November 01, 1999 12:00 PM

by Walter Mosley

Book of the Week

Best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries (such as 1990’s Devil in a Blue Dress), Mosley here brings back the massive Socrates Fortlow, first encountered in 1997’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. In 12 linked stories we follow the progress of the nearly 60-year-old ‘ ex-con, who lives in a shack in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Socrates has a job; he’s a box boy in a supermarket. His boss wants him to run the produce department. Women are eyeing him for marriage, and he has taken a wayward youngster, Darryl, under his wing. Socrates, in short, is on the verge of becoming respectable. Trouble is, he still “carried prison around in his pockets like a passport or a small bible.” The man did 27 years for murder; he still feels hate seething within him. And the cops roust him at every turn.

Through the quiet magic of Mosley’s writing, we empathize as Socrates struggles to become part of the community and do the right thing. At one point he is forced to kill a young giant who mugs him in an alley. He then has to weigh confessing to the boy’s mother against the knowledge that doing so would surely put him back in prison. And what would become of Darryl? He’d be absorbed by the gangs. Like his Athenian namesake, Socrates is a man of subversive views and moral courage. (Little, Brown, S24.95)

Bottom Line: Another compelling Mosley creation

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