When the Thrill Is Gone by Walter Mosley
The title When the Thrill Is Gone by Walter Mosley, the third Leonid McGill mystery puts me in mind of one of my favourite blues guitarists, B B King. In terms of technique, his vibrato style of playing has never been matched (for the record, the only two people who had a more idiosyncratic technique were the remarkable Wes Montgomery whose ability to play octaves has never been matched and Django Reinhardt whose ability to play with only two fingers remains miraculous). Anyway, B B King took a blues song from the early 1950s and made it his own. It’s called “The Thrill Is Gone” and it contains the lines, “. . .I’ll still live on but so lonely I’ll be”.
Finding parallels between art forms is always a slight stretch but both Mosley and King share the same method of communicating with their respective audiences. They go for the simple melodic line. There’s nothing flashy or showy. They create the best possible music with the fewest possible words. Whereas other guitarists might wow the audience with riffs and arpeggio progressions at the edge of their techniques, a King solo has you humming along with elegant variations on the theme. Similarly, Mosley writes in simple, uncluttered sentences. Whereas other authors may produce complex sentence structures using extravagant vocabulary, he’s out to capture to rhythms of ordinary speech both as dialogue and for telling the story.
Anyway, the lyrics of “The Thrill Is Gone” capture the essence of McGill’s current predicament. He’s always been something of a loner. Personally, I blame an absentee father who wasn’t around to stand as a role model when it was most needed. This produced a man who rubs along with most he meets. Indeed, even when roused to anger, he still manages a certain level of politeness in his language even if not always in the level of violence. This is not to deny he has real friendships and can be ferociously loyal, but it takes something special in a person to penetrate his defences. He remains with his wife out of habit, i.e. the family kind of expect him to hang around with the teens playing the usual game, affecting a magnificent indifference that signals they probably care what their adoptive father does. His real love, Aura, is maintaining her distance. She saw what can happen to her man when one of his cases goes pear-shaped and finds herself indecisive. She would like to make the commitment but doesn’t know how she would react if, the next day, she received a telephone call saying he’d been shot and killed.
So McGill is between relationships and short of money when a client walks into the office and offers him a goodly sum of cash to warn off her husband who may be thinking about adding her to a list of murder victims. McGill, of course, is sceptical but, needing the money to pay the rent, he decides to dig a little and then call on the man. To add another complication, Harris Vartan appears and, as a favour, asks him to track down an old associate. Reluctantly, this gets added to the list of things to do and then we’re off and running. This is the usual mystery puzzle with two sisters and a brother in trouble. Naturally, our hero is soon teasing at the threads, aiming to unravel the knots and produce clarity. As is the way in this type of book, not everyone survives, but the body count is kept to a minimum and there’s a satisfying outcome for the people most at risk.
The secondary search for Vartan’s old friend also proves highly illuminating with McGill forced to reevaluate his view of the world and Vartan’s role in it. Some of the secondary characters also emerge in rather better condition than they started out and, if McGill has his way, he may well have found another to join him in the detective business.
As always with Walter Mosley, When the Thrill Is Gone is a beautifully smooth piece of prose delivering a top-notch story. I acknowledge a growing pleasure in watching McGill at work. As a character, he’s a fascinating creation and, rather like Socrates Fortlow, I rather wish I could meet him in the real world, hoping to stay on his good side, of course.
For reviews of other books by Walter Mosley, see:
All I Did Was Shoot My Man
The Gift of Fire/On the Head of a Pin
Known to Evil
The Long Fall
Merge and Disciple.