Books and Writers To Enjoy: Walter Mosley

I’m late to this, but that’s nothing new.

Walter Mosley is grrrreat. Really great. I’m in that period between draft where I re-fill my tank by reading a bunch, so I consequently find a ton of people who do things WAY better than I’ve ever done it or would ever be capable or doing it, and Mosley is the latest.

Let me highlight a passage to show what I’m talking about. It’s from “Rose Gold,” an Easy Rawlins detective story, and it comes about 1/3 of the way through, where Easy has to travel to his office in a not-so-great part of town.

The drive from West Los Angeles down to South Central was like following a social sceince chart starting from working-class Culver City, where people thought they were middle class, down to the crime-riddled black community, where the residents were under no such illusions.

Maybe, I thought as I pulled up to the curb on South Central Avenue between 76th Street and 77th Place, it would be better falsely believing that you were living the good life rather than knowing you probably never would.

I’ll go out on a limb and say this is the type of thing most writers dream of writing, yet few pull off. It’s kind of exposition, but poetic. It’s not poetry, but its images are clear without being spelled out. It doesn’t have much to do with the STORY story, but does a wonderful job of setting tone.

But he’s NOT DONE! A few sentences later, as Easy is changing clothes…

… I went to the window and looked down on the street. Midday pedestrian traffic had been on the rise since the riots. Employment was definitely down and hope, especially for black men, was pretty low too.

If I wanted a better class of client (that is to say, anyone with disposable cash) I shoudl have moved downtown or west of there. But as I got older, experience with my people had become not only exhilarating but nostalgic. Every new black face I met was a hopeful long shot and at the same time I was reminded of experiences so broad that they seemed to cover multiple lifetimes. No amount of silver could buy the passions in an aging man’s heart.

I’m a cheap skate, so I’m reading this as a digital library copy, and as such I can see what prior readers have highlighted (just like if I was holding a physical book). That last line has 39 highlights, and for good reason.

That goes for the bits above the popular highligh, too. It’s all in character for Easy. Not only is he a black detective working in the 1960’s (he’s referring to the 1965 Watts Riots), but he often muses like this about random observations. He’s like an anti-Sherlock Holmes in that he’s not exactly all business all the time. HOWEVER, this willingness to let his mind’s eye wander demonstrates Easy’s expert detective skills — he is not daydreaming. He is observing everything.

As if that weren’t enough, Mosley’s great at the simple stuff, too.

After my mawkish musings about the street, I sat down and pulled out the phone book.after that I dialed a number.

“Metro College,” a man’s friendly voice said.

This type of stuff kills me. It’s not the flashy 360 dunk like the previous 2 quotes. It’s just the simplest exposition — Easy is making a phone call — it’s not even, as it turns out, a remarkable phone call!

But the simple act of saving the exposition — the identity of who Easy is calling — is just perfect. It makes those little “nothing” moments into. . . well, not exactly SOMETHING, but it avoids being sluggish exposition. Which, in my mind is the sign of Mosley’s genius.

And he did it all in, like, 3 pages. It shames me.

If you don’t know Walter Mosley, get to know him. If you read him a while back, read him again.

Published by Phillip Mottaz

Writer, father, husband and fan of Batman, Star Wars and the Rolling Stones. I also have a Ramones Podcast:

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