Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley


Rating: (Recommended)




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The eighth Easy Rawlins novel by Walter Mosley, Little Scarlet, is set in 1965 in Los Angeles following the Watts riots. Mosley is pitch perfect in capturing the sentiments and concerns of those times without adding any anachronistic distractions or preachy reflections almost forty years later. Instead, Mosley brings readers into the community and the time, and allows his characters to capture the violence, fears, and prejudice of that time. The evolution of Easy Rawlins in this novel toward becoming a more experienced and professional private investigator will please readers.


Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 2, pp. 9-14:


He wore a rumpled green suit and a white shirt that had yellowed from too many launderings. He didn’t wear a hat but it was already almost eighty degrees and too hot for the kind of hat that unkempt white man would own. His tie was like a muddy creek bed with a few murky jewels showing through.

“Are you Ezekiel Rawlins?” he asked. “I was up at your office.

A man across the hall said you’d gone downstairs.”

I waited for him to say more.

“Detective Melvin Suggs,” the man said.

He held out a hand.

I looked at it. Not many policemen had offered to shake hands with me. Outstretched hands of the law held wooden batons and pistols, handcuffs and warrants but rarely a welcome and never an offer of equality.

“What is it you want, Detective?”

Melvin Suggs first closed his hand and then opened it to rub his fingertips together. His smile held little friendliness and that was fine by me. I didn’t need a friendly white cop right then. Enough of my world had already been turned inside out.

“Are you here about the damage to the building, officer?” Theodore Steinman asked.

I could have told my friend that the policeman hadn’t come for our structural troubles. The cop was there for me. He needed me to help him that’s what I thought at the time.

“No sir.” Suggs said. “There will be a unit here later in the week to investigate every act of arson and looting. But right now I have to speak to Mr. Rawlins.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, “because right now I have to help my friend clean up what’s left of his store.”

“This is important,” the policeman said, again in that tone of authority.

“People got problems all up and down the street, Officer. Every doorway got some kinda mark on it. People lost their businesses, their jobs. Some little old ladies got to take a bus five miles just to find a store to buy a quarter pound of mar­garine.”

“But only thirty-four people lost their lives,” he said. “Radio said this morning that it was thirty-three dead,” I said, feeling the need to contradict him.

“One went unreported,” the policeman replied. “It’s a special case and we would like, you to take a look at it.”

“Excuse me, Officer, but you must be mistaking me for some other Ezekiel Rawlins. I’m just a custodian for the board of education, down at Sojourner Truth Junior High School. I don’t have any official capacity whatsoever.”

“No. I have the right man.”

Suggs had brilliant taupe-colored eyes that somehow fit his grubby appearance. He just stood there, staring at me.

For my part I turned to assess the destroyed cobbler’s shop. All he had left was the burnt and broken worktable surrounded by a couple hundred pairs of scorched shoes. Why would somebody want to burn shoes? Other than with footwear, the floor was covered with things turned out of Theodore Stein-man’s drawers, shelves, and filing cabinet. There was a bone-handled pocketknife, a yellow package of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, a fat pink eraser, and maybe a thousand rubber bands. There were index cards marked by the footprints of looters and firemen, and the torn and crumpled leaves of a Bible written in German. Under a broken oak chair I saw a small shattered pane of glass within the loose confines of a splintered wood frame. I knelt down and shook the slivers of glass from a portrait-like photograph of Sylvie Theodore’s muse and wife.

“Oh my,” the shoemaker said when I handed him the scraped and punctured picture.

He cradled it in both hands as if holding a baby.

“Mr. Rawlins,” Detective Suggs said.

I had forgotten he was there.


“Go, Ezekiel,” Theodore Steinman said. “He needs you.”

“I can’t leave you here like this, Theodore. Suppose some­body else comes for his shoes like that guy?”

“I will talk to him.”

I already knew that Theodore had blue eyes. I had been bring­ing my shoes to the man for nearly twenty years. I see things, things that other people overlook. That’s why the sign on my office door reads EASY RAWLINS RESEARCH AND DELIVERY. But there was something about the quality in Theodore’s eyes that I had never seen before. It was as if the violence of the past few days had given me the power to look deeper, or maybe it was that the people around me had changed Theodore and his angry customer and maybe even Melvin Suggs, the cop that approached me with his hand proffered in greeting.



Detective Suggs and I left through the now doorless doorway of the shoe shop. That took us out onto Central. There were dozens of people wandering the street. This was unusual because in L.A. even poor people got around by car. But in the aftermath of the riots, the smoke in the air brought people out by foot to investigate the aftermath of a race war.

Suggs drove a Rambler Marlin. It was roomy and equipped with seat belts.

“I never use the damn things,” the cop told me. “It’s my ex. She says I can’t take the kids unless I have ‘em.”.

We had been driving for quite some time when I asked, “So what do you want from me, Officer?”

“I got a case that needs solving outside of the public eye.”


“The LAPD,” he said. “Chief Parker, Mayor Yorty.”

Suggs didn’t look at me while he talked. He didn’t seem like the kind of driver who needed to keep his eyes on the road, so I guessed he was a little embarrassed by needing my help. This was both a good and a bad thing. If you were a black man in L.A. at that time (or at any time) it always helped to have a leg up on the authorities. But you didn’t want to have it too far up; because the higher you get, the further you have to fall.

What case?I asked.

“You’ll see when we get there.”

“No I will not.”


“Either you tell me where we’re going and what it is you plan to get me involved in or when you stop this car I will go find a bus to take me home.”

Suggs took a sideways glance in my direction. He muttered something that sounded like “funny papers cabbage head.”

We were on the southern end of La Cienega Boulevard by then.

He pulled to the curb, yanked on the parking brake lever, and turned toward me. It was then I noticed that the man had no smell. No kind of body odor or cologne. He was a self-contained unit, with no scent or any kind of style the per­fect package for a hunter.

“You ever hear of a woman named Nola Payne?” he asked. I had not and shook my head to say so.

“What about her?” I asked. “She’s victim number thirty-four.”

“And what does that have to do with me?”

“The circumstances around her death are a little confusing and possibly a problem if they make it to the press before we have a handle on the case.”

“You not tellin me anything, man.”

“I don’t want to tell you about how we found her until you get where we’re going, Rawlins. But I can tell you that we need your help because a white policeman looking into anything down in Watts right now will only draw attention to something we need kept quiet.”

“And why would I want to help you?” I asked, unable to resist kicking the man when he was down.

“What does that sign on your office door mean?” he asked in way of reply.

“It means what it says.”

“No,” Suggs said. “It means that you’re down there playing like you’re a private detective when you don’t have a license. That could pull down jail time if somebody wanted to prose­cute. I’m sure if I went around and talked to a few of your clients I could build a pretty good case.”

I wasn’t so sure. Most of the work I’d done wasn’t anything to get me in trouble. I never misrepresented myself as a private detective. And Suggs was more right than he knew about white cops in black L.A. no one would talk to them after the riots, or before.

But I said, “All right, Officer. I’ll go where you’re taking me. But I’ll tell you this right now. If I don’t like the way things smell I’m walkin’ away.”

Suggs nodded, released the brake, and cruised out into the boulevard. His easy manner accepting my conditions made me think that this simple ride in a policeman’s car was going to take me down a much longer journey than I had planned on when I rolled out of bed that morning.


If you’ve never read an Easy Rawlins novel before, don’t worry about starting with Little Scarlet, it requires no context setting or outside information about where Easy has come from. Mosely has paid attention to this popular series, and uses his fine writing skills to keep it fresh and interesting.


Steve Hopkins, December 20, 2004



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the January 2005 issue of Executive Times

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