by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley an astute chronicler outward expressions 
of inner angst.

He's also a street-hip conjurer, as he reveals in Black Betty,
the fourth installation of his Easy Rawlins mystery series.

This trip, Mosley dumps the reader into the opulence and squalor
of Los Angeles, where he offers a window into this
netherworld -- and just dares you to look through it. 
It's not pretty.

Black Betty is set in 1961, but its themes -- mainly black
people's survival in the Americas -- are not only contemporary
but eternal. The book's namesake is a booze-swilling prostitute
who's actually far from the centre of attention -- she's yet
another character from Easy's past who serves as a prompt for
the action.

Easy's been offered nice coin -- from Saul Lynx, a greaseball
white private eye -- to look for Betty. And everywhere he looks,
somebody dies.

So if your taste in mystery leans toward anything like bumbling
TV dick Columbo, hot on the trail of a missing highbred hound --
then leave this epic where you find it.

Here, violence flows freely -- the palette for a portrait of
desperation. It's a searing testimony to the instincts of people
with no real options on the horizon.

All Easy wants is to raise his "adopted" kids, Feather and
Jesus, while running his legit realty company. Instead he's
forced to face down thug cops and thugs copping attitude,
countless racists and sellout blacks.

How does he manage? Easy. Everyone's survival mechanism should
house an inert Easy -- ever poised to kill rather than be killed
if pressed to the limit. Unfortunately, Easy tightropes that
fine line every day.

Be forewarned, Mosley's imagery is candid - not candied. It
lures you in with Easy's easygoing humour, then assails your
senses with menacing visions of murder-bent hustlers.

But Easy's reasoning has street credibility and he gets it
without feeding into stereotypes of the universal black struggle.

Hope is a buried treasure only found -- between these pages,
anyway -- if you can gut such a shocking view of existential carnage.

-- sigcino moyo
original publication: NOW