Dear Walter Mosley,

Devil in a Blue Dress

Thanks for the memories. Really. Your period PI-based mystery Devil in a Blue Dress always takes me back to the Fifties, back to the Twentieth Century to remind me of how precarious life was for blacks before the Civil Rights Movement. Or, as your hero and narrator, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlings, puts it, “…life was hard back then and you just had to take the bad along with the worse if you wanted to survive.” Easy is my tour guide through the black bars of long ago LA and through that city’s prisons, offices, and neighborhoods. Like you, I’m old enough to remember pre-Civil Rights America, and my memories aren’t pretty. So whenever I hear conservative pundits blame America’s current problems on changes wrought in a utopian US by the Sixties, I want to sit them down with a copy of Devil in a Blue Dress. Your novel inspired me to consider writing my own historical mystery belying the sanitized revision of those “good ol’ days” that many “good ol’ boys” recall so fondly.

Levittown House 1948

The story Easy tells is full of sex and violence, but his voice is well, easy, and his personality cool and, dare I say it, sweet. You leave it to Mouse, Easy’s crazy friend and sidekick, to do most of the dirty work. That way when Mouse shoots a killer aiming for Easy in Easy’s living room, Easy is free to worry about whether the dead man’s blood is staining his sofa. In fact, Easy’s domesticity, his love for his modest home with its little yard where he waters his dahlias, is touching. To earn the bungalow that defines the American Dream, Easy served his country admirably, survived, and then worked in a factory. When a racist manager fires him from his factory job, Easy’s not going to let his mortgage go unpaid and risk losing his house. Instead, he turns his free time, his need for mortgage money, and a highly suspect request into a new career as a private investigator. By the end of the book, Easy’s his own boss, in business for himself. Move over Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade!

Tuskagee Airmen WW II

Easy was raised in Texas and migrated to LA after he returned from military service in a black unit overseas. He and his Texas friends are outsiders in LA and in America too. The devil of the title is also an outsider, a mixed race Texas transplant “passing” as white. As the son of a Jewish woman and an African-American man, you are familiar with issues of American identity that affect us all and reflect our own complex history, a history too often revised by vote-seeking politicians. It’s ironic that it’s left to fiction writers like you to give us facts while many of our candidates for public office spin the past into moralizing myths.

Interracial Couple

One of those myths you use Easy to debunk is that of the African-American male as Willie Horton, a brutish criminal lusting after white women.

Noose

Easy barely has time to lust after any woman before she comes on to him. By the end of Devil in a Blue Dress, he has not only rescued and bedded the damsel in distress, but also saved a child and a friend. And he’s come to terms with those necessary compromises one makes to survive. He’s still an outsider, but he’s shrewd enough to use his considerable resources to stake out, lay claim to, and hold onto his piece of the American Dream. And reading about how he does this always keeps me turning pages far into the night. And then it leaves me wide awake, thinking about how to make up believable characters who are also outsiders trying to hold onto their own homes and to their own piece of that precious American dream. Thank you for Easy and the gripping and gritty stories you tell about him and about those “good ol’ days.”

Sincerely,

Jane Isenberg

8 Comments

Filed under American classic, Historical mystery, mystery, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Dear Walter Mosley,

  1. Jane – the historical context you provide for Mosley – and for the immortal Easy – brought back so many memories of times for which American seem to have a collective amnesia. His books are living history, as well as being immensely entertaining and filled with dry humor, much like your own.

    All of your letters to your favorite writers are wonderful and yet again I urge you to make them available in book form.

    • Joyce, I used to think your repeated suggestion that I compile my thank you notes to authors into a book was a wild and crazy idea. But now I’m reading Lev Raphael’s BOOK LUST which is a collection of essays and reviews he wrote over a thirty-year career as a writer, critic, and academic, and I love it! But before I even fantasize about turning Notes to My Muses into a book, I have almost fifty more authors to thank . . .

  2. Alma Luz Villanueva

    I agree with Joyce, so glad I found this blog…

  3. santosh magazine

    joyce’s suggestion that you compile your notes in book form is a wonderful idea.I whole heartedly endorse her suggestion.Why deprive the bibliophiles of the world of such enlightening writing?Thank you Joyce for suggesting this blog.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Santosh. Welcome to my world and my blog! And thanks to Joyce who keeps on having wonderful ideas! Right now it’s fun to think of this blog as a series of separate notes rather than a book, but after I’ve written 70 notes, who knows?

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