Little Green by Walter Mosley
A while ago, an author tired of a series character and decided to kill him off. Being of a flamboyant disposition, our jaded Arthur Conan Doyle threw Sherlock Holmes off the Reichenbach Falls. This caused shock and horror in the reading community and, given the upswelling of anger and resentment, Doyle finally relented and brought the hero back to life. It was as if the man had never been away. Sherlock strode back into Watson’s life as fit as the proverbial fiddle. With Easy Rawlins, a character created by Walter Mosley, the brush with death was rather more serious. At the end of Blonde Faith, Easy is drunk behind the wheel of his Pontiac. The sense of despair had been building throughout the book and he finally acts on it by driving off a cliff. Six years later in our time, he’s back in Little Green (Doubleday, 2013), the twelfth outing, except only two months have passed since his suicide attempt failed. Raymond Alexander aka Mouse searched the cliff on a tipoff from beyond, courtesy of Mama Jo. Under his guidance, Easy has been nursed back to consciousness. That was the body repair more or less complete. That still left the soul labouring in the shadow of death. In one of his infrequent moments of consciousness, Mouse asks Easy to look for Evander Noon aka Little Green. When Easy wakes up properly two days later, he remembers the request and, defying everyone, he rises from his bed and hits the streets in search of this young man who decided to visit with the hippies on Sunset Strip and hasn’t been seen since.
From this you’ll understand we’ve moved on to 1968 in Los Angeles but, in the real world on the streets, little has changed for the black man. That Easy happens to carry a PI badge only vaguely changes his status from a mere “nigger” in the eyes of white police officers to that rare bird, a “nigger” with a badge. This lack of change is somewhat ironic given the rise of the hippy counterculture. If ever there was going to be something to unite older people of different races, it was the emergence of this drug-fueled, free love generation. But Easy’s progress from death to some semblance of life represents a triumph of sorts. The fact he’s been in a coma for two months has not changed his situation. Yet when he sees what he would have lost, it does give him a reason for wanting to hang around for a little bit longer. We all have a burden of guilt to carry around. That he hurt his family and friends by his suicide attempt adds to that burden and forces him to seek a form of redemption in both his own and their eyes.
Which brings us to Evander. He’s had the worst possible experience with LSD. It took him out of his usual relationship with the world and tipped him into a very unfortunate place in which he briefly surfaced during his trip to find himself surrounded by bags of money covered in blood. Not really aware of his actions, he gathered up this money and hid it. Except, he finds it very difficult to remember what he did with it which is unfortunate when bad men start asking him. When Easy rescues him and Mama Jo patches him up, the time has finally come to do some serious remembering. That way, when the bad men continue their search for the money, Easy and Mouse will have the right answers for them. As with all the books by Walter Mosley, this plot just rolls off the page like a well-oiled machine, each step in the journey advancing us closer to the resolution of the problems, and illuminating our lives with insights into the lot of the African Americans in the Los Angeles of the 1960s. It was a tough time but, with the community pulling together, most manage to get through life with no more than a scratch or two. That’s not to say people don’t get beaten or shot. No matter what the historical period, there will always be a few dead bodies by the time the book is finished. The trick pulled off by Easy and Mouse is that they protect the people closest to them, plus those they take under their wing on a temporary basis. Except when you’re saving people, there’s no such thing as temporary. These people owe debts of gratitude and offer deep roots of support within the community if criminals or outsiders represent a threat. There’s strength in numbers so that even the police walk carefully if the crowds look threatening.
All of which confirms my immense satisfaction in seeing the return of Easy Rawlins. These slick PI investigations set in Watts give us the relatively rare opportunity to look at the African American experience in a recent historical context. These books speak with great authenticity and insight. Although it’s been good to spend time with Leonid McGill, it’s better to get back to the familiar Easy Rawlins. He’s the man I would want on my side if the going got tough. Little Green is Walter Mosley doing what he does best.
For reviews of other books by Walter Mosley, see:
All I Did Was Shoot My Man
The Gift of Fire and On the Head of the Pin
Known To Evil
The Long Fall
Merge and Disciple
When the Thrill Is Gone