Charcoal Joe

Charcoal Joe

Mysterious Book Report No. 266

by John Dwaine McKenna

Our author this week has been named a Grand Master in the year 2016 by the CWA, or Crime Writers of America.  It’s the highest and most prestigious honor given by the group, and a distinction awarded only a very few.  They’re the best of the best, at the top of their game, having labored long and hard in the literary wilderness before gaining the peer recognition they so richly deserve.  Walter Mosley is the writer’s name.  He has fifty-some books to his credit, about half of which are mysteries, with fourteen of those featuring one of the most unique and iconic characters in all of crime fiction; a Los Angeles private eye named Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins.  He’s a black detective, operating in the pre-riot City of Angels during the 1960s, when African-Americans began demanding and fighting for their rights.  At the same time, the Viet Nam war was raging in the southeast Asia.

Charcoal Joe, (Doubleday/Penguin Random House, $26.95, 305 pages, ISBN 978-0-385-53920-3) by Walter Mosley begins in May of 1968, when Easy Rawlins, “A professional detective with a bright future and a dark past,” opens his new WRENS-L Detective Agency with two partners: Saul Lynx and Tinsford “Whisper” Natly.  Easy’s on a roll.  He’s sitting on a pile of cash from his last case, has an engagement ring in his pocket to present to the love of his life, a woman named Bonnie Shay later in the day, and is fully recovered from a devastating car wreck at the conclusion of his last adventure.  He’s just arrived at his new office when Raymond “Mouse” Alexander pays a call, bringing Easy a case he wants nothing to do with, but doesn’t dare refuse.  In Easy’s words . . . I couldn’t say no to mouse.  He’d saved my life and put his on the line for me many times.  He was mostly evil and definitely a killer but black men in America had learned centuries ago that the devil not only offered the best deal—he was the only game in our part of town.

And just like that, Easy Rawlins finds himself attempting to exonerate a brilliant and innocent, young black physicist named Dr. Seymour Brathwaite, who’s in jail charged with murder, after police found him standing over a pair of dead white men, tortured and killed execution style at a beach house in Malibu.  Easy’s not working for Mouse, but another gangster friend of his with an  even worse reputation.  His  name is Rufus  Tyler . . . also know as Charcoal Joe . . . who’s currently in the Avett Detention Facility doing ninety  days for discharging a firearm and menacing.  Taking on a hopeless-appearing, racially-charged case at the behest of a pair of stone-cold killers is the highest point of Easy’s newest exploit, because he’ll soon be up to his eyeballs in bad guys, hot women, stolen loot, bags of Mafia money and a mile-long trail of victims . . . all while dealing with personal emotional issues that would crush an ordinary—and less sanguine soul.  Easy Rawlins is the rarest of rare characters: altruistic, heroic and dark-skinned.  He’s a black man operating effectively in a white world with dignity, grace and style: a noir exemplar.  Read it yourself.  See why we’re rating Charcoal Joe one of Mosley’s best and giving it five stars!

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