Short and not sweet

Bob Moyer just keeps on reading, finding books to recommend for the entertainment and edification of the rest of us socially distanced folks. He’s a trouper!

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

TROUBLE IS WHAT I DO. By Walter Mosley. Mulholland Books. 176 pages. $24.

It’s too short.

The brevity of Walter Mosley’s latest book deprives us of the chance to relish at length his mastery of the underworld where detective Leonid McGill moves with such grace. Once a criminal fixer, McGill left that world but didn’t lose his connections. Mosley takes us to places in Manhattan nobody else sees, such as the subterranean cell where the stocky private eye likes to “question” people, and the hospital in a high rise that has a secret entrance and exit for people who can’t go to any other hospital.

That’s where Leonid puts Catfish Worry, the Mississippi bluesman who came to New York for his help. He has a letter that he needs to deliver to the daughter of Charles Sternman, the richest man in New York, from her grandmother. Catfish is her grandfather, and Sternman’s father. He has to go to the hospital because Sternman hired a hit man, who shot him. 

Sternman is a familiar character in a Mosley book, a man of light skin, self-loathing and racist, sometimes lethally so. It takes Leonid the length of the book to get the letter delivered. Along the path, he throws light on the other world Mosley illuminates for the reader — the plight of black lives in America. In his books, you know that “…a poor woman wasn’t going to get a fair trial; that the laws are for the rich to pick the pockets of everyone else; and that, at the crux of it, the only real law was the one that nature provides.” 

Mosley brings a new depth to Leonid this time out, affected by his son, Twill, and by Catfish’s grandson, and Catfish, who puts “…to song what make a grown man cry.” Their presence, their voices, give Leonid “…kinship to all of them, more biology than psychology, more mortal than divine.” As his son Twill says, ”Pop, I never heard you talk like that before.”

The struggle to deliver the letter to the granddaughter is a carefully crafted, profound parable for the obstacles thrown up for the black man and woman in America. Profound, but too short.

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