Friday, June 20, 2014

A Red Death

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of A Red Death (Thorndike, 1991).

Stepping back in time a bit, I've recently been rereading Walter Mosley's novels, and catching a few that I had missed previously. The second in the series is A Red Death, and it's set in 1953. Our hero, Easy Rawlins, has used the big payout from an earlier job to quietly buy a couple of apartment buildings off the books and avoid any scrutiny by keeping the ownership records very secret. He hires a manager and acts as that man's employee, spending his days doing janitor work in the buildings and just trying to stay off the radar and out of trouble.

Unfortunately for Easy, somebody leaks his ownership to the IRS, and a jerk of an agent wants to come down on him hard. Even more unfortunately, this puts him on the FBI's radar, as they could use a man on the ground to break up a union problem. Seems somebody's agitating labor at the aircraft plant where Easy used to work, somebody with possible communist leanings. The FBI agent suggests that he could make Easy's tax problems go away, but there's no guarantee he'll be rewarded for his off-the-book work. And even more unfortunately still, Easy's about to have troubles with his deeply violent friend Mouse, whose woman has come to town looking for Easy's company.

I've never read a book by Mosley that I didn't enjoy. I think that Easy is such a terrific character, and, while wincing, I love watching him always try to do the right thing but get shafted and stymied by the system, by people he trusts, by the city, and by the police. His troubles get worse when one of his tenants hangs herself and the cops seem, arbitrarily, to decide to treat it like a murder just to push Easy around - that's what you get for phoning in a body - and worse still when the trail of the leftist organizer takes Easy to a church, where more bodies get found. Happily recommended for anybody who enjoys hard-boiled detective fiction.

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