Once upon a time, if the hero of a popular crime series was killed off, it took a concerted effort on the part of the reading public – consider all of the letters that came Conan Doyle’s way, for instance – to ensure a resurrection took place. These days, no sooner is one charismatic hero dispatched – Easy Rawlins in Walter Mosley’s case (although the same could be said for Harry Hole, no sooner left for dead with a bullet in his head at the end of Phantom than Nesbo rolls him out again in Police) – than he is brought back as if nothing happened. We last saw Easy, drunk and heartbroken, careening off the edge of a cliff at the end of Blonde Faith. At the time, I remember being stopped in my tracks, re-reading the entire last chapter before heading online to make sure that, yes, Mosley had in fact killed off his most successful character. I ended up nodding away to myself, as I am wont to do, thinking ‘full credit to you, Mosley, a stunt like that takes balls’. Of course, Mosley, like Nesbo, knows which side his bread is buttered on and so Easy has been resuscitated for the 12th outing, Little Green.
This time around, his dangerous compatriot Mouse has a case for him, finding a young man nicknamed Little Green, the son of a neighbour who hates his guts. This being the 60s now, Little Green went out to score some tail, ingested some acid on the end of a pretty young girl’s tongue and then ended up in a motel room on a bed covered in blood and greenbacks. Easy is pretty much out for the count, relying on an old friend who has a sideline in various homegrown concoctions to whistle him up a narcotic cocktail or two to power him through proceedings. Along the way, Easy faces aggressive racism at the hands of cops and bureaucrats alike (Mosley is on particularly good form when Easy is swallowing his natural instinct to break heads) and also starts to take in the way in which the 60s is changing the world he grew up in. There are also interesting digressions (increasingly, Mosley has Easy reflecting, as if viewing the events from far in the future) on everything from feminism and politics to hairstyles, fashion trends and literature.
Mosley is also good at pacing Easy’s recovery. Undoubtedly his most famous character has been through the mill in the gap between Blonde Faith and Little Green and not only does mortality assert itself as he makes his way about town, getting out of breath walking up steps, finding himself suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion at inopportune moments, Easy now recognises that he is no longer young, as everyone who is no longer young does, in the way that people who are truly young set you apart as someone distinct, from a previous generation. This is particularly pointed and interesting given that Little Green is a historical novel, and so Easy recognises he is of a previous generation at a time when there was a very hard switch and click between generations.
Not everything is so great, however. Mosley has a habit of slipping into the kinds of writing that puts most people off DH Lawrence these days (especially when Easy is thinking about his health or sex, which he does a lot in Little Green). He also has a habit of pimping his noir, that is, writing words that sound cool but don’t mean an awful lot, such as:
As I watched them walk away I had a sudden impression that I was a dead man saying goodbye to a ghost.
Joguye was no more than a shadow cast from a tree outside, through a window that protected us from wind and rain.
This optimism made me laugh; it brought out the rough guffaws of all my dead ancestors back to the slave ships.
We know that Mosley is a fan of Freud (or at least psychoanalysis) and slips, David Chase-like, into a dream sequence too many too. But all of this would be forgivable if the plot didn’t wind itself so tight as to be occasionally incomprehensible. We follow Easy because Easy is great and Easy is cool and secretly we all want to be Easy (sometimes if only for the reason he has a friend like Mouse) but there are too many villains and the villains are not distinct enough from one another and so it all gets a bit ‘Easy is driving here, Easy is driving there, Easy meets with some copper, Easy meets with some villain’.
That isn’t to say that Mosley is desecrating his legacy, Pixies-like. Little Green is just a lesser Easy novel is all. Anyone who has followed Easy up to this point will still be glad to read how he works things out with Bonnie Shay, and will take pleasure in the way Mosley knits in characters (and animals) from earlier outings. The world of Easy Rawlins is a beautifully imagined universe. Little Green does not do anything to upset that particular apple cart. We just have to hope that the pace is not quite so frenetic next time that Mosley can’t offer his readers a little bit better direction when it comes to what is actually going on (because Mosley is not James Ellroy – and we don’t need another James Ellroy, we have just the right number of those).
Any Cop?: We’re glad that it turns out Easy Rawlins isn’t dead – even if the vehicle that brings him to our door isn’t quite vintage Mosley. Enjoyable but not essential.