Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Devil in a Blue Dress

Title:  Devil in a Blue Dress
Author:  Walter Mosley
Publication Information:  WW Norton. 1990. 224 pages.
ISBN:  0393028542 / 978-0393028546

Book Source:  I read this book for a book discussion at my local library.

Opening Sentence:  "I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's bar."

Favorite Quote:  "I never minded that those white boys hated me, but if they didn't respect me I was ready to fight."

Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is down on his luck and at risk for losing his house. He has been laid off and needs money to make his mortgage payment.  In 1940s Los Angeles, jobs and opportunities for a middle-aged black man are hard to come by. A friend, Joppy, recommends him for a job to a rich customer with some questionable businesses, but the money is ready and available. So, Easy signs on.

The job sounds simple enough - find a young woman for a man and don't ask too many questions. Of course, a beautiful girl with a shadowed past is at the heart of the mystery, and, of course, things are never that simple. Thefts, affairs, deceptions, double crosses, and murders abound as Easy winds his way through this mystery and through all the characters who are involved. Each turn of the page reveals a new twist or connection.

I find the story itself difficult to follow and remain engaged in, partially because of the number of characters and partially because of the lack of any likable characters. Easy Rawlins is not a particularly likable protagonist. He is surrounded by some unsavory characters - a whole lot of them. The characters and relationships intertwine and overlap. At times, I find myself a little lost as to who's who and what the character's role in the book in.

The physical descriptions, whether of violence or human relationships, are not for me either. The descriptions do create a dark, gritty atmosphere for the novel, but that is about all. This may be typical of the hard-boiled noir crime story, but it is not for me.

As much as the book is a mystery, it is also a social commentary on race relations, prejudices, and bigotry in 1940s Los Angeles. Interestingly, the prejudices work in both directions - white vs. black and black vs. white. For me, this could have been by far the most intriguing aspect of the book. Unfortunately, the language of the book really gets in my way. Because of the frequent use of "white boy..." and "n_______," I end up focused on the language not the ideas being expressed. I am, however, left with the realization that, in this regard, the book is current and relevant even today. The language may have changed, but the underlying prejudices sadly remain.

In addition, I find the writing of the book rather difficult to read. Much of the story is told through dialogue, and the dialogue represents the vernacular of the time, the place, and the lifestyle of the characters. The contractions, the dropped letters, and the grammar all go along with the environment the book establishes. I just find it difficult to navigate an entire book of such written dialogue; perhaps, that very aspect may prove wonderful as a audiobook.

This book launched an entire series of Easy Rawlins mysteries. It won awards upon publication and, in 1995, led to a movie adaptation. In other words, the book and the series has its following. As such, this book is a prime example why I love being involved in book groups. I don't think I would have read this book except for this discussion group. Even though this is not really the book for me (or rather I am not the reader for this book), I enjoyed the opportunity to read something so completely different than what I normally read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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