Monday, April 15, 2013
Review of The Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (Serpent’s Tail, 1990)
The Devil in the Blue Dress is a noir tale full of racial and sexual tensions set in the post-war Los Angeles. The strengths of the novel are the characterisation, contextualisation, and sense of place and time. Easy Rawlins is an interesting lead character: a man who wants to pull himself up into the middle class but finds himself scrabbling around in the underworld to keep that dream from slipping by; he’s familiar with death from his time fighting across Europe, but he has little appetite for the murderous situation he finds himself in. As such, his moral compass is generally pointed in the right direction, but he’s prepared to let it waver, especially as he lives in a community where right and wrong are various shades of grey and he has to negotiate the racist attentions of powerful white men. To complement him, Mosley fills the story with a set of colourful, dangerous characters. The tale is particularly good at portraying the racial geography of the city, its seedy nightlife and petty crime, and dropping in small historical references. The plot was interesting, but felt a little opaque at times given the number of characters and their shifting allegiances, and some elements didn’t seem to quite sit right. Nonetheless, it was an entertaining read, told in a style that is all tell and no show, and is full of noirish atmosphere.