Dale's Reviews > Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
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Aug 07, 08

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Read in August, 2008

** spoiler alert ** The "Beach Books On A Bus" endeavor rolls on!!!

I have to confess that this book was a bit of a let-down. I liked it well enough to give it 3 stars, but that mostly reflects the fact that it was a pleasant read for killing time. The things about the book that I found interesting were mostly incidental, and when I finished it I was left feeling like the whole didn't add up to much. If I had actually been reading this book on a beach, instead of as a captive commuter, I might never have finished it; on vacation I probably could have found better things to do.

Devil in a Blue Dress is the story of Easy Rawlins, an African-American WWII veteran who transplanted himself from the South to L.A. to start a new life. He loses his job and is in danger of losing his house, and then is approached to do some shady work for quick cash. He ends up embroiled in some sinister plots and has to solve a few mysteries to essentially reclaim his life.

Positives for the book: Easy is a likable guy, you can't help rooting for him. And through him I got a strong picture of life in segregationist mid-20th C. America. The book is written in first person, which makes everything immediate and visceral. I also thoght it was interesting that Easy's big motivation through the whole story was getting together enough money to pay his mortgage. He didn't want to get filthy rich, he wasn't looking to settle a personal score, he wasn't working for hire because his sick grandmother in the hospital needed an operation - he just wanted his little patch of property to call his own, his slice of the American Dream (extra resonant in these days of the woeful housing market, as well).

Negatives for the book: way too many characters, none of which are sketched out very fully, so that any of them can do anything to advance the plot. A couple of characters are eventually revealed to be cousins - they have the same last name, but at that point I was losing track of everyone anyway. The plot was fairly confusing in addition to being overpopulated; I'm not sure I could explain the whole thing if I tried. Also, for such a convoluted plot, Easy doesn't do much in it so much as get bounced around by outside forces. There are a couple of glaring moments of deus ex machina where Easy should probably be dead, but his borderline-psychopath old friend from back home Mouse shows up, waves his gun around, and saves Easy's bacon. And finally, there's a "bombshell" revelation towards the end of the book - which really had no impact on me, because it's just a watered-down version of the bombshell revelation from the end of Chinatown.

I really think I have a hard time with mysteries in general, in terms of satisfying my own expectations. I want a mystery to have a logical progression from impenetrable to obvious, with everything making sense in hindsight. Obviously this is a difficult line to walk: if things become obvious too soon and the reader figures out the mystery too quickly, the protagonist looks stupid and the book suffers; if things stay too impenetrable then it can seem like the writer was cheating by leaving out or overly distorting information all along. Devil in a Blue Dress seemed more concerned in evoking the specifics of jazz club 50's west coast culture and race relations - which it did very well - rather than setting up and resolving questions of who killed who - which didn't really work for me.
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