Devil in a Blue Dress – Walter Mosley’s triumph takes the LA of Raymond Chandler and turns it on its head. Easy Rawlins is an out of work black WWII veteran with a house to pay for and debts that are slowly racking up. He is sitting in a bar when a white man named DeWitt Albright walks in and offers him a job to find a woman named Daphne Monet. Monet, a young white woman, is rumored to be frequenting African American bars and Albright needs Easy, who knows a lot of people in these places, to find her. From here the plot takes several major twists and turns involving stolen money, ethnic identity and an examination of what it meant to be black in America during that period. It is tightly plotted, beautifully written and gave readers a look at a side of LA that wasn’t covered by Chandler. It is also a tight, fast-paced and short read, almost (but not quite) too short considering the shenanigans that occur during it.
Easy Rawlins is a superb character, and has a great narrative voice, capable of extreme violence when pushed but ultimately he’s an normal man who tries to be a good guy. The scene-stealer though is his sidekick Mouse Alexander – a psychopathic scumbag who Rawlins’ is forced to turn to when things start getting out of hand, even though he ultimately doesn’t trust him – who rains destruction on those foolish enough to cross his path.
The later novels deepen Rawlins’ character, but Devil is ultimately my favourite Mosley. I love the easy-going narrative voice and I love the insider’s view of an LA that is reduced to a lot racial epithets in James Ellroy’s outsider’s view of it.
That old chestnut about whether literary fiction is better than genre fiction has raised its ugly head again.
There’s good writing and bad writing and in some ways that’s all there is to say about it. If anybody is foolish enough to roll out that old chestnut that the best prose writers are all literary, then that person has never reader any Raymond Chandler. Chandler turned out some of the most beautifully honed sentences in English in the 20th century, and his facility with metaphor is almost without equal. Dashiell Hammett’s output was as influential on modern prose as the output of Hemingway – both men seemed to throw off the shackles of 19th century prose at almost the same time. And Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad worked within genre, but nobody would say they were constrained by their ‘limitations’. And in France, try telling anybody that George’s Simenon’s ‘Maigret’ books aren’t literature and they will probably laugh in your face.
Using Larsson and Brown as a point-of-reference for the basis of an article is almost pointless. Everybody knows that Brown can’t write a decent sentence, and it’s fairly common knowledge that the Millennium translations aren’t very good. The fact that nobody picks on Walter Mosley or John Le Carre and tries to suggest that their work is inferior to literary fiction, just shows that the genre’s best and brightest are a match for anybody on their day and that any argument like Docx’s can be blown out of the water.