The latest instalment of Easy Rawlins' story opens in the aftermath of the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965. A black woman has been murdered in her home during the riots and the police call on Easy for help in finding the killer. They hate to have to ask but they know their own detectives would only re-ignite the smouldering tension between black residents and the white city administration.
Easy Rawlins has come a long way since Devil in a Blue Dress, seventeen years in his past and fifteen in ours. He is forty-five, a successful property-owner happy in his unconventional family life and doing a little enquiry work in his spare time. His sense of obligation to his people persuades him to accept the role, and the hunt is on.
Mosley deftly brings a large and varied cast to life, from the borderline-megalomaniac police chief to vagrants sleeping under cardboard on building sites. Violence and the threat of violence are always in the air, fuelled by poverty and, even more, race.
The genre and setting inevitably call to mind Raymond Chandler but comparisons are all in Mosley's favour: he has all Chandler's strengths but adds to them a larger awareness of the forces shaping society. Little Scarlet is an absorbing, tightly plotted PI story driven by character and situation, but it also has a depth to it that will make it memorable.
Review added Jan 2006