Walter Mosley’s 13th Easy Rawlins book may be unlucky for some (I’m thinking jobbing crime writers who want the superstars to shuffle over and make some room) – but not for the readers. Easy Rawlins fans take note: Rose Gold might be just about the best Easy we’ve seen for a small while. All the subtle criticisms we levelled at the door of the last Easy book, Little Green, like – all the villains aren’t distinct enough, like some of the plot lines are too frantic to remain comprehensible, like some of the noir writing occasionally parts company from sense have all been kicked to the kerb and what we have here is great plotting, great characterisation, great book.
It’s moving day (actually it’s Moving Day, Mosley gives the occasion caps), and Easy and his adopted daughter Feather have a bigger and better place than they’ve ever had before. It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the truck ain’t even been cleared before trouble shows up, in the form of a senior copper and his henchmen, calling on Easy and asking him to investigate the disappearance of some rich guy’s daughter. The Easy Rawlins series isn’t straightforward crime, however, as seasoned Mosley fans will know; it’s as much a historical drama as it is a crime novel. So: yes Easy is hired to track down a missing girl but it’s the 60s, and Easy – himself a man in his 50s and so out of step with the changing world around him – moves through the shifting seasons like a slightly bemused sociologist. The missing girl – the Rose Gold of the title – may be shacked up with a guy called Bob Mantle – and the cops have their guns set to shoot on sight. Easy doesn’t want Bob Mantle, a black man, you should know, shot down (leastways before Easy can prove whether or not Bob actually did anything wrong).
Something else that sets Mosley and his Easy books apart from more standard crime fare is the way in which Easy attracts jobs. Most crime novels run with twin threads that more often than not – dah-dah – come to merge into a single thread. In Rose Gold, Easy has a whole bunch of jobs on the go: he’s hired by Mouse’s wife to find a friend’s missing son; he’s sort of hired by his friend Jewelle to help a friend of hers who may not really be a friend at all; he offers his services to a cop (one of the few cops he has any time for) whose girlfriend appears to have disappeared too. Mosley deftly keeps all of these plates spinning as the reader careens through the book. Mosley respects his readers. He presumes on their intelligence. So he isn’t afraid to refer back to earlier novels (Easy is still far from over the climax of Cinnamon Kiss, for one thing – he is ‘off-kilter’, he’s ‘lost the thread of his chosen profession’). And increasingly he is starting to adopt what might be called Conan Doyle-isms – referring to Easy cases we haven’t heard about before, as if (of course) Easy has a life between the books. And there is a sometimes hokey but always heartfelt wisdom at work:
“Readin’ good books is like meetin’ a girl you wanna get to know bettah,” Jackson Blue once told me. “You don’t have one talk and think you know her. If that was true there wouldn’t be no need to get to know more; it wouldn’t be worf it. Naw, man, you wanna talk to that girl again and again. You remember her phone number and every time you talk you find out somethin’ else. Same thing with a good book. You got to read that sukkah again and again and still you findin’ sumpin’ new every time.”
It used to be that I would read every new book Walter Mosley put out – and then it got so I just couldn’t keep up and I even lost touch with Easy there for a while. Rose Gold is so good, though – it feels hot to the touch at times and the writing elevates this far beyond common and garden crime novels – it makes me want to catch up on everything I’ve missed (and apologise, if that were possible). I like that, when a book is so good that I feel I should apologise for not working harder to keep up with what great writer has been doing. It’s a mistake to be sure, but one that only involves pleasure in rectifying.
Any Cop?: A damn fine Easy Rawlins novel and a solid reason to go on reading Mosley in the years to come.