Devil in a Blue Dress: An Easy Rawlins Mystery
|Publisher:||W. W. Norton & Company|
Los Angeles, 1948: Easy Rawlins is a black war veteran just fired from his job at a defense plant. Easy is drinking in a friend’s bar, wondering how he’ll meet his mortgage, when a white man in a linen suit walks in, offering good money if Easy will simply locate Miss Daphne Money, a blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs….
Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins has few illusions about the world—at least not about the world of a young black veteran in the late 1940s in Southern California. His stint in the Army didn’t do anything to dissuade him from his belief that justice doesn’t come cheap, especially for men like him. “I thought there might be some justice for a black man if he had money to grease it,” Easy says. Fired from his job on the line at an aircraft plant, he’s in danger of losing his home, symbol of his tenuous hold on middle class status. That’s a good enough reason to accept a white man’s offer to pay him for finding a beautiful, mysterious Frenchwoman named Daphne Monet, last seen in the company of a well-known gangster. Easy’s search takes the reader to an L.A. few writers have shown us before—the mean streets of South Central, the after-hours joints in dirty basement clubs, the cheap hotels and furnished rooms, the places people go when they don’t want to be found. Evocative of a past time, and told in a style that’s reminiscent of Hammet and Chandler, yet uniquely his own, Mosley’s depiction of an inherently decent man in a violent world of intrigue and corruption rang up big sales when it was published in 1990 (although the movie version, with Denzel Washington as Easy, never found the audience it deserved). The minor characters are deftly and brilliantly developed, especially Mouse, who saves Easy’s life even as he draws him deeper into the mystery of Daphne Monet. Like many of Mosley’s characters, Mouse makes a return appearance in the succeeding Easy Rawlins mysteries, such as A Red Death, Black Betty, and White Butterfly, every one of which is as good as Devil in a Blue Dress, his first. —Jane Adams
Despite rave reviews as one of the most stylish and intelligent detective pictures in a number of years, this 1995 adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel never found a mass audience. Too bad, because Carl Franklin’s film is nearly perfect in every way, from its rich, shadowy look to its depiction of life in post-World War II black America (L.A.-style) to the acting of Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, and others. Washington plays Easy Rawlins, an aircraft factory worker who is laid off only to find his true calling: as a private eye, albeit an unlicensed one. Hired to…