Easy Rawlins and the Unbearable Sadness of Being

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In 1990's Devil in a Blue Dress, author Walter Mosley introduced readers to Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, a black World War II veteran and detective in Los Angeles. Mosley's newest novel, Blonde Faith, is the 10th Easy Rawlins novel — and, Mosley says, the last.

"There [are] no more Easy Rawlins books in my head. But I guess it's always possible that I could write another one, but I'm not thinking about writing another one, and this feels like a nice ending to me," Mosley tells Robert Siegel.

Blonde Faith is set in Los Angeles in 1967, two years after the Watts Riots and with the Vietnam War as a backdrop.

It's a world "very much like our world today," Mosley says, comparing Vietnam to the current war in Iraq.

Like his other Easy Rawlins novels, Blonde Faith explores issues of race — how it was to be a black man in America during a time of tremendous change.

"Whenever you're talking about a person in a period or a time in a society, then you're talking about politics," Mosley says.

At its heart, Blonde Faith examines love and longing as well.

"It's hard for [Rawlins] to trust in love and the ups and downs of love. I think that this last book is mostly about his inability to answer his own heart," Mosley says.

Rawlins is a tragic character, the kind of detective that, Mosley says, "if he saves your life, you would have been better off dead. That's the world Easy comes from."

"And in this book, there is an extraordinarily deep sadness in him, and the sadness is offset by how successful he is, by how much people love him, and by how he's made a place for himself in a world that didn't want him to make a place for himself," Mosley says. "And still, the sadness is absolute."

Excerpt: 'Blonde Faith'

Cover of 'Blonde Faith'

Blonde Faith is set in Los Angeles in 1967. In this scene, Easy Rawlins begins his investigation into what happened to his friend, Vietnam vet and former Marine Christmas Black. Black has disappeared after leaving his adopted 8-year-old Vietnamese daughter on Rawlins' doorstep with no explanation. Rawlins, at the scene of a murder, now puzzles over Black's disappearance, fearing for his friend's life. The military has told Rawlins that they, too, are looking for Christmas Black.

I sat on [the couch] again and tried to imagine what had happened.

Whoever it was that got shot was in the middle of the room when he was surprised by his assailant. The victim was armed and probably had his gun out. He turned quickly but was shot while pulling the trigger of his own piece. He was falling backward, so the shot hit the ceiling.

There were other possibilities. The victim could have been unfamiliar with the use of firearms so the shot went wild. Christmas might still have shot this novice; he (or she) was obviously armed. But I doubted it was a chance burglar or a devious neighbor who broke in; not with Clarence Miles and his boys in the landscape. The assailant, I believed, was someone who intended to do harm to Christmas. That someone was armed and trained in the use of his weapon.

Whoever it was, he was now dead. His killer was Christmas Black; there wasn't a doubt in my mind about that. Only Christmas would have cleaned up so scrupulously after a killing of that sort.

Christmas had been expecting an attack, or maybe he had a warning system that told him when his enemy was approaching. He went out through the side door and then back around to the front. He came in fast and shot the invader, then cleaned up everything, somehow disposed of the body, and decamped to another hideout.

I was pretty confident about my hypothesis. Christmas had killed for a living most of his life. He was raised by a whole family of government killers. He would have heard the outer door to the building open. In the time it took the assassin to make it into the apartment, Christmas could have been away.

But what happened to the body?

Outside again, I walked around both shabby buildings. This was 1967, and LA hadn't filled out. The area behind the church had been a big empty lot before the prefabricated bungalows were dropped in.

The back of the property was accessible by an unpaved alley that led to a small street that had no name that I knew of. The lot was strewn with beer cans, condom wrappers, and empty packs of cigarettes. By the side of Christmas's apartment there was a wheelbarrow. It had been scrupulously cleaned.

There was no trail through the grasses and weeds from the side of the house to the alley, but Christmas had learned to hide his comings and goings from eyes as sharp as those of the Vietcong. He would've been able to go back and forth leaving no evidence of his passage.

I walked out under the dawning sky into the alleyway. There were willows on either side of the packed-dirt lane but no houses. Halfway to the nameless street, I came upon a decrepit shed made from cheap pine, tar paper, and tin.

No wheelbarrow track there either, but Christmas was that good too.

Excerpt from Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley. Copyright (c) 2007 by Walter Mosley. Used by permission of Hachette Book Group USA. All rights reserved.

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