For this essay, the main topic will be the adventures of Walter Mosley’s private detective named Ezekiel “East” Porterhouse Rawlins. The discussion will be based on the three (3) novels by Mosley with regards to the escapades of Easy Rawlins. These novels are Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death and White Butterfly. I had personally selected this detective because I find the background of Rawlins intriguing with him being part of the black community and a World War II veteran at that draws me to the aura of his past and background.
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Also I find the theme of Walter Mosley’s detective series significant in the study and understanding of history because racial inequalities and discriminations among the African-Americans and other colored peoples in the 1940s to the 1960s are being tackled.
In the tradition of hardboiled detective fiction, the character Easy Rawlins is clearly the same as that of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald’s characters but Rawlins differs from these earlier fictional detectives because at the beginning of the novels he is not a licensed private investigator thus he has no background and training in law or being a detective. Rawlins only acquires his license in the latter part of the series.
I enjoy the writings of the author Walter Mosley because he relates historical events into his fictions which give a more real feel into his novels. I consider Easy Rawlins as a hard-boiled operative and a city gumshoe. He is a hard-boiled operative because he has the characteristics of a typical hardboiled detective, appearing cold and aloof on the outside but still remains ideal in the inside.
He is considered a city gumshoe because of his many connections in the African American community in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles California. Ezekiel “Easy” Porterhouse Rawlins is a black World War II veteran from Texas who becomes a private detective after helping the police solve the solve a mystery in the novel Devil in a Blue Dress.
Rawlins was born in Louisiana on November 3, 1920 but shortly moved and spent his childhood and adolescent days in Houston, Texas where he lived on his own. When he was only seven (7) years old his mother died and his father abandoned the family. After the war, we find Rawlins living in the neighborhood of Watts, Los Angeles.
In the first novel of the detective series, Devil in a Blue Dress, we find Rawlins interacting with his friends, Joppy a bar owner whom he met in Texas but later he kills Joppy because of his involvement with the enemy and betrayal. Another friend of Rawlins from Texas Coretta whom Easy had romantic relationship with but was killed also. Mouse who is Easy’s childhood friend from Texas is the embodiment of the latter’s dark-alter ego.
Unlike Easy who as much as possible doesn’t want to do violence, Mouse kills anyone he comes in contact with especially if there is bad blood or conflict. Mouse relationship is decent with Rawlins although they had each other’s back in front of the enemy; Mouse was hungry for cash in Devil in a Blue Dress and violence for the rest of the novels read. In the last part of the novel Devil in the Blue Dress, Mouse took the stolen money from Daphne/ Ruby, split the money, took the half and gave the other half to Rawlins.
At the end of the novel, Devil in a Blue Dress we find Rawlins adopting a mute Mexican boy, Jesus as his son. Similarly in he also adopts a stripper’s baby girl named Feather at the end of the novel, White Butterfly. Easy Rawlins’ character wants to be good in society and live a peaceful life but it seems that situations and certain circumstances are stopping him, whether be the color of his skin or the tangling web of controversies he faces throughout the three novels.
In the novel A Red Death we find Easy being coerced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for his newly acquired real estate which was said to be bought by untaxed income and is connected with communism. We find that Rawlins is in conflict with FBI agent Darryl Craxton, Easy is not intimidated by authorities but he still respects the law and gives in to their requests. Easy Rawlins respects people in authority he possesses a kind heart with compassion.
This was evident in the novel, White Butterfly, when Quentin Naylor, a black detective from the Los Angeles Police Department asks help from Rawlins in investigating a serial killer who killed the former’s first white woman. Easy Rawlins takes on cases mostly related to investigations relating to the black Community of Los Angeles.
In the first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, he was asked to find Daphne Monet who was hiding in African American bars after she stole a huge amount of money from Todd Carter. In Mosley’s second novel, A Red Death, Easy was investigated by the FBI for a property he has acquired through untaxed income, becoming a pawn in proving Chaim Wenzler a communist. He was considered the victim in this novel because of his color.
Last in the novel, White Butterfly, we find another black detective asking help from Easy in solving a crime not only relating to the former’s white woman murdered but also the killings of several black women. Most cases Rawlins tackles relate to the underground corruptions, racial discriminations among colored peoples of Los Angeles and the social injustice experiences of these peoples.
In the three (3) novels I had read the detective seems to have trusted companions in solving cases, in the first novel Devil in a Blue Dress, we find Easy Rawlins being assisted by his childhood friend Mouse in solving the case of Daphne/ Ruby and the stolen money. In relation to A Red Death, Mouse is again present in assisting Easy in solving the case. In the third novel, White Butterfly we find Easy being assisted by Quentin Naylor, a police detective.
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Easy Rawlins works as an independent investigator but often times he is assisted by friends and associates of the police department in solving crimes. Easy is someone who had no background or training in law enforcement thus it is understandable that he would be needing help from other characters to guide him through the cases presented in the three (3) novels.
This idea further closes the gap of the detective’s short comings with his abrupt decision on becoming a private investigator. Easy Rawlins is a compassionate man with good connections. He is very keen in details thus with his know about in the neighborhood in Watts and his keen eye for details not to mention his very observant nature the Los Angeles police department often asks for his services in solving a crime.
He works in doing favors for the people in his community, finding a missing family member, protecting friends and other essential people and even finds illegal documents lost and could not be reported to the police. Easy Rawlins is not directly associated with law enforcement.
In the three (3) novels I had read, Easy seems to distance himself in being involved with crimes and solving mysteries. He would rather live a peaceful life with his family but it seems that the police department always finds its way to Easy’s door steps asking his service in the field of bringing justice to crimes committed. All of Walter Mosley’s novels on the adventures of detective Easy Rawlins are written from a first person’s point of view.
Easy Rawlins narrates his story in the novel with his voice of conscience evident in times of danger or if Rawlins is stressed and confronted with a dilemma. His narrative voice seems to show his good natured side, illustrating the character as someone who is very peaceful and loves his family very much but also he tries to give service to his local communities thus his constant involvement with crime investigations.
His narrative voice also showcases his inner thoughts making the character human in a sense that he is not considered perfect. He constantly battles with his inner thoughts. In the first novel, Devil in a Blue dress, Easy is always confused on what he is doing. He questions his acts as being moral or justifiable.
On the second novel, A Red Death, the shock of him being coerced by the FBI for his properties was brought out and his helplessness in the scene where he was first confronted and was linked to communism brought true human feelings to Easy’s character. The narrative voice informs the novel’s worldview in a sense that it grounds the novel making it realistic.
When I read all three (3) novels it puts me in the shoes of the detective, I could feel the conflicts he faced, the confusions and the horrors of tragedies he had encountered. After reading all there it gave me a deeper understanding of the character, his thoughts, actions, realizations and decisions in the later parts of the series.
I begun to have a profound perceptive and respect for detective Rawlins. Truly this is the power of Mosley’s writing making his readers not only connect but relate and empathize with his characters. In the course of the three (3) novels, the main character, detective Easy Rawlins gradually changed in terms of his attitude and skills. In the first novel, we see him as merely a laborer financially insecure because he could not pay his mortgage and was laid off.
He was afraid to be involved with people especially white men and was completely doubtful of what he was doing. Come the second and third novels, Easy Rawlins slowly becomes confident and matures along the way. He becomes more skilled in solving crimes and becomes keener in observing details. Reviews on Easy Rawlins show positive reviews on his character with James Hall comparing Easy to Philip Marlow but saying Easy is a much better character with his attitude being at home in the presence of the chilly tough world (Chrone.com).
According to the Marilyn Stasio, Easy Rawlins is described as a “charismatic fix-it man who helps his friends and neighbors out of compromising situations, all that destructive fury proves to be a life-altering experience”(NYTimes.com). According to Digby Diehl, the Easy Rawlins detective series:
“honors the hard-boiled tradition of Hammett/Chandler/Cain in its storyline and attitude, but Mosley takes us down some mean streets that his spiritual predecessors never could have because they were white. The insightful scenes of black life in 1948 provide a sort of social history that doesn’t exist in other detective fiction, and they lend an ambiance that heightens this story of crime and violence.” (LATimes.com).
Diehl, Digby. “A Stiff Shot of Black and White.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times,. 29 July 1990. Web.
Hall, James. “James W. Hall hones crime-fiction art.” Chron Houston Chronicle Archieves. The Houston Chronicle., 2009. Web.
Stasio, Marilyn. “Crime.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company,. 25 July 2004. Web.