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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Long Fall

Just finished Walter Mosley's The Long Fall, a fine private-eye novel in the tradition of Raymond Chandler by way of Andrew Vachss.

Mosley, best known as the creator of Easy Rawlins, of Los Angeles, as come up with a new hero, Leonid McGill, a fiftyish African American ex-boxer who navigates the unseemly world of New York City gangsters and other nefarious types. As the book begins he's sworn off the criminal life--his previous work consisted mostly of finding people for the mob so they could get whacked--so he's a little touchy when what looks like a legitimate job turns out to be the same thing. He finds four men, based only on their teenage street names, and they start turning up dead.

The story gets pretty complicated, with two trips to Albany, and subplots involving a persistent gangster client and heading off a son's potential lawbreaking. I lost the thread a few times, and am still not sure how McGill makes the connection that leads him to a wealthy family after a visit to a mental hospital.

This is an echo of Chandler, both the complex nature of the plot and the visits to rich people who live in hot rooms, but there's also a vibe from Andrew Vachss' Burke novels, in that McGill travels in the demimonde, knowing how the real world works. There are also relationships that will certainly be built upon in future books, such as a friendship with a deadly hit man called Hush.

If the solution to the mystery is underwhelming, the ride to the finish is enjoyable because of Mosley's terse first-person narration. McGill, named Leonid because of a communist father, is an engaging character, a tough guy who has come to adhere to a moral code after years of failing to do so. There are lots of little pearls of private-eye patter: "You don't have to be smart to be tough-minded. As a matter of fact, the combination of stupidity and silence might be the greatest weapon in the history of our species."

Mosley is clearly a man who respects the traditions of the genre. At one point McGill is doing a crossword puzzle and the clue is five letters, African American mystery writer. I assume the answer is Himes, Chester Himes.

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