses it all. Easy is a WWII vet who saw action in North Africa, Italy and Germany which is where he honed some of his many skills.  He was married once, now divorced, and has two adopted children:  Jesus and Feather. Oh, and he’s also done fairly well for himself in real estate.

This latest is set in L.A. in the late 60s so we get Easy’s take on the counterculture, which gives him some hope; it’s a nice touch that he feels protective of his White hippie neighbors whom he watches routinely water their plants.  The Viet Nam war is still raging, of course, so when a young, White vet named Craig Kilian comes in looking to hire Easy—a vet obviously suffering from PTSD though the expression was not in use at the time—Easy is drawn in to help even though his better instincts tell him it’s all too messy and that perhaps the vet’s story is unreliable.  But “because of that bloody history Craig Kilian was as much my brother in blood as any black man in the U.S. I had to help him because I could see his pain in my mirror.”

It is a confusing tale:  the traumatized young vet says a few days earlier he was camping out in an orange grove, a place he retreated to when the nightmares got too bad.  In the middle of the night, he heard a woman screaming and ran towards a run-down cabin nearby where he found a White woman tied to a tree and a Black man threatening her with a knife. He says he wrestled the knife away from the Black man and, by accident, stabbed him. Next thing he knows, he is knocked out cold from behind and when he awakes, he is alone. He needs to know if he killed the Black man and if the woman is OK.

Meanwhile:  we learn that Easy now lives in a gorgeous round tower atop a mountain in which one must take a funicular to reach, a funicular operated by guards—Sicilian immigrants —who would do anything for him. He lives here as a guest of the owner, a former client, who has left the place to him until not only his death, but the death of his daughter Feather, a teen, who lives with him.  Here I should add that Mosley, for all the luscious noir trappings, will break stereotypes and spring surprises.  Who would expect a Black PI to live in such a lavish environment?  Or to eat oatmeal with raisins and cream in the morning? Or to send his daughter to a private school? Or to drive a Rolls Royce on loan to him when he feels like it?  Mind you, Easy has lived a hard life to get where he is, but he persevered.

After Craig Kilian, another young man comes to his office;  a hippie who claims he is Feather’s uncle, a revelation which unnerves Easy as his attachment to Feather is strong and fierce.  Then comes a big, rough-looking character who wants to hire Easy to find a woman—a woman, who, it turns out, is the woman who was in the orange grove tied to the tree. Add to this, a myriad cast of characters, including Craig’s mother Lola, an ex-stripper; an elusive woman named Donata Delphine, who was maybe the woman tied to the tree; as well as Mouse, Charcoal Joe and Christmas Black, three old acquaintances of Easy’s who nobody wants to mess with, especially Mouse, a childhood friend who is a stone-cold killer for hire.

And the list continues.  It seems that behind all of this business was a money heist that went south not long after, a heist pulled off by a trio of Black men, making Easy suspect (and subject to police brutality) just for investigating it.  The constant presence of police brutality is something every Black man had to contend with.  Easy tells it like it is, but never lets the cruelty and injustice of it overpower the story. 

As is typical in an Easy Rawlins’ novel, there comes a point where you’re not quite sure what the heck is going on.  But here is where you just settle in for the ride and know that it will become clear enough in the end.  J.A.

© 2021 tbr

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