Devil in a Blue Dress
Author: Walter Mosley
Publisher: Washington Square Press
American release date: September 17, 2002
Format/Genre/Length: Novel/Mystery/272 pages
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: NR
Overall Personal Rating: A
The time is 1948 and the setting is Los Angeles. Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins is newly unemployed and in need of cash when DeWitt Albright strolls casually into Joppy’s small meat-scented bar. Easy is surprised, not just because Albright is white, but because of his dress. Easy has a funny feeling about the man, which is only accentuated when Joppy introduces him, explaining that Easy’s in need of money. Fortuitously, the white man needs someone to do something for him, something which will earn him some easy cash. Albright gives Easy his card and says he should look him up.
The address on the card is far from Watts, but Easy goes anyway to check out the situation, ‘cause he needs the money. Joppy’s right about what Albright wants—he’s looking for someone. A girl. A white girl, to be more precise, by the name of Daphne Monet. Easy is suspicious about why he’s being asked to do this when surely there are other people who could do the job, such as the police. He’s told that Daphne has a certain predilection for “jazz and pigs’ feet and the company of Negroes”. In other words, she’s probably somewhere that Easy will have easier access to than most. Such as an illegal bar called John’s.
Easy takes the man’s money because of necessity, and begins his quest to find Miss Monet. Albright claims that his own client, the one that is seeking Daphne, only wishes her well, he means her no harm, because he loves her. Well, that’s gotta do for now, as Easy doesn’t have any better answers, or any reason to doubt him. Yet.
The search for Daphne Monet leads Easy into situations he hasn’t bargained for, involving both friends and acquaintances and strangers. People are starting to turn up dead, and Easy finds himself hauled in by the police for questioning, although he’s never told why or what it’s about. Being a black man in 1940’s LA means they can pretty well treat him like dirt and get away with it.
The icing on the cake is Daphne Monet herself. When she enters the picture, will Easy ever be able to think straight again? Will it cost him his life?
This is the first book in the Easy Rawlins mystery series, and it’s a splendid introduction to Mosley’s detective. It’s a great beginning. Mosley has a very easy, smooth style, which flows like a fine piece of jazz. Easy is a complex character and we learn a lot about him in this book, both from his actions as well as his thoughts. Besides Easy, there is a supporting cast of characters who are as interesting as he is. His search for the elusive Miss Monet takes him into the seamy darker side of LA, with twists and turns that will leave you guessing until the end who did what and why. Besides Easy, one of my favorite characters is his best friend Mouse.
I know that there’s a movie, but I haven’t seen it. Having read the book, though, I’ll probably check it out. I usually find it’s better to read the source material first, then you can deal with what changes are wrought on the silver screen.
I recommend Devil in a Blue Dress if you enjoy mysteries. Easy Rawlins is an engaging character, one that’s sure to linger with you, even after you’ve turned the last page.