I saw Walter Mosley speak at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this spring. He talked about making the experience of black people real to other people. He read from the first chapter of Little Scarlet, his latest Easy Rawlins book. He is an excellent reader and I could still hear his voice when I began to read the book.
The setting is the Watts District of Los Angeles, 1965 in the aftermath of the riots there. A woman has been murdered and the only suspect is a white man. The Deputy Police commissioner does not want that to be true, as it will only cause a new eruption of violence. He summons Easy to help smooth the waters. Easy does more than that. He finds the real murderer.
This was the first I read about Easy Rawlins. He is quite a guy. Born dirt poor in Texas, he came and lived in the ghetto of LA but raised himself up. He owns a house outside of Watts, has a family of sorts and besides his job as a school janitor, he has a sort of private eye service for his people in Watts. He is serious about the evils of racism, but he is no prude. He does what he has to, to get the job done. He has a heart of gold and a chest full of anger towards the white establishment, including cops.
I thought the book was great. It works on many levels and does what I think fiction should do, which is put into words what people feel and know but cannot always express. But I read the book for a reading group discussion and was amazed to find that about half of the group disliked the book. They felt that it was too sympathetic towards violence and crime and could not see why blacks should still be so angry when slavery has been abolished for all these years. Why don't these people just get an education and get a grip and move on, was the attitude of this part of the group. Geez! I was dismayed at the blindness. I suppose that a writer can write the truth, but can never be sure it will be heard.