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Walter Mosley: from Easy to Leonid

March 25, 2009 |  6:30 am

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Walter Mosley's new book, "The Long Fall," follows Leonid McGill, the 50ish African American son of a communist father, as he negotiates the troubles of mid-life in contemporary society. For Leonid, that means a wife, kids and stepkids, a mistress, a string of murders, a mystery. The book is set in contemporary New York, where Mosley has lived since 1979. "These new books that I've just started writing are very much about me," he told Josh Getlin.

Here in L.A., Mosley is fondly remembered for his Easy Rawlins mystery series, which he says are his father's stories. Like Easy, Mosley's father moved to Los Angeles from Houston. "Mosley was born four years after the year when his novel takes place," Digby Diehl wrote in 1990, reviewing "Devil in a Blue Dress," "but apparently he listened closely to the stories his father told when he was growing up in Watts." Diehl continued:

"Devil in a Blue Dress" honors the hard-boiled tradition of Hammett/Chandler/Cain in its storyline and attitude, but Mosley takes us down some mean streets that his spiritual predecessors never could have because they were white. The insightful scenes of black life in 1948 provide a sort of social history that doesn't exist in other detective fiction, and they lend an ambiance that heightens this story of crime and violence. Like the best of the "noir" storytellers, Mosley's strength is in his dialogue. He has a confident, perfect-pitch ear for nuances of speech that is astonishing in a first novel....

Mosley has published 33 books in the 19 years since "Devil in a Blue Dress," the range of which Getlin decsribes as "unpredictable ... including science fiction, erotica, sociopolitical essays and a how-to book for aspiring novelists." It should come as no surprise that Mosley didn't start out to write detective fiction. In 2003, he told PBS:

There's many things that I am. And all of those things come together at some point. If somebody wants to limit me, you know and they'll say, 'Well, this is Walter Mosley, the mystery writer.' I don't like that. Because I do many things. So why do you pick that one thing? And then it's always an economic reason. 'Well, you sell more of these books than you those books.' Not a good reason.

Mosley talks to Barnes & Noble's too-chipper-for-morning Molly Pesce about the new book: "It's the first time I've written about New York, and that's very exciting."

But he's welcome to return to L.A. and Easy Rawlins anytime.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Walter Mosley in Brooklyn, N.Y. Credit: Robert Caplin

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