July's Tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to mystery-veteran-emeritus Walter Mosley for the superb Fear Itself, number two in what we hope will be a long series featuring bookseller Paris Minton and war hero ex-con Fearless Jones. As is the case with his best-selling Easy Rawlins series, Mosley's Minton/Jones novels are set in '50s Los Angeles, where the deck is routinely stacked against the black protagonists. Minton, a shy self-admitted coward, serves as the narrator and brains of the duo, while Jones possesses street cunning and the power to back it up. Minton would love nothing more than to work in his bookstore, reading voraciously between occasional customers. He is, however, best friends with Fearless Jones, who has a penchant for getting Minton into trouble at the drop of a hat. This time, Minton and Jones are hired to establish the innocence of a suspected murderer, the nephew of the wealthiest black woman in the city. It is a milieu with which they are unfamiliar, as money and its associated power are hard to come by in their home environs of Watts. A trail of false starts and dead ends leads the pair to the brink of ruin, and soon Minton is running for his very life. Fear Itself is classic Mosley: relentless action, complex characterizations and edge-of-the-seat suspense are to be expected. But the real reason to read Mosley is the noir edginess evocative of Hammett or Chandler, unequalled in modern mystery fiction.
Nashville-based writer Bruce Tierney is a lifelong mystery reader who was weaned on the Hardy Boys.