Created by Walter Mosley
“If I knew where I stood then I had a chance of getting where I was going.”
— Cinnamon Kiss
In post-WWII Los Angeles, EZEKIEL “EASY” RAWLINS, an unemployed black vet desperate to hang on to his small house, agrees to do a little private snooping for a local gangster, tracking down a woman, and soon discovers that he has a knack for the work. That memorable first appearance, 1990’s Devil in a Blue Dress, with its vivid sense of time and place, drew immediate and widespread praise. New York Magazine called it “a black Chinatown, a cross between Richard Wright and Raymond Chandler” and U.S. President Bill Clinton, then riding the crest of his popularity, cited Mosley as one of his favorite authors. Since then, author Mosley has continued the series, jumping ahead a few years at a shot, each book offering a vivid snapshot of the black experience in America — and particularly Los Angeles, in the latter half of the 20th century; a sort of alternative social history that burns through the genre.
Unlike some larger-than-life P.I.s, Easy is refreshingly human, even in sometimes disappointing ways. He’s a proud man trying to cope with the social injustices of his time, as well as his own personal demons and prejudices; and he doesn’t always do a great job of it. He can be cruel or petty and sometimes cowardly, and too easily led astray by temptations of the flesh. As well, his obsessions with acquiring wealth and privacy sometimes lead him into making poor decisions. Nor is he immune from racism himself. But his faults are tempered by his passion to rise above what has been pegged as his station in life and an innate sense of what’s right and especially what’s wrong.
His first step was to get an education. His second was to acquire property. So far, through the series, he’s managed to do both, but the price Easy has had to pay to hang on to what he’s got seems to be steadily rising. He knows — as a black man living in the last half of the twentieth century in the United States, and from his own experiences — how easiliy it can all be stripped away.
Still, by the second novel, A Red Death (1991), Easy’s obsession with real estate has paid off. He’s started to amass a fair share of property, including a few apartment buildings and a couple of houses. He’s uneasy (sorry) about his wealth, though, and afraid of drawing too much attention to himself, so he pretends to be a janitor, communicating with his tenants through an intermediate. Mind you, it’s the age of paranoia anyway — the Red Scare is in full bloom. And he’s elected himself the adoptive father of Jesus, the abandoned mute child he saved in Devil in a Blue Dress.
By White Butterfly (1992), set in 1956, Easy is still living in Watts, but has acquired a wife, Regina, and a baby daughter, Edna. Yet he can’t quite bring himself to tell Regina about his holdings, hiding his prosperity like a guilty secret — a secret that eventually breaks up the marriage. Regina leaves, taking Edna with her.
In Black Betty (1994), Easy has moved from Watts to West L.A. with his two (yes, he’s picked up another one) adopted children, Jesus and Feather, but trouble — in the form of racism and police harassment — still follows him as he’s hired to track down a woman he once knew.
By 1963, in A Little Yellow Dog (1996), Easy seems to have finally escaped the streets, having landed a job as a custodial supervisor at an all-black school, a safe, respectable job with a pension, and more importantly, a medical plan for Jesus and Feather. Not only is he doing well, but he’s managed to find jobs for both his old friend Mouse, and Mouse’s long-suffering mate, Etta Mae. But somehow, the streets manage, inevitably, to drag him back.
Mosley intends to bring the series right into the present, but he’s also apparently going to drag us along on some interesting detours, along the way. In 1997, he released Gone Fishin’, a prequel of sorts to the series, wherein Easy and Mouse go off on their first adventure. And in 2001, when the Washington Square Press began releasing new editions of the series, each included a bonus short story, which were subsequently collected and published as Six Easy Pieces (2003). The stories fill in many of the gaps between the novels and should really not be ignored by any fan of the series.
Since then, Rawlins has leaped from strength to strength, leapfrogging ahead in time. Bad Boy Brawly Brown (2002) takes place in the early days of the civil rights movement, and features the return of Mouse (last seen laying stone cold dead in A Little Yellow Dog), Little Scarlet (2004) has Easy trying to solve a racially charged case in the aftermath of the Watts riots and Cinnamon Kiss (2005) has him working a case against the backdrop of the Summer of Love. And Blonde Faith (2007), purportedly the last book in the series, brought it all home, with Easy apparently heading straight into the black after driving over a cliff.
Or did it?
Six years later, Easy returned in Little Green (2013), which was shortly a year later by Rose Gold.
And of course, in the initial burst of acclaim and popularity, it didn’t take long for Hollywood to come knocking. The result, 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress, was generally well-received, although I felt Denzel Washington, despite doing another typically solid job, was miscast as Easy — a sentiment that Mosley himself apparently agreed with. At the 1993 Bouchercon, Mosley told me a film deal was in the works, and that he hoped Danny Glover would play Easy, but thought “the studio” would go with someone more bankable like “this guy Denzel Washington.” and that Ice Cube (or was it Ice-T?) would supposedly play Easy’s stone cold killer pal Mouse. Well, it turned out Washington did play Easy, but Mouse was played, with chilling, icy perfection, by Don Cheadle, then best known for his work on CBS’ Picket Fences. The director was Carl Franklin, who was also responsible for the excellent noirish thriller One False Move.
And over the years (and several more viewings) Washington’s take on Easy has grown on me — so much so, that I’d love to see him tackle the role again. Washington has aged into the role nicely, and he’s a much stronger and braver actor than he was back in 1995.
Mosley is also the author of the Socrates Fortlow series, a string of short, hardboiled morality tales about an aging ex-con just trying to get by, and the “Fear” series, featuring Paris Minton, a timid black bookseller in 1950’s LA and his best friend, the dangerous but principled Fearless Jones, and a newer series about New York private eye Leonid McGill. He’s also written several acclaimed science fiction novels, including Blue Light and The Wave, as well as RL’s Dream, a novel about an aging bluesman obsessed with Robert Johnson. Mosley was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in New York.
- “In the south if a black man killed a white man he was dead. If they police saw him on the street they shot first and asked questions… never.”
— Cinnamon Kiss
- “(Devil in a Blue Dress) Fun to read. Unforgettable characters. Solid plotting. Takes me into its time and setting effortlessly, making me feel I’m an insider in another world. Written with grace and verve.”
— Vince Emery on Devil in a Blue Dress (2012, The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time)
- “(Devil with a Blue Dress was) the start of a major series that offered a head-spinning look at L.A. in the post-war 1940s from a point of view that writers of that day like Chandler and Browne would never have imagined.”
–Dick Lochte on Devil in a Blue Dress (2012, The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time)
- “What resonates in Franklin’s film isn’t the plot, a predictable tangle of low company in high places; it’s experiencing the genre’s tropes through the eyes of a Black man. Familiar scenes, like cops teaching the private eye to mind his own business, assume a fearsome urgency when race is injected. When thugs invade Easy’s home, he conveys a boiling but stifled rage unknown to white detectives. These scenes have even more impact today—at least for a white viewer—than when the film was released. Walter Mosley and Carl Franklin were a couple of decades ahead of the cultural curve, depicting the racism of the police toward the Black community they are assigned to protect.”
— Eddie Muller, on the film (September 2020, Alta)
- Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- A Red Death (1991) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- White Butterfly (1992) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Black Betty (1994) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- A Little Yellow Dog (1996) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Gone Fishin’ (1997) | Buy this book
- Bad Boy Brawly Brown (2002) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Little Scarlet (2004) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Cinnamon Kiss (2005) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Blonde Faith (2007) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Little Green (2013) | Buy this book | Buy the audiobook | Kindle it!
- Rose Gold (2014) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
- Charcoal Joe (2016) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
- Blood Grove (2021) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
- “The Watts Lion” (1993, The New Mystery)
- “Smoke” (2002; also 2003, Six Easy Pieces)
- “Crimson Stain” (2002; also 2003, Six Easy Pieces)
- “Silver Lining” (2002; also 2003, Six Easy Pieces)
- “Lavender” (2002; also 2003, Six Easy Pieces)
- “Gator Green” (2002; also 2003, Six Easy Pieces)
- “Gray-Eyed Death” (2002; also 2003, Six Easy Pieces)
- “Amber Gate” (2003, Six Easy Pieces)
- DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS | Buy this video | Buy this DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now
Based on the novel by Walter Mosley
Screenplay by Carl Franklin
Directed by Carl Franklin
Producers: Jesse Beaton, Gary Goetzman
Associate producers: Donna Gigliotti, Thomas A. Imperato, Walter Mosley
Executive producers: Jonathan Demme, Edward Saxon
Original music by Elmer Bernstein
Starring Denzel Washington as EASY RAWLINS
and Don Cheadle as Mouse
Also starring Jennifer Beals, Tom Sizemore, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney, Mel Winkler, Albert Hall, Lisa Nicole Carson, Jernard Burks, David Wolos-Fonteno, John Roselius , Beau Starr, Steven Randazzo, Scott Lincoln
- BLACK BETTY
(2000, 89.9 FM and KCRW.com)
Nine one-hour episodes
Originally broadcast: Monday-Friday, December 18-22, 2000
Based on the novel by Walter Mosley
Directed by Ted Lange
Executive Producer for KCRW: Jacqueline des Lauriers
Associate Producer: Marilyn Love
Music by Kevin O’Neal.
Starring Charlie Robinson as EASY RAWLINS
and Lonnie Smith as Mouse
Also starring Virginia Capers
An original unabridged dramatization
- A RED DEATH
(1997, Chicago Theatre Company)
Original run: September 12-November 9, 1997
Based on the 1991 novel by Walter Mosley
Written by David Barr
Directed by Delai Jolly Gray
Starring Douglas Alan-Mann as Easy Rawlins
with Daniel Bryant as Mouse
Also starring Steve Broussard, Kimberly Hebert, Martin Bedoian, Anthony Rodriguez, Tom Lentz, El Feigo N. Goodum
Mosley was approached by Douglas Alan-Mann, artistic director of the Chicago Theatre Company, an all-black company, about adapting Mosley’s novel for the stage, and Mosley granted it, pending script approval. The show made its debut in 1997 (with Alan-Mann himself playing Easy) and ran for a couple of months, to mostly sold-out house and favorable reviews. A noteworthy artistic touch was the prominent use of the colour red as an accent in various costumes. The play won the MWA’s 1998 Edgar Allan Poe Award, in the Best New Play category.
- WHITE LILIES
(2013, Crossroads Theatre Co. [New Brunswick, NJ])
Original run: May 9-19, 2013
Written by Easy Rawlins
White Lilies is Director: Marshall Jones, III,
Starring Landon G. Woodson as MOUSE
and Bridgid Coulter as EttaMae
Also starring Chantal Jean-Pierre and Ruffin Prentiss
A short, one-act play set in the 1970s, with two men and two women, featuring Easy’s pal, Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, who shows up at the home of former lover EttaMae, where “old wounds are reopened and secrets of the past unearthed as questions of what was, and what could have been, are explored.”
- Walter Mosley.com
The author’s official site.
- Easy Rawlins Lives!
Gar Anthony Haywood on Little Green, from the LA Review of Books.
- Walter Mosley’s National Book Awards Acceptance Speech
He means it, man. (November 2020, LitHub)