Hardboiled, served up right

Whether he’s in L.A. with Easy Rawlins or Manhattan with Leonid McGill, Walter Mosley delivers some fine books. Bob Moyer has a great time with the latest.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

AND SOMETIMES I WONDER ABOUT YOU. By Walter Mosley. Doubleday. 272 ages $26.95.

What’s happened to the gunsels, the dames, the twists, the slugs, the roscoes, the dames, the flimflammers?  When was the last time you saw a real mug, a croaker, a dingus, a dip, a frail?  Where are all the vivid characters that hung out in every hardboiled novel?

A lot of them have ended up in Walter Mosley’s latest. After he left behind the mean streets of Easy Rawlins’ Los Angeles, Mosley headed down the even meaner streets of Manhattan with a bona fide shamus, Leonid McGill. Before Mosley introduced his latest gumshoe to us, Leonid “…had lived on the island my entire life, running wild, committing almost every crime imaginable.”  Since we met him five books ago, he’s been “…trying to climb out of the dung pit” and wash himself clean. It’s hard, though; he feels like a honey badger – a squat brute with exceptionally thick skin, powerful long claws, always looking for trouble…. He’s always in danger; and danger is always in him.”  That’s unfortunate for this African-American private eye but fortunate for the reader. Leonid has accrued one of the most interesting casts of characters in the modern American mystery novel, and Mosley tries to fit most of them into this installment.

There’s his wife Katrina, a real tomato who recently tried suicide, and “…now her flesh seemed to sag and you could see all her years like Marley’s chains.”  Then there’s his latest twist, Marella, who has a “voice somewhere in the lower register of gold”; Aura, “the color of pure gold that hadn’t been polished for some years” and his main squeeze for almost as many, and the poor schlub at the center of the book, Hiram Stent. A man whose “…fate was etched on a pauper’s grave somewhere, probably before he was born,” Stent comes to him with a questionable case. Leonid turns him down, and that turns on the plot when Stent turns up dead.

At least, the major plot. Leonid has so much going on that all the storylines aren’t in place until page 160: “Twill got himself in a mess I can’t even begin to work out and then there’s these two dead men, a missing girl, and a marital job I got to work with. But that’s just a week’s work.”  As well as another 112 pages of mayhem and masterful writing, including an epiphany to a theme running through this series – Leonid’s relationship to his father. Long thought to be dead, long after leaving Leonid, his brother and mom, Tolstoy McGill makes Leonid want to tear him apart just to look at him. Confronting his father, Leonid commits a Freudian slip that reveals his true feelings; the discovery, that of “…a child who had pitied himself for decades,” helps solve “…the most important case” of his career. It’s a seminal moment in this series.

In short order, McGill extricates his son from an underground cult of goniffs and killers, metes out his own justice to the killers of Stent, makes some scratch for himself and the two dead men’s families – and gets to his best friend Gordo’s wedding in time. Want a good read?  Glom on to this book and you’ll see I ain’t pulling no grift. Mosley’s hittin’ on all eight in this baby.

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