After retiring his most beloved character, best-selling scribe Walter Mosley is ready to roll with the new
Acclaimed mystery writer Walter Mosley is best known for creating the character Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, a no-nonsense private detective that solved mysteries in post-World War II Los Angeles. Mosley introduced Rawlins in his 1990 debut novel, “Devil in a Blue Dress,” which was later adapted into a 1995 film starring Denzel Washington. Rawlins grew into a franchise that spawned 10 more books, propelling Mosley to international fame and earning recognition from the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus and President Bill Clinton.
But now, Mosley said, it’s time to retire Easy.
“The reason I wrote about Easy Rawlins was to pay tribute to my father and to the black men of his generation,” Mosley told the Banner from Atlanta during a recent telephone interview. “Now I want to write about a character that reflects more closely … my world and my experience.”
That new character is Leonid McGill, a new kind of detective featured in Mosley’s latest book, “The Long Fall,” from which the author will read at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge on Friday evening. As Mosley describes him, McGill is a middle-aged ex-boxer who is married to a white woman that he doesn’t love anymore, keeps a black mistress that he would prefer being with, and has a past that he can’t quite run away from.
Unlike the Easy Rawlins books, which were set in southern California, McGill’s world revolves around the streets of Manhattan. Loyal readers might find the change of scenery drastic, but for Los Angeles-born Mosley, who has lived in New York for 30 years, the shift was natural.
“I have lived in New York City for so many years, but I was always writing about L.A. because there are so many stories there,” Mosley said. “But New York looks like America today and the changing landscape, so I wanted to tap into that.”
In Rawlins’ world, racial inequality spurred during the Jim Crow era is a predominant issue for African Americans. For McGill, however, racism is almost nonexistent. For instance, in the first chapter of “The Long Fall,” McGill visits his black financial advisor and is given a hard time by the advisor’s white assistant. In another time, one might assume that the assistant’s attitude is racist; instead, McGill concludes that the woman didn’t like him because he is a poor dresser and “two inches shorter and forty pounds heavier than a man should be.”
Such an interaction might lead readers to think that Mosley has a nuanced view on racism in America, or that the move to McGill proves his writing has been impacted by the “Obama effect.”
The author, however, insists that isn’t so, noting that he introduced McGill in a short story published five years ago in the anthology “Dangerous Women.”
He also said he doesn’t necessarily support the idea that Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House signals a “post-racial” America; rather, he said, he thinks Americans’ ideas about race have evolved over time.
“Obama didn’t change anything about race in America,” he said. “There was something going on in America long before he came along where people’s ideas changed.”
McGill, who is not above going against the law, is also an equal opportunity victimizer, taking down both blacks and whites to get what he wants, which also represents a departure from hero Rawlins.
“I wanted to give McGill a personality that was unexpected,” Mosley said. “McGill is a private [detective] who works in the criminal mentality. I was excited to write about a character that would keep even me interested until I finished the book.”
Mosley assured that Easy Rawlins is dearly departed, which is sure to dismay some readers. But the author said he believes his fans will quickly grow fond of the New Yorker.
“I am really excited about this character,” he said. “It’s a new chapter, for both McGill and myself.”
The Harvard Book Store will present Walter Mosley’s reading from “The Long Fall” on Friday, April 10, 2009, at 6 p.m., at the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle Street, Cambridge. For more information, visit http://www.harvard.com.