July 26, 2004 12:00 PM

By Walter Mosley


Walter Mosley’s Little Scarlet is a thing of beauty; the ninth installment of the Easy Rawlins series, it’s one of Mosley’s best. Set in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts riots, it hinges on a brutal murder that Rawlins, an African-American P.I., is called upon to investigate. Fluid, economical prose, rich characterizations and a cleverly plotted story make for the kind of mystery reading experience few writers provide. But that’s not the only reason to read the book.

More than any of the earlier Rawlins novels, Little Scarlet focuses on race in a way that gives the book a surprising resonance. With the smell of smoke still in the air, the L.A.P.D. pleads for Easy’s help: A young black woman has been strangled and shot. The suspect is a white man, and the police must nail him or risk another riot. By placing Easy in the midst of it all and showing how the ground is shifting on either side of the black and white divide, Mosley goes beyond the boundaries of the mystery genre, crafting a tale that’s eye-opening as well as exciting.


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