Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Review: Walter Mosley. Fear of the Dark

Michael Sedano

There’s a certain energy in the phrase, “Walter Mosley has a new novel out”, that hangs in the air with charged excitement. What does he have for us this time? There's the noble heroism of the Easy Rawlins and Socrates Fortlow stories. Perhaps the social consciousness of science fiction, like last year’s The Wave and the more recent Favorite Son? In Fear of the Dark, Walter Mosley delivers a diverting novel almost purely whodunit, featuring the return of Paris Minton and his pal Fearless Jones.

Paris tells the story as a reminiscence, thinking back to 1950, when he and Fearless helped cousin Useless out of a lethal jam that found true love but cost several lives and careers. In the end, Paris avoided aunt Three Hearts’ evil eye and turns a tidy profit to split with Fearless.

“That was it. A life worth remembering is hell to live,” Paris tells us as he closes the book on this story. But a good story to tell.

Paris and Fearless make an unlikely pair of detectives. According to Paris, Fearless is generally dumb as a tack. Similarly, Paris considers himself a coward. Neither is completely accurate. Fearless walks two-fisted into whatever comes next. The brains of the outfit, Paris, usually points Fearless toward a target and between the two of them, side by side, they face down danger, murder, white cops.

Put Paris’ brains and Fearless’ brawn together and you have an unbeatable team.

The reader will admire Fearless’ indomitability. The fight scene in jail is a classic, reminiscent of the same scene in Heartbreak Ridge, with Clint Eastwood thrashing a fat biker. And he’s not as dumb as Paris says. Even Paris remarks at Jones’ insightful remarks.

The comparison of Fearless Jones to Mouse is inescapable. Think of a non-pathological, totally honest Mouse. If Fearless is Mouse, Paris Minton is Easy. Except Easy Rawlins possesses that nobility that has the reader pulling for him.

There’s not a lot to like about Paris Minton.

It’s not Paris’ self-avowed cowardice. He’s not fearful of people but of violence. With Fearless’ protection, sometimes without, Paris strides directly into fearful confrontations. Paris is obnoxious. He uses timidity as a way of bragging about his exploits. He’s a sexual braggart with a fabulous sex life. And he’s hung up on black skin color, identifying everyone by their shade of brown or blackness. But Paris is smart as can be. He doesn’t need the reader’s help to pull for him nor to put the clues together.

Fear of the Dark has all the fun of a detective story, sleuthing clues, gunshots in foreheads, throats slashed, narrow escapes, capture. Plus, with Mosley’s mastery of local color adding such character names as Mad Anthony, Lionel Charlemagne Sterling, the reader finds something to smile at in unexpected spots.

Unlike character-driven novels like the Easy Rawlins stories, Fear of the Dark doesn’t spend a lot of energy on social commentary. It’s the 1950s, what more can one say. Mosley seemingly goes out of his way to avoid it. When the white behemoth “Tiny” finds Paris naked with white Jessa, Tiny doesn’t scream “nigger” but wants to kill the man.

But there is a delicious scene between Paris and two white cops in a public park. After Paris dumbfounds the cops, they return to roust him. They come upon Paris and Fearless and an extortion victim. The white man challenges the white cops:

“My name is Martin Friar,” Angel’s mark said. “I’m a vice president of UEC there across the street. These two gentlemen have come to consult with me. Do you have a problem with that?”
“That man here,” Pimple Face said, “told us that he was reading a book.”

Hilarious. A highlight of a fine story. Find those two uniforms and do a contempt of cop with this one. Walter Mosley's got a sure winner in Fear of the Dark.

The first, maybe annual, La Bloga Día de los Muertos Amoxcalli-Descansos Contest. Here's your chance to get exposure for your great piece relating to el Día de los Muertos. Through Oct. 24th we will accept prose, poetry, essay, in English or Spanish or Spanglish--just about anything concerning this indigenous/modern tradition. Fantasy, children's stories, young adult, horror, serious, or not so--anything you want to share on La Bloga. Shorter pieces are preferred (less than 500 words), since we are the editorial staff and will base decisions on quality and how little work is required of us. We will feature one prize winner each day of the week of Day of the Dead. For more details, see the September 28 issue of La Bloga. Send to labloga@readraza .com.

That is the first Tuesday in October, 2006, a Tuesday like any other day, except you should get Fear in the Dark and post a comment at La Bloga. Why does the novel have that title?


No comments: