by Bruce TierneyJuly, 2004
Mystery of the month
It is almost a foregone conclusion that each new Walter Mosley book will win the Tip of the Ice Pick award, and Little Scarlet is no exception to the rule. Summer, 1965: Los Angeles is in the throes of the Watts riots, which have set the city afire for weeks. A white man is dragged from his car by a mob of angry black youths. He manages to escape into a nearby apartment, where he is cared for and protected by a young black woman known as Little Scarlet. Shortly thereafter, she lies dead, apparently murdered, and he is nowhere to be found. Enter Easy Rawlins, unlicensed private investigator, summoned by the police to investigate the homicide because he has the ability to mix in the black community in a way that no policeman ever could, particularly in the tense aftermath of the riots. Easy Rawlins serves as a metaphor for the black experience in America: in the 1950s, he is expected to be seen but not heard; by the mid-1960s, he is at the cusp of recognizing his power, both in terms of personal street credentials and in the larger sense as a member of an up-and-coming minority group. Mosley captures the nuance of atmosphere and time better than any mystery author since Raymond Chandler; he is the unchallenged modern master of the craft.