LITTLE SCARLET by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown), 320 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNN
Easygoing private eye Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is back on the streets of Los Angeles in Little Scarlet, Walter Mosley's latest and best thriller yet. Easy has matured since he came on the scene more than a decade ago, in Devil In A Blue Dress, to haunt the jazz joints of 1940s L.A. Middle age finds him living the quiet life - working as the custodian at Sojourner Truth Junior High School, managing his properties and spending time with his family. But things are heating up.
It's the summer of 1965 and South L.A. is in flames, caught in the grip of the worst racial tension America has ever seen - the Watts riots. Four days and 34 bodies (nearly all black) into it, a white man driving in a black area is pulled from his car and beaten, then disappears after fleeing to a nearby building where a young black women is found murdered.
Figuring it's not the best time to go into black neighbourhoods asking questions, and afraid of what will happen if word gets out that a white man killed a black woman, L.A.'s finest call on Easy to help find the killer.
Not a man to bow down to authority, Easy makes his own way through the wrecked neighbourhoods, along streets that "ain't the way they were last week," filled as much with rage as with smoke and debris. As his hunt for the killer takes him from city shelters to rich white homes, the lines between black and white become smudged, and he ends up unearthing some nasty truths.
Little Scarlet is a celebration of black skin and black strength, and it's as perfect as a mystery gets. It has eloquent writing, a terrific character in Easy Rawlins and a city that sizzles.
Mosley is one of contemporary America's finest storytellers.