This classic noir mystery takes place during the summer of 1965, during the bloody rampages in Watts that devastated portions of Los Angeles and left a permanent boot mark on the nation’s collective backside. A white man in the wrong place and the wrong time is dragged out of his car and beaten severely before he manages to break away from the mob and is given shelter in the nearby apartment of a young black woman known as Little Scarlet. When her beaten, strangled and shot corpse is discovered in that same apartment several days later, the LAPD goes on overdrive to find the killer and hush up the story out of fear that reports of a black woman’s murder by a white man would trigger new and worse riots.
In desperation for lack of clues, the LAPD turns to forty-something Ezekiel (“Easy”) Rawlins, a school janitor, street philosopher and neighborhood go-to man who advertises himself as a “researcher” (for lack of a private investigator’s license). Rawlins—a regular Mosley favorite who appeared on the silver screen played by a young Denzel Washington in the 1990 flick “Devil In a Blue Dress”– has as much use for the cops as they do for him, but he wants justice for the dead woman; even more, he is struggling to make sense of the Watts riots and of his own rage, and hopes he can find answers while searching out the killer.
Rawlins has to wend his way through dangerous streets and even more dangerous tempers as he sniffs out clues, but the complicated story serves the highly-political Mosley as a platform for probing not just the brutal economic and social conditions of black people in white-dominated America, but the damage that white dominance has done to the self-respect of black men and women, often causing the kind of emotional dysfunction and violence that Mosley’s novels so bitterly portray. It comes as no surprise, in fact, that is is a seriously damaged black man who is behind the Little Scarlet murder.
Mosley’s writing is powerful, fierce, angry and starkly beautiful, and his novels are always a revelation.