Friday, August 1, 2014

Devil in a Blue Dress: Review

Ezekial "Easy" Rawlins is what you might call an "accidental" private detective. He certainly didn't start out to be one. But when he gets fired from his factory job and is in need of the next payment on his house, he's open to possibilities. And the perfect solution just dropped in his lap. His friend Joppy, a local barman, happens to know a fellow who needs someone to do some work--for enough money to make the payment. It sounds easy enough. DeWitt Albright just wants him to track down a woman by the name of Daphne Monet.  But Albright makes Easy just a little bit uneasy. And nothing is ever as easy as it seems....

Daphne Monet is a white woman known to frequent the bars that mainly cater to African Americans, so Easy starts his search there. He asks around--coming across Coretta and Dupree, old friends from Texas, in the process--but no one seems to know who he's talking about. Before he knows it, Coretta is found dead and the police seem to think Easy makes a mighty fine suspect. It takes all of Easy's ingenuity (and a little help from a friend or two) to find Daphne, unravel the mystery she's involved in, and convince the police that there's a better suspect than Easy in town.

I'm not saying anything new when I say that Devil in a Blue Dress is an important novel. It's on some of the lists of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.  It won the 1991 Shamus Award for best first novel. It's a ground-breaking work for African American and ethnic crime fiction with a black protagonist in the hard-boiled/noir field. I get and appreciate all of that. But I have to say that I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped to.

{Please get out your grain of salt....and remember that hard-boiled/noir detectives on the mean streets are not my thing.  I'll try to remember that too when I assign the rating.}

On the plus side: easy to follow, quick read, great set-up. Mosley really does an excellent job evoking L.A. of the 1940s and representing the color divide of that era. It was good to get a different take on the private eye genre.  I am quite sure that readers who enjoy the private eye and noir genres will love this (and the proof is in the high ratings and the fact that this book makes all kinds of lists for "Best of" crime fiction).

For me, the second half was more convoluted--even though the reading was quick, it was difficult to keep up with all the players...even with a score card. This tells me that the supporting cast wasn't quite as finely drawn as I would have liked. And I find it hard to buy into the femme fatale's actions and reasons.  ★★★ for the ground-breaking, award-winning story.

{Actually finished 7/31/14--so it will appear on July's list of books...}


Anonymous said...

I do remember quite liking this one Bev for the basic concept but found the mystery fairly easy to solve - and the relationship between Easy and Mpouse a bit too much like Spenser and hawk too.

fredamans said...

Great review, but now I can't stop singing the song with the same name... lol

Man of la Book said...

Great review, I heard a lot about this book but never read it.