October 2005

Clayton Moore

fiction

Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley

As usual, Easy Rawlins is stuck between a rock and a hard place and it’s getting tougher all the time for Walter Mosley’s oft-wounded private detective. Poor Ezekial, no stranger to the blistering inferno of Los Angeles, is now reaping his own private hell as he begins Cinnamon Kiss, the tenth installment of the long-running detective series.

You would think the lonesome detective would have had enough hurt after the fiery turmoil of his last outing, Little Scarlet, which saw him struggling to survive the Watts Riots. This time, Easy has finally found something that scares him more than Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, his murderous and unpredictable friend and sometimes partner-in-crime. It seems that Easy’s sins have come home to haunt him in the form of a blood disorder contracted by his daughter Feather. In fact, if Easy can’t come up with a hell of a lot of cash in a hurry to pay for treatments at an expensive clinic in Switzerland, the girl is going to die.

Mouse says getting the money is real easy. They’ll just hit up an armored car.

“…We just be there at about four-thirty in the morning and wait,” Mouse continued. “When the mothahfuckahs show up you put a pistol to the back of the neck of the one came in last. He the one with the shotgun. Tell ‘im to drop it -- “

Burying his daughter in the already blood-tainted earth of 1966 Los Angeles or following his friend into the gates of hell. It’s not much of a choice at all, is it?

In the meantime, Easy’s friend Saul Lynx cajoles him into what should be some relatively painless detective work. At first, it seems he’s gotten a pass. Find an attorney who has gone missing with a briefcase of bearer bonds and his intoxicating assistant, Cinnamon Cargill. Between Easy and the client, however, is a go-between, an eccentric private operator who has named himself after Robert E. Lee, the civil war general who defended the Confederacy and its right to slavery. If that weren’t bad enough, Easy ends up working against Lee’s assistant, Maya Adamant, who may have her own motivations in the case.

There’s an interesting interlude before Easy returns to Los Angeles. Starting his investigations in San Francisco, the weary detective finds the first of many dead white men, starting with one broken and stuffed in a trunk full of Nazi memorabilia. However, he also comes face-to-face with the peaceful but disheveled denizens of Haight Ashbury and surprisingly finds common ground with people like “Dream Dog,” a peaceful toked-up street hippie, and Cynthia Aubec, a partner of Easy’s quarry.

“Her looking into my eyes with such deep gratitude was to be the defining moment in my hippie experience,” Rawlins says. “Her gaze held no fear or condescension, even though her accent meant that she had to have been raised among a people who held themselves apart from mine. She didn’t want to give me a tip but only to touch me… Yes sir. Twenty years younger and I’d have had busy hair down to my knees.”

Easy isn’t a young man anymore, though, and he has reached that age where all of his friends fall into one of two categories -- those who are dead, and those who aren’t dead yet. As his investigation continues, Easy comes to rely on those who have always helped him down through the years -- the tortured genius Jackson Blue, his mechanic friend Primo, Saul Lynx and his cutthroat best friend, Mouse. He also has an encounter with Mouse’s squeeze EttaMae, who nails the hard man perfectly when she says, “You the most dangerous man in any room you in, Easy.”

He has girl trouble as well. His lover Bonnie, despite her help with Feather, has betrayed him and Easy is dangerously close to falling into his old ways, simmering with barely controlled violence and driving around with a stolen German pistol and Johnnie Walker for company. He soothes his savage thoughts in the arms of one of Mouse’s girlfriends before gaining the attention of Joe Cicero, a hired mercenary who aims to get back Easy’s stolen goods at any cost, preferably blood.

Admittedly, the plot is a little thin compared to the heavy machinations of Little Scarlet and Mosley’s complex and insightful observations on race in America, honed so sharply in his speculative fiction as well as more recent work like The Man in My Basement and the children’s book 47, threaten to overshadow Easy’s organic world. However, one thing that practice has brought the author is confidence and it is the poetry of Easy’s words that bring readers back time and time again. It’s a rich fusion of noir-influenced minimalism, jazzy street speak and a singular voice that make Easy Rawlins one of the most distinctive and powerful characters in modern fiction.

Whether Easy wins or loses, and you should know by this point in the series that he rarely does just one or the other, his soulful journey across Los Angeles is still a nail-biter. Easy may be an accident waiting to happen but at least he’s not under the wheels quite yet.

Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley
Little, Brown
ISBN: 0316073024
320 Pages