This time we introduce Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress.
In Subject Unknown we look at the state of the podcast and where we are going, and we also have a couple featured reviews.
This episode’s Featured Review features two items that didn’t quite work for us.
Matt Fitzpatrick’s Crosshairs
Put out by Green Place Books, I was excited to receive this novel — which the author calls Boston Grit — and I hoped, esp., after reading Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River — that it would share the same literary and intellectual space as Lehane’s work.
Well, turns out this is a first novel, and it reads like a first novel. We get three main characters, Justin McGee, and I quote from the blurb: “is high-powered attorney who moonlights as the city’s most successful and highly paid assassin. Darby McBride is an aging mobster looking for a new life, and Captain Caleb Frost is a hardscrabble fisherman who comes to a crossroads between his own ethics and the lure of the lucrative New England heroin trade.”
There is a lot of windowdressing about the characters and their pasts. And not just these 3 characters. There are secondary characters and tertiary characters — characters that get ladled into the story like a New England clam chowder, yet every time we get a new character I think: okay, but where are we going? And that’s the big issue I have with this book. We do not get a coherent plot. There are whispers of a plot, there are themes and some internal struggle, but what actually happens, and why it happen, and whether it happens for the writer or for the reader. . . suffice it to say, it didn’t happen for this reader.
For me, this book is a miss. Frankly, I think it’s trying to be too much.
Here is a lesson for starting writers — it is good to write what you know — but don’t feel that you have to put everything that has ever happened to you into your first book. Take some threads from your life, and explode them, flesh ‘em them, deepen them, and give us a character or two that we want to spend time with. Make him her or they fallible — folks who strive and struggle — and give us a plot that makes us want to know what happens next.
Tom Konkle’s Trouble is My Business
Trouble is my Business is a love letter to classic 1940s era film noir. The film is written, directed and stars Tom Konkle, along with Brittney Powell, It was funded in part through a kickstarter campaign. The story goes like this. It is 1947 Los Angeles and gum shoe Roland Drake is down on his luck until he meets Katherine Montemar. Their doomed romance leads to corruption, murder and betrayal. I enjoyed aspects of this film, It’s cool that you can watch it in color or in black and white. It is clear Konkle is a student of film noir — he gets some of the set pieces down pat and the atmosphere is very nice. But on a whole I found it to be an impassioned pastiche that doesn’t hit all the marks. When I watch a film I want to be transported, and this film felt like it was recycling too much of what makes film noir great without saying anything new. It is a miss, but if you are interested in checking it out, it is available at all the pay-for streaming sites.
Walter Mosley’s A Devil in a Blue Dress
Walter Mosley’s A Devil in a Blue Dress is the first novel in his Easy Rawlins series. It is set in post-war Los Angeles, the Watts area specifically, and the focus of the novel is on criminal activities in working class black communities. Mosley, who is a black man who grew up in Los Angeles, offers a voice that until the Rawlins series was very rare in crime fiction — that of a black man struggling to get by in a world where white people hold the power. Mosley’s Easy Rawlins is a love child of Chester Himes and Philip Marlowe, and A Devil in a Blue Dress is the origin story of Easy Rawlins as a private investigator.
The plot is basic. Easy Rawlins loses his job at the factory. On page one he is in the black-owned bar above the meat packing plant drowning his sorrows when the bartender—his friend—introduces Easy to a well-dressed white man who offers Easy a job. The job is simple: find a woman who has gone missing. Easy hems and haws but decides ultimately to take the gig because he doesn’t want to miss a house payment. He — as a black man from east Texas in the pre-Civil Rights Act 1940s— is proud of his house. It is a symbol. It is one of many moments were Mosley speaks to race and racial relations in a way I found to be effective and necessary.
I really enjoyed this book. Easy Rawlins is an honest, interesting character, and the social commentary on race in post-WWII Los Angeles is well rendered and necessary. We watch him transform over the course of the novel from a man who wants to stay out of it, to a man in the thick of several murders with cops breathing down his neck, a man who has to decide what he stands for and what he wants to be.
The ending is clumsy–plot wise. I wish that Mosley had slowed down in the last 30 pages and let the novel breath.
This is his first novel, so here’s to hoping that Mosley keeps what works in “Devil” for the sequel–Red Death–and subsequent novels in the series, and also takes the time to tighten up his plot-work.
I give it 4 hits.
Walter Mosley biography
Wesley, Marilyn C. “Power and Knowledge in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress.” African American Review, Vol 35:1, 2001.
Bunyan, Scott. “No Order from Chaos: The Absence of Chandler’s Extra-Legal Space in the Detective Fiction of Chester Hiimes and Walter Mosley.” Studies in the Novel. Vol. 35, 3. Fall 2003.
Gebremedhin, Thomas. “Walter Mosley, The Art of Fiction No. 234,” The Paris Review. Issue 220, Spring 2017.
Genie Giaimo. Talking back through ‘talking Black’: African American English and agency in Walter Mosley’s Devil In a Blue Dress. Language and Literature 19(3) 235–247, 2010.
Robert, Crooks. “From the Far Side of the Urban Frontier: The Detective Fiction of Chester Himes and Walter Mosley.” College Literature, no. 3, 1995.
Goodman, Robin Truth. Terrorist Hunter: Walter Mosley, The Urban Plot, and The Terror War. Cultural Critique 66, Spring 2007.
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Episode 16.2 Devil in a Blue Dress
Episode 17 Dorothy Hughes’ In a Lonely Place
Episode 18 Horace McCoy They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Episode 19 Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not
Episode 20 Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men
Episodes 21-25: International Literary Roadtrip