Rose Gold by Walter Mosley

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Rose Gold

It is the mid 1960s and in Los Angeles black folks have, to a degree, been replaced by young political activists and hippies as the biggest perceived threat to the white middle classes – and the LAPD. Even so, PI Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins is surprised when he receives a visit from a high ranking official in the department. Mr Frisk is offering Rawlins a large sum of money to trace Rosemary Goldsmith – Rose Gold – the missing daughter of a powerful businessman. Problem is, the girl has disappeared with a black former boxer, and Frisk knows that the regular cops will get nowhere if they start asking questions in the neighbourhoods. Rawlins is reluctant to take the case, but he needs money, and he needs it fast. So, shelving his reluctance, he takes Frisk’s fat brown envelope.

Very soon, Rawlins realises that he is being set up to fail. He receives visits from both the FBI and The State Department, and he learns that Rose Gold’s father is an arms manufacturer who is seemingly more powerful than the government itself. With the aid of a sinister Native American called Redbird, and a shambolic suspended cop, Rawlins must track down the girl, unmasking the real motives of the various players as he goes.

The twists in the plot almost out-Chandler Chandler himself, and yet Mosley lays it all out with panache and style. You won’t get lost, and there’s no danger of getting to the end of the book, and having to ask, “But who killed the chauffeur?”

Easy Rawlins doesn’t tend to do wisecracks and one liners. He is ruefully philosophical. At one point he reflects on the precious few moments available to poor people when they can forget their troubles. “Poor men understood that a brief respite now and again was the best we could hope for. Modern day, university-trained philosophers studied existentialism; we lived it,” he says.

In last year’s Rawlins novel, Little Green, (June 2013) we had to fathom Easy’s implausible resurrection before the book gathered speed, but here there is no such distraction. The formidable Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander makes a very brief appearance, but his very name casts a chill over those who wish Easy Rawlins harm. The beguiling and free loving hippie Coco, who also featured in Little Green, makes another appearance, and again acts as a way into the altered states subculture of the mid-60s West Coast. For all his experience and world-weariness, our hero still struggles coming to terms with this world. When Rawlins tracks down a witness to an isolated commune, he is greeted by a naked teenage girl. His reaction is priceless. After telling us, “Her figure was youthful, defying if not denying the weight of the world”, he says, “Look Dawn, let’s just say I’m from another planet. Back where I come from, on Mars, men go crazy around a naked woman. So could you please put something on? For me and my pal here.”

Coco, incidentally, has a new lover and it is none other than the mysterious and erotic Mama Jo Compton, who is part enchantress and part witchy-woman. In our 2013 interview with Walter Mosley, he told us a little more about this intriguing and seemingly ageless woman, who features in most of the Easy Rawlins books. To conclude, if there is such a thing as the perfect book, this is it. Not only is it a great crime story, but it can be read and appreciated as a work of fine literature from a modern master.

Rose Gold goes on sale in the UK on 25 September.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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