Socrates Fortlow

Created by Walter Mosley

Not a private eye, not a cop, not even really an amateur sleuth, SOCRATES FORTLOW is just an aging ex-con (he served twenty-seven years for a double murder) trying to cope. He lives in a tiny, makeshift two-room Watts apartment, cooking on a hot plate, taking whatever honest work he can find, struggling to control a seemingly boundless rage and propensity for violence. Socrates must find a way to live an honorable life as a single black man on the margins of a world of violence, despair and poverty, a task which takes every ounce of self-control he has, in this potent series of short stories by Walter Mosley.

A 1997 volume, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, collected fourteen of Mosley’s hard-boiled morality plays, for which he received the Anisfield-Wolf Award, an honour given to works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in America. One of the stories also received an O’Henry Award, and was featured in Prize Stories 1996: The O’Henry Awards edited by William Abraham.

The collection was also adapted and made into an HBO/NYC and Palomar Pictures film, starring Laurence Fishburne as Socrates, with Natalie Cole, Cicely Tyson and Bill Cobbs. It was directed by Michael Apted from a screenplay written by Mosley himself.

Two years later, Walkin’ the Dog rounded up a dozen more stories.

Fans of Mosley’s acclaimed Easy Rawlins series may be disconcerted by the occasional lack of obvious mysteries — or even “real” crime — in these stories, but Mosley’s after bigger game here. Imagine Chandler’s honourable man, not having the choice to go down those mean streets, but trapped on them.


  • “While Mosley skips the bounds of mystery writing this time around, he proves himself equally adept searching for truth in everyday life, a place where the simplest questions (What do I do when I’ve lost my job? What happens when my husband doesn’t come home at night? How do I stand up to the gangsters down thestreet?) are the most difficult to answer…. Political yet temperate, angry yet subtle, Always Outnumbered is the work of a writer unafraid of pushing forward his own notions of responsibility and entitlement. Without sacrificing nuance or trying to settle the difficult and irreconcilable contradictions of life, Mosley casts the passive, rhetorical question that Waller, Armstong and Ellison pondered in a new light…. Always Outnumbered is ultimately the picture of a black community struggling to take on the challenge of finding its own better life and–given the strength, moral questioning and willingness to break the rules–may, just, succeed.”
    — Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review
  • “Every detective hero, even one as cut from real cloth as Easy Rawlins, is finally a fantasy figure, somebody with the answers we lack; Socrates Fortlow, “always outnumbered, always outgunned,” is a fantasy-free hero. These are often difficult stories to read; never sentimental, they are finally, one and all, about pain and how we live with it. Perhaps that’s why those brief moments when Socrates eases someone else’s pain deliver such a powerful sense of catharsis. Hard-hitting, unrelenting, poignant short fiction.”
    — Booklist


  • “Crimson Shadow” (Whitney Museum; 1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Midnight Meeting” (Black Renaissance Noir; 1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “The Thief” (Esquire; 1997; Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Double Standard” (GQ; 1997; Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Equal Opportunity” (Buzz; 1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Marvane Street” (Story; 1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Man Gone” (Emerge; 1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “The Wanderer” (1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Lessons” (1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Letter to Theresa” (Los Angeles Times; 1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “History” (1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Firebug” (Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine; 1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Black Dog” (1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned; 1998, Best American Mysteries)
  • “Last Rites” (1997, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
  • “Blue Lightning” (December 1998, GQ; also 1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “Promise” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “Shift, Shift, Shift” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “What Would you Do?” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “A Day in the Park” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “The Mugger” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “That Smell” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “Walkin’ the Dog” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “Mookie Kid” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “Moving On” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “Rascals in the Cane” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)
  • “Rogue” (1999, Walkin’ the Dog)




    (1998, HBO)
    Based on the book by Walter Mosley
    Teleplay by Walter Mosley
    Directed by Michael Apted
    Producers: Jonathon Kerr, Anne-Marie Mackay
    Co-producer: Jeffrey Downer
    Associate producers: Jeanney Kim, Helen McCusker
    Executive producers: Laurence Fishburne, Walter Mosley
    Starring Laurence Fishburne as SOCRATES FORTLOW
    Also starring Brooke Marie Bridges, Kevin Carroll, Jamaal Carter, Bill Cobbs, Natalie Cole
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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