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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel

There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins Mystery


Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins Mystery Cover





The morning air still smelled of smoke. Wood ash mainly but there was also the acrid stench of burnt plastic and paint. And even though I knew it couldn?t be true, I thought I caught a whiff of putrid flesh from under the rubble across the street. The hardware store and Bernard?s Stationery Store were both completely gutted. The Gonzalez Market had been looted but only a part of its roof had been scorched. The corner building, however, Lucky Dime Liquors, had been burned to the ground. Manny Massman was down in the rubble with his two sons, kicking the metal fixtures. At one point the middle-aged store owner lowered his head and cried. His sons put their hands on his shoulders.

I understood how he felt. He had everything in that liquor store. His whole life. And now, after a five-day eruption of rage that had been simmering for centuries, he was penniless and destitute.

In his mind he hadn?t done a thing wrong to anyone down in Watts. He had never even thought about calling someone a nigger or boy. But the men and women down around Central and Eighty-sixth Place took everything of Manny?s that they could carry, then smashed and burned the rest.

Four young black men passed in front of the liquor lot. One of them shouted something at the white men.

Manny barked back.

The youths stopped.

The Massman sons stepped forward with their chests out and their mouths full of angry sounds.

It?s starting all over again, I thought. Maybe we?ll be rioting a whole year. Maybe it won?t ever end.

The black men crossed the threshold of the Lucky Dime?s property line.

Stephen Massman bent down to pick up a piece of metal that had once been attached to their counter.

One of the angry youths shoved Martin.

I held my breath.

?Halt!? a man shouted through a megaphone.

A dozen or more soldiers appeared out of nowhere. A black soldier wearing a helmet and camouflage khakis talked to the black men while four white soldiers stood in an arc in front of the store owners. The rest of the troop stood across the property line cutting off the ravaged lot from the street.

Most of the National Guardsmen brandished rifles. A crowd was gathering. My hands clenched into fists so tight that my right forearm went into a spasm.

While I massaged out the knot of pain, the black soldier, a sergeant, calmed the four youths. I could hear his voice but my fourth-story window was too far away for me to make out the words.

I turned away from the scene and fell into the plush blue chair that sat at my desk. For the next hour I just sat there, hearing the sounds of people in the street but not daring to look down.

It had been like that for the past five days: me holding myself in check while South Los Angeles went up in the flames of a race riot; while stores were looted and snipers fired and while men, women, and children cried ?Burn, baby, burn!? and ?Get whitey!? on every corner familiar to me.

I stayed shut up in my home, in peaceful West L.A., not drinking and not going out with a trunk full of Molotov cocktails.


WHEN I FINALLY roused myself the street down below was full of black people, some venturing out of their homes for the first time since the first night of rioting. Most of them looked stunned.

I went to my office door and out into the hall.

There was the smell of smoke in the building too, but not much. Steinman?s Shoe Repair was the only store that had been torched. That was on the first night, when the fire trucks still braved the hails of sniper bullets. The flames were put out before they could spread.

I went to the far stairwell from my office and down the three flights to Steinman?s side entrance. There was a burnt timber blocking the way. I would have turned around if it weren?t for the voices.

?What the hell you mean you don?t have my shoes, white man??

?Everything is burned up,? a frail voice replied in a mild German accent.

?That?s not my fault, man,? the angry voice said. ?I give you my shoes, I expect to get them back.?

?They are all burned.?

?And do you think if this was my store that I could tell you I didn?t have nuthin? for ya?? the customer said. ?Do you think a black man could just say his store done burned down so he don?t have to make good on his responsibilities??

?I don?t have your shoes.?

I shoved the timber out of the way, smudging the palms of my hands with sooty charcoal. When I came into the burned-out room, both occupants turned to look at me.

Theodore was a short, powerfully built white man with little hair and big hands. The irate customer was much larger, with a wide chest and a big face that would have been beautiful on a woman.

?Hey, Theodore,? I said.

?Wait your turn, man,? the Negro customer warned. ?I got business to take care of first.?

He swiveled his head back to the cobbler and said, ?Those shoes costed me thirty-six dollars and if you can?t give ?em up right now I want to see some money across this here hand.?

I took a quick breath and then another. There was an electric tingle over my right cheekbone and for a moment the room was tinged in red.

?Brother,? I said. ?You got to go.?

?Are you talkin? to me, niggah??

?You heard me,? I said in a tone that you can?t make up. ?I been in the house for some time now, trying not to break out and start doin? wrong. I?ve been patient and treadin? softly. But if you say one more word to my friend here I will break you like a matchstick and throw you out in the street.?

?I want my shoes,? the big beautiful man said with tears in his voice. ?He owe it to me. It don?t matter what they did.?

I heard his cracked tone. I knew that he was just as crazy as I was at that moment. We were both black men filled with a passionate rage that was too big to be held in. I didn?t want to fight but I knew that once I started, the only thing that would stop me would be his lifeless throat crushed by my hand.

?Here you are, sir,? Theodore said.

He was handing over a ten-dollar bill.

?Your shoes were old, you know,? the shoemaker said. ?And they both needed soles. It was a good make and I would have bought them for seven dollars. So here?s ten.?

The burly man stared at the note a moment. Then he looked up at me.

?Forget it,? he said.

He turned around so quickly that he lost his balance for a moment and had to reach out for a broken, charred timber for support.

?Ow!? he shouted, probably because of a splinter, but I can?t say for sure because he blundered out, tearing the front door off of its last hinge as he went.

There was a sleek antique riding saddle on the floor, under a shattered wooden chair. I moved away the kindling and picked up the saddle. Theodore had received it from his uncle who was a riding master in Munich before World War I. I?d always admired the leatherwork.

Setting the riding gear on a fairly stable part of his ruined worktable, I said, ?You didn?t have to pay him, Mr. Steinman.?

?He was hurting,? the small man replied. ?He wanted justice.?

?That?s not your job.?

?It is all of our job,? he said, staring at me with blue eyes. ?You cannot forget that.?

?Ezekiel Rawlins??

It was a question asked in a voice filled with authority. It was a white man?s voice. Putting those bits of information together, I knew that I was being addressed by the police.

Copyright © 2004 by Walter Mosley

Product Details

Mosley, Walter
Grand Central Publishing
Mystery & Detective - General
Edition Number:
Edition Description:
Easy Rawlins Mysteries
Publication Date:
July 5, 2004
8 x 5.25 x 1 in 0.59 lb

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Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins Mystery Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.95 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Little Brown and Company - English 9780316073035 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Set during the Watts riots of 1965, this eighth entry in Mosley's acclaimed Easy Rawlins series (Bad Boy Brawly Brown, etc.) demonstrates the reach and power of the genre, combining a deeply involving mystery with vigorous characterizations and probing commentary about race relations in America. Easy Rawlins, 45, is — like the rest of black L.A. — angry: 'the angry voice in my heart that urged me to go out and fight after all the hangings I had seen, after all of the times I had been called nigger and all of the doors that had been slammed in my face.' But Easy stays out of the fiery streets until a white cop and his bosses recruit him to identify the murderer of a young black woman, Nola Payne; the cops suspect an unidentified white man whom Nola sheltered during the riots, and are worried that if they pursue the case, word will leak and the riots will escalate. Easy, an unlicensed PI who also works as a school custodian, agrees to investigate, drawing into his quest several series regulars, including the stone killer Mouse, the magical healer Mama Jo and his own family. There's also a sexy young woman whose allure, like that of the violent streets, threatens to smash the life of integrity he has so carefully built. In time, Easy focuses on a homeless black man as the killer, not only of Nola but of perhaps 20 other black women, all of whom had hooked up with white men. This is Mosley's best novel to date: the plot is streamlined and the language simple yet strong, allowing the serpentine story line to support Easy's amazingly complex character and hypnotic narration as Mosley plunges us into his world and, by extension, the world of all blacks in white-run America. Fierce, provocative, expertly entertaining, this is genre writing at its finest. (July 5) Forecast: Strong reviews, Mosley's rep and word of mouth will get this title onto lists quickly; a 30-city author tour will add lift. Expect this to be Mosley's biggest seller yet." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "[Little Scarlet] is being touted as Mosley's best book yet, and it may well be....Mosley juggles the disparate elements of his tale masterfully....This time, he comes up with a winner. (Grade: A)"
"Review" by , "Easy Rawlins sizzles as Watts burns....The real strength of Easy's his unflinching recognition that in working with the police, he's crossing the same border that's driven his brothers and sisters to violence."
"Review" by , "Mosley returns to top form....Mosley remains a master at showing his readers slices of history from the inside, from a perspective that is all those things history usually isn't: intimate, individual, and passionate."
"Review" by , "Mosley's hot streak continues with Little Scarlet, the best Easy novel in years. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "Little Scarlet...does a thoughtful, effective job of making [its] sense of racial outrage pivotal to its murder plot....What makes it more than a genre piece is Easy's insight into how the world is changing around him."
"Review" by , "Little so filled with rage that I almost put it down. But Mosley's writing is so beautiful, so powerful, that I let the anger boil off the pages to the side of me while I stayed in it and finished what is a great novel, a significant addition to the story of America."
"Review" by , "Little Scarlet is tightly woven, as propulsive as a bullet, a book that's almost literally impossible to put down."
"Review" by , "Little Scarlet is a wonderful character driven novel — entertaining and pertinent to our times."
"Review" by , "[A] fine, tense, taut mystery....Mosley's novel is leaner, less atmospheric than his previous books, but the racist self-hatreds, horrors, terrors and tribulations are more apparent, more passionate and fervent..."
"Review" by , "Mosley's crackling dialogue and sly humor infuse every page....[T]he work of a master who makes it all look, well, easy. It's a book that...constantly surprises, even on the final page."
"Review" by , "Some mystery writers have a brilliant book or two in them, then just go through the motions....Then there are the precious few, who start with an amazing book and just keep getting better. Mosley is one of those."
"Review" by , "[Mosley] takes us along for a fascinating ride to a place most of us will never visit. It is as exotic as Tibet and as familiar as our own city."
"Review" by , "Little Scarlet is a terrific yarn from a tormented moment in recent American history."
"Review" by , "[A] novel full of interesting characters and important issues....Like any good serial, though, it also leaves readers wanting to know more about our hero and what predicament he'll find himself in next."
"Review" by , "Indignation, ferocity, excoriation scorch the pages of Little Scarlet like a fiery sermon, powerful for its nuance, poignant for its humanity and all the more compassionate for coming from the heart and mind of Easy Rawlins."
"Review" by , "Mosley has a unique voice that remains fresh and he tells a damn good story. Little Scarlet is a compelling portrait of a painful era, peopled by living, breathing, unforgettable characters. This may be Walter Mosley's best."
"Review" by , "Little Scarlet is a masterwork. Walter Mosley is one of America's most exciting, incisive writers."
"Review" by , "Little Scarlet works so well because it operates on two distinct levels: as a compelling cat-and-mouse game and as a dead-eyed examination of the injustices inherent in racism."
"Synopsis" by , An irresistible story of love and death amid the flames of the hottest summer L.A. has ever seen, this latest Easy Rawlins mystery takes place during the devastating 1965 Watts riots. Easy's hunt for a killer reveals a new city emerging from the ashes — and a new life for Easy and his friends.
"Synopsis" by , Walter Mosley delivers at last the compelling master work everyone's been waiting for--a novel so intriguing, so soulful, so unstoppably dramatic that it will rank among the classic mysteries of our time.

At the height of the riots that cripple LA in the summer of 1965, a white man is pulled from his car by a mob and escapes into a nearby apartment building. Soon afterward, a red-headed woman known as Little Scarlet is found dead in that apartment building--and the fleeing man is the obvious suspect. The police ask Easy Rawlins to investigate. What he finds is a killer whose rage, like that which burned the city for weeks, is intrinsically woven around race and passion. Rawlins's hunt for the killer will reveal a new city emerging from the ashes--and a new life for Easy and his friends.

Mosley's lean and muscular vernacular captures the heat and the rhythm of Los Angeles' heart, where danger is the common currency of everyday life.

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