ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
In 1990, Walter Mosley wrote "Devil in a Blue Dress." The central character was a black detective in Los Angeles, a World War II veteran named Ezekiel Rawlins - Easy Rawlins for short.
Seventeen years later, Mosley has published "Blonde Faith." It is the 10th Easy Rawlins novel, and Mosley says, this will be the last.
Mr. WALTER MOSLEY (Author, "Blonde Faith"): That's my intention. There's no more Easy Rawlins books on 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.
SIEGEL: Well, tell us - for the uninitiated, about Easy Rawlins who - he's not truly a licensed private investigator in the old sense. He's a problem solver. He's a practical detective.
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, there have been 10 mysteries. And eight of the mysteries, he wasn't a licensed detective.
Mr. MOSLEY: But in the last two, he has been because of work that he did with this awful police commissioner.
And so most of the time, he's just been a guy who does people favors. And still, even at - with his license, he just does people favors. He carries this thing in a short pocket to show people.
Mr. MOSLEY: But he doesn't work like other private detectives, or see him talks about that a little bit in this last book.
But he's a guy who says, well, you know, listen. I'll do this for you. You do that for me. That's the way it works.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. In the earliest books, he was recently back from service in a second World War in Europe, and he was in Southern California. Now, in this book, it's 20 years later and the characters have just - they've been coming back from the war in Vietnam.
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah, the war in Vietnam is going on. People are coming back, you know, and were fighting this war. It's a world very much like our world today. When Easy looks on what's going on in Vietnam, anybody reading that book today would look to see what's going on in Iraq. There's - there are great similarities between them.
Easy has lived through a very big transition, from World War II to the Watts Riots, which - and those are two real bookends for black revolutionary movement in America. And Easy is a witness to this. He's not necessarily a part of it. I mean, he's part of various things, but he's a witness. And he sees things that other people don't see.
SIEGEL: And his personal life has not been entirely successful during this time.
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, it's interesting. It's hard for him to trust in love, and to the ups and downs of love. And I think that that's mostly what this last book is about, about his inability to answer his own heart.
SIEGEL: When you were writing this and setting this in 1967, did you go back? Did you traveled back to Los Angeles often to look at the place? Did you study photographs? Did you read newspaper clips a lot? I mean, how much research goes into getting it right?
Mr. MOSLEY: I read 10 newspapers that were about those kind of 11 days that the story happens. I go to L.A. all the time, and L.A. is in my heart. I was born and raise there. But I don't do that particular kind of research because what I'm talking about is the internal heart of various individuals - Easy, Miles, Christmas Black, Jackson Blue. I mean, at one point in "Blonde Faith," Easy explains to the a guy - he says, well, you know, only three out of every 10 people - white people - are overtly racist to me.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Mr. MOSLEY: He says - that means that majority are okay, he says, but that three - it's an awful lot. You know, those kinds of things, you're not going to find in a newspaper in any way. You know, I'm talking about the heart of age, not necessarily events as they unfold.
SIEGEL: I want you to talk a little bit about the novel as a place to talk about race in America. This is not like writing for op-ed pages.
Mr. MOSLEY: Mm-hmm.
SIEGEL: The characters are speaking. It's not you, necessarily. And yet, it's an important and informal place to speak in a way that - I think freer than in other places.
Mr. MOSLEY: You know, it's true. There are lot of people who'd say politics has no place in fiction, just tell you that straightforward. And I think that's funny. And what I do is I use an example, not myself but I'll say, all right, so you write about a woman whose husband is either left her or died, she has a young child, and the year is 1901. Her political power in America at that time is nil.
Mr. MOSLEY: If you never address that, how can you understand that person, that character and how they overcome any obstacles that they meet, or what are the obstacles that they meet. It's if whenever you're talking about a person in a period or a time in a society, then you're talking about politics.
So when I'm writing about Easy Rawlins, I just write about Easy Rawlins every day, what he does, who he talks to, what he says, what they say to him. And I don't exaggerate, because I'm not like - I didn't exaggerate the Watts Riots in "Little Scarlet." I'm certainly not exaggerating it when Easy has an incredibly hard time going into a restaurant that's managed by a friend of his - but it's a white restaurant. And people keep trying to hold him up. They say, do you have a reservation? And so why don't you look?
This happens - well, it happens today. This certainly happened all the time, at that time. And so, it's a political statement. But it's a political statement in the fiction, telling the life of a person in a world that that person lived in.
SIEGEL: Have these books reached the readers whom you had hoped to reach when you started?
Mr. MOSLEY: Oh, my God. You know, hopes - my hope is to get the book publish.
SIEGEL: Right. I think a novelist would settle for any readers, period, to keep another book coming. But surely, you had an ideal reader in mind as you write.
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, of the many things that I do when it comes to writing, I talk about black male heroes. When I first started writing, most - there are many black men in America who were reading - wouldn't read fiction because - even though nobody really said it - they were underrepresented and misrepresented in fiction. And so, I was hoping that black men would read my books.
In the very beginning, there were very few. But by this time, they're quite a lot. I mean, a lot of other people read my books, too, and I'm very happy about anybody who reads it. But that one particular audience has grown greatly. And I'm really happy about that.
SIEGEL: I was talking very recently with Philip Roth who, after nine novels in which the alter ego character, Nathan Zuckerman, appears, he's finally parted ways, and then says, unless I got it wrong in which a case, I would bring it back. To him, it just seemed natural. I mean, he didn't seem to set out to write a book that would be the end of Nathan Zuckerman. I mean, it's just - he said it felt right.
Is it just the same thing with you or did you say I got to end this?
Mr. MOSLEY: No, I think that it's the same thing with me. I was writing about Easy, and I didn't know what the ending would be. And the ending is really the way you tell. This is the last Easy Rawlins novel.
Mr. MOSLEY: And I wasn't thinking about going there. It's just - but, you know, Easy is a tragic character. He's the kind of detective that if he saves your life, you would have been better off dead. That's the world Easy comes from. And there's - in this book, there's an extraordinarily deep sadness in him.
Mr. MOSLEY: 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 on a world that didn't want him to make a place for himself. And still, the sadness is absolute. And so, I think that I just kind of, naturally, was led toward that end.
SIEGEL: Walter Mosley, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. MOSLEY: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's mystery writer Walter Mosley, talking with us about "Blonde Faith," his latest and probably last Easy Rawlins novel. You can read an excerpt of Easy in action, puzzling over a murder at our Web site, npr.org.