Ezell “Easy” Barnes

Created by Richard Hilary
Pseudonym of Richard Bodino & Hilary Connors

“…lyng to your detective is one of the privileges you get billed for.”
— Easy explains how it works to a client in Pieces of Cream.

In the long, mostly dry winter of discontent for Black eyes between Ernest Tidyman’s ground-breaking Shaft, and Walter Mosley’s game-changing Easy Rawlins, Richard Hilary kept the flag flying, with a series of entertaining and thoughtful (and now, unfairly forgotten and out of print) paperback originals about Newark, New Jersey private eye EZELL BARNES, whose nickname was, coincidentally, also “Easy.”

He was an appealling eye, an ex-fighter and ex-cop, a tough guy who smoked unfiltered Chesterfield’s, was partial to Black Velvet or Pabst’s beer (brewed in Newark) and “too much coffee, too little food.” He also had a thing for hats, sporting various fine examples of haberdashery throughout the series. To relax, he fishes under the Park Avenue Bridge, a short walk from his apartment, or works in the community garden.

Easy grew up in foster homes in and around Newark. Somewhere along the line, he got involved in boxing, and had nine pro fights. He served in Vietnam as an MP, and when he left around 1960, he was still the Army’s light heavyweight champ. Returning Stateside, he joined the Newark Police Department, while attending night school to get a degree in Police Science. Eventually he landed his sheepskin, and took the sergeant’s test, placing fifth. He then had to sit on his ass and watch forty or fifty white cops promoted ahead of him. Ticked off by the apparent racism, Easy chucked his eleven-year career to become a P.I. in 1971.

Just a regular guy’s guy, then. Okay, so his best friend is known as “Angel the Sex Change,” a flamboyant Hispanic trans-sexual rendered in broad but sympathetic strokes here. Angel was a man, but now a full-time Jersey girl, a sometime stripper/dancer/snitch and often Easy’s best source for inside police info. She’s also the source of the groan-inducing malapropisms that comprise the titles of this series.

And she has the hots for Easy, a feeling that isn’t exactly mutual. Easy still thinks of her as a “he.” “I’m too old to go changing my point of view,” he admits. Still, Angel is his best friend, and Angel stands by her.

Easy describes his job as “one-third bank drops and payroll pick-ups, one-third motel-watching for divorce cases, and one-third waiting for some merchant’s stockboy to back up to the loading dock after hours. Maybe twice a year something more interesting rolls in.”

For when that something more interesting rolls in, Easy’s prepared–he has a Colt .38 revolver, a Colt .22 automatic, a Smith and Wesson .38, and a Charter Arms .44 Bulldog. He prefers a Bianchi quick-draw holster, and he carries a thin steel gardening knife in his hip pocket. He also has a bullet-proof vest, lockpicks tucked away in a fake ballpoint pen, and a thick, night-stick style aluminium flashlight.

All this plays well against the fact that Easy’s actually a pretty peaceful guy–he prefers fishing and gardening in his spare time. And that’s another treat in this series–the very real sense of community in these books, exemplified by Easy’s committment to the the local garden. The neighbourhood is truly Easy’s family.

The first book in the series, 1987’s Snake in the Grasses, takes place in 1978, and the second, Pieces of Cream, takes place six years later, and Pillow of the Community makes another leap. It’s this time-leaping technique that’s subsequently become something of a trademark in Walter Mosley’s series. In fact, I’ve always wondered about the fact that Mosley’s hero and Hilary’s share the same nickname.

Coincidence? Or a tip of the fedora?


Don’t know much, except that “Richard Hilary” was a joint pseudonym of Richard Bodino & Hilary Connors.


  • “Ezell Barnes is in the front ranks of the new breed of inner-city knight errant.”
    — Loren D. Estleman
  • “It’s both rare and exciting to encounter something new in the modern detective story, and in Snake in the Grasses there is a fresh perspective on not one but several fronts.”
    — Stephen Greenleaf



Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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