Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley

devilinabluedressTitle:  Devil in a Blue Dress

Author: Mosley, Walter (Author’s Website)

Genre: Mysteries, African-American Fiction

Bibliographic: Washington Square Press, 263 pages, Hardcover List Price $42.00, Paperback List Price $16.00, Audiobook CD List Price $9.99, Audiobook List Price $21.95, ISBNs 9780393028546, 9780743451796, 9780671511425, 9780671019822, 9781442082427, 9781560547228, 9781451612486, 9781852427498, 9780330321143, 9781841975276

Publication Date: June 17, 1990

Rating: ★★★★☆/♥♥♥♥♡ (The rating scale is here).

Appeal Factors:  Character-driven, atmospheric, gritty, books to movies

Why I picked it up: I attended an event recently where Walter Mosley was the keynote speaker, and he was phenomenal, so I bought this for the bus ride home.

S.I.A.S.: Easy Rawlins needs money, and finding Daphne Monet seems like a good way to get some.

Summary: Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins has just been fired from his factory job, and is drowning his sorrows at a bar run by his friend Joppy. A white man named DeWitt Albright, an old friend of Joppy’s, walks in and offers Easy a job. DeWitt is trying to track down a woman named Daphne Monet, a white woman who has a propensity for spending her time in bars frequented primarily by African-American men. Easy puts his feelers out, and gets an address from his friend Coretta and spends the night with her.

The next morning, Easy is arrested by the LAPD. After some intense questioning, he is informed that Coretta has been murdered and that he is a suspect, but he is released. The address Coretta has given him is incorrect, but he manages to make contact with Daphne anyway. It turns out that she has stolen quite a bit of money from a local businessman named Todd Carter, who is in love with Daphne. DeWitt Albright wanted to find Daphne to get the money back for himself.

Easy’s friend Mouse arrives from Texas, to bring the situation under control and help Easy. He puts the fear of god into his enemies with his casual use of extreme violence, and he reveals something about Daphne Monet’s past that drastically changes the nature of the case.

Evaluation: Personally, I really enjoyed this book even though gritty mysteries aren’t usually my style at all. I had a little bit of trouble with the dialect — it sort of reminded me of A Clockwork Orange, in that the dialect was clearly meant to give a sense of a certain subculture that the reader is not a member of, and I read this book similarly to how I read that one, relying on context clues to figure some things out. The plot was great, and while there were a lot of twists and turns none of them ever crossed the line into unbelievable. The setting was also phenomenal — I have a very particular idea of what LA is like (which I think is similar to that of a lot of people who have never been there), and this LA was nothing like how I imagine the city to be. It was great to see a living city that’s darker and less glossy than I’m used to encountering.

I liked Easy, and although I don’t personally feel compelled to read thirteen more books about him I can see why other people might. I might pick up the second in the series to get more of Mouse, who was more of a plot point than a real character — he seemed to be a tool to introduce more violence into the story, to advance the plot in a particular way. I’d be interested to read about how he came to be the way he is here.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to people, especially mystery fans. I think it might also be a good starting point for adults who are trying to read more diversely, since it handles racism and racial issues in a very nuanced way.

Significance: This is the first novel in the Easy Rawlins series, the most recent installment of which was published in June 2016. It was also made into a movie in 1995.

Readalikes: Only the Strong, by Jabari Asim. World Gone By, by Dennis Lehane. Perfidia, by James Ellroy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The book’s title, Devil in a Blue Dress, refers to Daphne Monet. Is “devil” an accurate description for her? Why or why not?
  2. Although the story is set in Los Angeles, many of the characters, including Easy, are originally from Houston, Texas. What is the significance of Houston in their lives? How do the Houston characters behave differently from the others?
  3. Why is Easy so attached to his house? What does it mean to him?
  4. On page 129, Easy describes himself as being “young enough that [he] couldn’t imagine death really happening to someone [he] knew.” What makes him stop feeling this way? Do you empathize?
  5. Both Coretta and Daphne sleep with Easy during the course of the novel. Why are they attracted to him? How are they similar to each other?

Lists and Awards: Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel (1991). The Crime Writers’ Association New Blood Dagger (1991). Edgar Award Nominee for Best First Novel (1991).

Professional Reviews:  Publishers Weekly. Kirkus. New York Times. LA Times. NPR.

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