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Crime Files – Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley #BookReview

The time is 1948, the town is Los Angeles, and black veteran Easy Rawlins has just been fired from his job. With his mortgage payment is jeopardy, Easy accepts a job tracking down a blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs.

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley book cover

Title: Devil in a Blue Dress | Author: Walter Mosley | Series: Easy Rawlins #1 | Publisher: Penguin Books| Pages: 263 | ISBN: 9780671740504 | Publication date: 1990 | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Purchased

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Devil in a Blue Dress Review

Walter Mosley’s ‘Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned’, which I reviewed recently, made me determined to read as much of his work as I could. ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’, his first novel from back in 1990, isn’t quite as good, but it’s still a great mix of crime fiction and social commentary. It’s not hard to see why Mosley has had such a long and successful career since its publication.

Set in Los Angeles in 1948, it introduced Mosley’s most popular character, black private eye Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins. The setup is typical of classic PI stories, but Mosley delivers the usual tropes with skill and style. Rawlins is hired by a wealthy businessman to track down a mysterious (and, naturally, beautiful) woman. The investigation, and the woman, turn out to be more than they appear. As the story unfolds, Rawlins visits dodgy bars, uncovers corruption, and faces vicious hoods.

Aside from Mosley’s undoubted skill as a mystery writer, what makes ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ a classic is the depiction of the lives of Black Americans in the late 1940s. Rawlins fought for his country in Europe, but now he’s back in the USA he’s a second class citizen again. He faces discrimination throughout the book, from random physical assaults, to racism at work and abuse from the police.  

Alongside this, Mosley paints a vibrant and engaging picture of Black culture in the face of this bigotry. The bars, the food, the friendships, and the music all create a buzzing and convincing atmosphere that makes a great backdrop for the story.

Best of all though is Rawlins himself. He’s brave, principled, tenacious and as cool as any detective I’ve read. He’s also very easy to root for. His personal struggle to make a life for himself in the unequal society his lives in is as gripping as his work as a private investigator. That connection between reader and hero makes the book even more engrossing than it might have been otherwise and makes me keen to read more of Rawlins’ adventures.

Content Warning:

Rape, child abuse, racism

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Published inBook ReviewsCrime FilesStarred Reviews

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