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Review: Walter Mosley brings Easy Rawlins back from the brink

Say hallelujah: Easy Rawlins has risen from the dead.

At the end of his 2007 novel Blonde Faith, his 11th book about the Los Angeles private detective, Walter Mosley left Easy hanging between life and death — and Mosley hasn't written about him since. It echoed Arthur Conan Doyle's decision in 1893 to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes by hurling him over the Reichenbach Falls in The Final Problem — only to bring Holmes back, by popular demand, in 1901.

Not that Mosley hasn't been busy since 2007. The author of more than 40 books, in the last six years he has published four novels in his excellent Leonid McGill series as well as a play and 10 other books, including mysteries, science fiction, erotica and nonfiction.

But many longtime fans, me among them, longed for Easy. He was the hard-boiled hero of Mosley's terrific first book, Devil in a Blue Dress, published in 1990 (and made into a film, with Denzel Washington as Easy, in 1995). Set in Watts in 1948, it introduced readers to the World War II combat veteran, who was born in Louisiana, orphaned as a small boy, grew up on the streets of Houston and, after the war, followed the economic boom and the Great Migration of blacks to the City of Angels.

By Blonde Faith, Mosley had moved Easy through two decades, to 1967. Along the way he acquired two adopted children and an official private investigator's license, all by unusual routes, but he was still the same conflicted figure: filled with rage over how he is treated as a black man in a racist society, but determined to live by his own sense of integrity and dignity — and to help others do the same.

And now, with Little Green, Easy is back. I'm not kidding about him coming back from the dead: The book opens with his gripping account of his life flashing before his eyes, followed by his confused awakening from a two-month coma. His grievous injuries are the result of a horrific car crash, made worse by the fact that he was thrown from the car and not found until the next day, halfway down a cliff.

And who finds him and carries him to safety? Who else but Raymond Alexander, "known as Mouse to his victims and friends alike," Easy's oldest friend and, morally speaking, polar opposite: a cheerful stone cold killer.

Always the devil on Easy's shoulder, Mouse sends him into the case that is central to the book. Although Easy is not yet a full day out of his coma and so shaky he can hardly stand, Mouse wants his friend to find a young man named Evander Noon. Mouse calls him Little Green, for reasons that will not be clear until later, and his relationship to the kid is mysterious. But Little Green has disappeared, last seen hanging out with the hippies on the Sunset Strip, and Mouse wants him found.

Easy's foray to the Strip sets the book's trippy, dreamlike tone, often shading into nightmare. Or into the mythic, from Mouse's rescue of his friend after the accident to Easy's visits to Mama Jo, a "Southern witch" relocated to Compton, who provides him with a supply of a potent elixir called Gator's Blood that gives him the strength to pursue Little Green.

Mosley is a master of historical setting and atmosphere, and he does a dazzling job of capturing the '60s vibe of the Strip, from the free-spirited innocence of the flower children to the sinister glint of those who prey upon them. "I had driven my Pontiac off a cliff and crash-landed in a new world," Easy says, but in many ways it's a world he finds himself comfortable in.

Mosley's brand of classic noir style is as strikingly evocative as ever, as in this description of his visit to a brothel just off Sunset: "A white woman, naked except for a turquoise feather boa around her neck, lounged on the vinyl couch. When I came in she lifted her left foot up on the cushion, exposing her pubic area like a beggar exposing his war wound."

The plot, of course, thickens. Easy will find Little Green, but even he doesn't know where he has been, thanks to another potent elixir, a dose of LSD passed to him in a kiss. Days later, he awoke next to a huge pile of blood-soaked money, and Easy must figure out who's pursuing Little Green and how to keep him safe.

Not everyone will make it out alive. But, say it again, hallelujah: Easy lives.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435.

Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery

By Walter Mosley

Doubleday, 304 pages, $25.95

Review: Walter Mosley brings Easy Rawlins back from the brink 05/11/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 5:26pm]

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