Joe King Oliver

Created by Walter Mosley

From the opening blast of it’s dedication (“For Malcolm, Medgar, and Martin”), Mosley makes it clear which side of the “Black Lives Matter” debate he’s on, but as always the complexities and ironies of his take on American society raise the ambitious and bracing potential series debut Down the River Unto the Sea (2018) far above any simple or cheap sloganeering. Because, of course, life is complicated, and no issue is ever simply black and white — not in Mosley’s world. Or in ours.

Because the hero of this tale JOE KING OLIVER may be a black man, but he’s also a member of the NYPD–or at least he was. Now he’s just another disgraced former cop trying to squeeze out a lIt’s a changing world, iving as private eye with an office on Montague Street. A shaky frame-up cost Joe his career, his marriage, a stint in Riker’s and almost his life, but that’s all behind him now.

He hopes. It’s a changing world, and Joe’s not sure he likes it.”“I was old-school,” he says in the 2023 sequel, Every Man a King, “In my heart I held women to what used to be called a higher standard. But the world had changed and if I wanted a relationship with the new order I had to at least be aware of its expectations.”

The saving grace is his young, school age daughter, who has stuck by him, even acting as his office manager occasionally, and trying her hardest to keep dear old dad out of trouble. But all bets are off when he’s hired to try and gather evidence to help the case of a street activist accused of murdering two of New York’s finest. And then he gets a call from out of the blue from the woman who framed him ten years ago and then disappeared. She’s begging forgiveness, and claims she wants to make things right.

Or does she?

I’m not sure where Mosley’s going with this one, whether it’s a standalone or not. Doesn’t matter though — it’s Mosley, and if it’s his name on the front cover, I’m gonna read it.


Oh, wait. It is a series. Or at least there’s a sequel. Five years after Down the River Unto the Sea came out, Every Man a King arrived, with an old friend calling in a favor, and Oliver put in the unlikely position of working on behalf of a white nationalist charged with homicide.


  • “… as timely a look at modern-day New York as you’ll find anywhere in noir fiction… Like all of Mosley’s best work, this is a story about justice, knowledge, speaking truth to power, and the unseen entanglements that conspire to keep the little guy down.”
    CrimeReads (December 2018)


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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