Listen up. A brotha received an email last night. It said that I was a very good writer and asked what writers do I read the most. I said James Baldwin and Walter Mosley. She said she never heard of him. After telling her he wrote the book that turned into the film "Devil in a blue dress," I sent this bio of Mosley to him. Those of you who haven't heard of him or read one of his books, The Daddy recommends that you write a note to yourself to buy one of his books as a gift to yourself for Christmas.
You'll love the writing of a guy who transformed himself from programmer to mystery writer, professor at New York University, and one of America's greatest writers. Here's the bio I sent to my friend:
The author Walter Mosley was born in 1952 Los Angeles, California. He attended Goddard College and Johnson State College, and has been a computer programmer. He is currently a professor of English at New York University.
Walter Mosley's mystery novels have often been compared to those of Raymond Chandler, mainly because they share vivid settings on the seamy side of Los Angeles in the middle decades of the century, a less-than-rosy view of human nature, and tough but noble main characters in Philip Marlowe and Ezekiel Rawlins.
There's another similarity: like Chandler, Mosley wields elegant, economical prose to create unforgettable characters. Chief among them is series protagonist Easy Rawlins. In many ways Rawlins is a kind of black Everyman, reflecting the great migration from the South in mid-century. He grew up in Houston, fought in World War II and works hard for a better life in Los Angeles, keenly aware of the boundaries imposed upon him by racism. But Easy is no stereotype; endlessly complex, he continues to surprise and reward readers. Chandler once wrote that the best mysteries are those you would read even if the last chapter were torn out; Easy Rawlins is a character who would make you do just that. Rawlins is not a private eye; he makes his living at everything from real estate to janitorial work. He's a sometime fixer, drawn into mysteries, often against his will, because some friend or connection needs his help.
Like many other Black detective/mystery authors (witness Chester Himes), Mosley novels use the side-kick accessory to blunt the dark side of the protagonist's character. Beginning in the early 1940s, the Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins novels use this most effectively with Easy and his sometimes buddy, Mouse.
In the course of five novels, he's lost a wife and daughter and gained a couple of adopted children, made tidy sums of money and lost them, drunk a lot of whisky and given it up, fought despair and anger and, provisionally at least, won. The sixth published novel is the first Mosley wrote, the first in the series, the first not set in the Watts section of LA, though it is strengthened by reading it after the first published.
Devil In A Blue Dress (1990), published to critical acclaim and nominated for an Edgar, established him as a mystery writer of the first rank. When President Bill Clinton cited Mosley as one of his favorite writers in 1992, it brought Mosley even wider media attention - making the remainder of the first three, A Red Death (1991) and White Butterfly (1992), very popular. Black Betty (1964) made the New York Times best-seller list, and the 1995 movie version of Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington as Easy, was well-reviewed, although it was, for some perverse reason, a box office washout. His fifth, A Yellow Little Dog (1996) made the New York Times best-seller list too. With his sixth Easy Rawlins novel, Gone Fishin' (1997), Mosley chose an African American publisher, Black Classic Press instead of his usual W.W.Norton. A seventh Easy Rawlins novel, Bad Boy Bobby Brown, is due in 1998 or 1999.
Mosley's non-"Easy" books are quite good. RL's Dream, based in part on the life of blues legend Robert (Leroy) Johnson. Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1997) suggests a new introspective detective series with its remarkable protagonist Socrates Fortlow. HBO created a movie out of it starring Laurence Fishburn as Fortlow. His first science fiction novel, Blue Light, is Walter Moseley's current release and the prelude to a trilogy.
I was introduced to Walter Mosley's books during the early 90s nearly simultaneously by my wife, a mystery writer friend, and President William Clinton. In all of his six (soon to be seven) "Easy" novels, Mosley uses period detail and slang to create authentic settings and characters, especially the earnest, complex Rawlins, who continually is faced with personal, social, and moral dilemmas. They are fast page turners laced with drugs, desire and death. Inside and outside the genre, Walter Mosley is an American writer of our times.
What books are you buying to read over the holidays?