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on 11 August 2017
Great to revisit this wonderful story. Now want the red in the series.
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on 1 January 2003
Although the author may tire of such comparisons between himself and the great Raymond Chandler, there is no better way of describing the street-wise, hard-boiled, and downright sexy way his character Easy Rawlins swaggers through a story. To describe him though as a black Philip Marlowe would demean his very essence, in that he is unquestionably his own man.
Set in LA in the 50's this is as far from Happy Days as can be. Our anti-hero is a veteran of WWII, who makes occasional reference to his experiences during the conflict, and how they have moulded him. He enjoys hard liquor and harder company, but above all he loves women. They of course land him in more trouble than he can handle, as he sets out to earn a wage as a Private Eye.
It is the truly remarkable skill as a writer that Moseley can take such a seemingly stereo-typical character, and make me as a reader believe in him. His greatest triumph being that by the end of the book I actually cared as to what happened to him as a person, rather than just the story itself.
This book stands out amoungst the Easy Rawlins saga as a whole due to its singular characters, and plot-line. Saying that though, I challange anyone to read it and not be at least tempted to read one other (for which you will be pleasantly rewarded).
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TOP 500 REVIEWERTOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 September 2017
I had the opportunity to read Walter Mosley's novel "Devil in a Blue Dress" (1990) when it was presented as part of a Black Voices reading group at the local public library. It was my first experience with the author. Mosley (b. 1952) is best-known for his series of noir mysteries featuring a tough African American detective named Easy (Exekiel) Rawlins. Although I have some familiarity with noir, this book was also the first I have read with an African American protagonist and a predominantly African American setting. "Devil in a Blue Dress" was the Mosley's first novel. In 1995, it became a movie starring Denzil Washington.

The story is set in the Watts area of Los Angeles in 1948. The hero, Easy Rawlins, immigrated to Los Angeles from an even rougher area in Houston. He saw extensive combat experience in WW II where he was fearsome in hand-to-hand combat and killed many German soldiers. Rawlins wants a peaceful, successful life. He completes his high school education and contemplates college. He gets a good job as a machinist in an aircraft production plant and saves enough money to buy a small house with a garden which he loves. Due to an altercation with his boss, Rawlins is fired and fears he will not be able to meet his monthly mortgage payment.

In his leisure time, Rawlins drinks at a small out-of-the way bar owned by an ex-boxer, Joppy. Joppy introduces Rawlins to a white man, DeWitt Albright of questionable business and connections. Albright offers to pay Rawlins for information about the location of a young white woman, Daphne Monet, who is known to frequent African American establishments in the Watts area.

With misgivings, Rawlins accepts the job and gradually realizes the trouble he has brought on himself. Finding Daphne brings Rawlins into a complex picture of murders, double-crosses and mysteries. Along the way, Rawlins is arrested and beaten by the Los Angeles police and nearly loses his life at the hands of several competing parties with their own reasons for finding Daphne. Several of Rawlins' friends are killed. In the process of the tale, Rawlins introduces a welter of sinister yet fascinating characters including Rawlins' violent friend "Mouse", Albright, and Daphne herself. The plot is tangled.

Character development and atmospheric portrayal of late 1940's Los Angeles are much more important to this book than plot development. The book offers a grittily realistic portrayal of African American life in the Watts of its time as the scene shifts among several bars, rooming houses, brothels, liquor stores. Much of the story shows the nature of African American -- white relationships as Rawlins is harassed by the police, fired from his job, and thwarted in his efforts. Rawlins and Albright are in a way complimentary characters. Daphne is a pivotal figure in the racial tension developed in the novel.

The book makes highly effective use of African American speech patterns. "Easy" Rawlins develops and gains trust in himself during the book. He calls upon his war experience and his toughness to stay with the situation and not run away after he finds himself in over his head. At critical points in the story, he listens to an internal "voice" which tells him what to do. A basically conscientious and decent man, Rawlins learns to hold his head high and to do what he needs to do in the situations that present themselves.

The story became relatively clear with close reading. The portrayal of Los Angeles life, the character development, and the observations about relationships between African Americans and whites, help bring this book to a level beyond noir fiction. I was glad of the opportunity to get to know this book.

Robin Friedman
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on 22 October 2013
This was October's monthly Pulp Fiction Group read over on Goodreads site. I can't honestly recall whether I voted for this or one of the three alternatives, but having read this debut novel many years ago, I wasn't too unhappy to re-visit it.
Mosley's Devil In A Blue Dress was originally published back around 1990 and introduces us to one of the author's enduring characters - Easy Rawlins. To date, there have been twelve books in the series. Ten of the titles have colours in them; red, white, black, yellow etc - and two titles, curiously in my opinion don't - Gone Fishin' and Six Easy Pieces. (Anyone know why? Just curious.)

Easy Rawlins is a black man getting by in LA after the war. A veteran of the conflict, Rawlins has seen and participated in his share of killing. Until recently he's been working as a mechanic at an aviation plant. Rawlins has pride, which for a black man can be an expensive commodity in post-war LA. You can hate him for his colour, but you better respect him. After losing his job at the plant, an acquaintance points mighty whitey De Witt Allbright in Easy's direction. Allbright want to engage Easy to find Daphne Monet. Easy with his home to protect and his mortgage coming due accepts the job.

Rawlins starts asking questions around Monet's haunts. After a late night drinking session and then more intimate discussion with Coretta James, after her man passes out drunk, Easy gets pumped himself for detail. A day or so later he's arrested and beaten by the police for reasons then unknown. When our man finds out that Coretta is dead and certain other parties seem interested in locating Daphne, LA becomes a dangerous place for a black man who can either be a patsy for the police and framed for the death of Coretta or a casualty at the hands of Allbright if Easy doesn't come through for him.

Verdict.......short at 220 pages long, detailed with a great depiction of LA shortly after the war. Mosley shows us life within the black community and the problems encountered when crossing over the racial boundary geographically and also when interacting with white authority. There's a reasonable amount of carnage and death along the way, as Easy with the assistance of an old friend, Mouse eventually survives the fall out to breathe another day. (Having previously mentioned that this is the start of a long-ish series, I hardly think I've gone and spoilt it for you!)

I'm looking forward to reading more from the series in the next year or two - only 11 to catch up on!

4 from 5

I acquired my copy recently second hand and cheap after being unable to locate my original
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 April 2013
Thought this was one I should read, as a good example of the genre.
It's adequate, definitely, but not for me as good as Raymond Chandler.
The elements are there: hard boiled detective, murder and mystery, the Woman (or two), dark powerful men. What was missing? The humour! Maybe I've been spoiled watching Humphrey Bogart in Chandler's films but this seemed to take itself a bit too seriously.

Also, listening to the audiobook did mean concentration was essential so it didn't get confusing.

Not my favourite genre so I'm maybe not the best judge but I like a bit of humour with my murders :)
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on 27 January 2010
This novel paints a picture of post war black america where the black race were still subjected to segregation and racism even after giving the same as their white counterparts during the war... Easy Rawlings find shimself in a world dominated not only by white authority figures but the rising power of capitalism, a world where money matters more than the colour of your skin... he has to help daphne, who herself is a metaphor for the prejudice of peoples perception, to escape the life that has befalen her. Add to mix the maniacal mouse, dirty cops and loose cannon Dewitt Albright this book is a classic
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on 20 May 2011
I was so captivated by Mosley's latest novel ("When the Thrill is Gone"), which I happened upon by accident, that I thought I'd go back to where it all seemed to start for him.

"Devil...." is very different and features a different protagonist and world. Easy Rawlins is an African-American ex-soldier who has just lost his job while living in LA in the late forties. But he owns a home and doesn't want to miss his next repayment so takes on a job to find a missing woman on behalf of a rich man.

Easy is very well-known and he certainly knows everybody in shady circles and is quite prepared to operate on both sides of the law's fine lines. He is though somebody the reader aligns with readily.

I liked the setting and the descriptions of the times. The hunt and story are not complex although I did get thrown by names occasionally. There was enough crime mystery there, with a twist or two, for the novel to sit in this genre, although some may view the book as a social commentary of the times first. It is also not a long book.

The writing style, pace and structure will likely appeal more to readers of Chandler and Hammett than followers of Child or Kernick.

I have really warmed to Mosley as a writer, however, and will be buying up more books for my Kindle, with the bias in favour of his more recent protagonist, Leonid McGill, who appeared in ".....Thrill....".
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 November 2011
"Devil in a Blue Dress," (1990), was the first in what would prove to be the ten entry Easy Rawlins series, much discussed, honored and analyzed, by Walter Mosley, a mixed-race native of Los Angeles. This mystery/thriller/neo-noir is set in 1948 Los Angeles. In it, a white stranger, DeWitt Albright, finds the newly unemployed black World War II veteran Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins, at a friend's black community-oriented bar. Albright dangles a nice check, and asks Rawlins to locate for him a missing white woman, who seems to prefer to live in the black community.

However, Rawlins, who, it occurs to me, might well be characterized as experiencing post traumatic stress syndrome as a WWII vet, though nobody recognizes this possibility, soon realizes he has gotten more than he bargained for, as he finds himself entangled in a murder mystery, dealing with crooked, racist cops; ruthless politicians, and brutal thugs. He also comes to realize that Daphne Monet, the missing woman, is a key figure in the hotly contested upcoming LA mayoral race; she is the fiancée of a wealthy local blue blood, Todd Carter, who is one of the candidates.

This emotional, dark and gritty period piece, as well as launching the Rawlins series, introduced the menacing, though small of stature "Mouse" Alexander, psychotic old killer friend of Rawlins's, who would often reappear. The whodunit is racially charged, exploring the realities of being black in racist post-war LA., as well as a resonant portrait of its place and time, and the color line that people dared cross only at their peril.

The book's plot is multi-layered and complex. So much so that, even after repeatedly viewing the film based on it, and reading the book, both of which I love, and knowing who killed whom, I am never sure who killed whom ten minutes later. Some readers may dislike the book for its many characters and complex plot; its plentiful sex and violence, and use of the N-word, but I think it accurately reflects the world in which it is set. It makes race an equal influence (with money, power and connections) on the plot and the characters. It has always seemed to me that the conclusion of the book somewhat echoes Dashiell Hammett's great The Maltese Falcon (Crime Masterworks). And I've always wondered about the possible influence of the 1966 song "Devil with a Blue Dress On," by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.

The book, the series, which concluded in 2009, and Mosley's entire output, has clearly been influenced by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, the universally respected LA-based authors of hardboiled mystery novels. Mosley, who also credits Graham Greene as an influence, has become a prominent American novelist. He has penned more than 33 books in a variety of genres, but is most known for his crime fiction, specifically this best selling historical Rawlins series; of the ten entries, all but two have a color in their titles. The novel and the series are important in black/ethnic detective fiction, as they focus on a protagonist who begins as a day laborer but becomes a detective. It's also notable that Rawlins, although an educated man, often falls into the Black English of his community when thinking, or in discussion with others.

Mosley's mother, Ella (née Slatkin), was a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor; his father, Leroy Mosley, was a WWII vet, and a black supervising custodian at a Los Angeles public school. (In later books of the Rawlins series, Mosley will give Rawlins this same day job). Mosley's parents tried to marry in 1951 but, although the union was legal in California where they lived, no one would give them a license. Mosley once took a writing course at City College in Harlem; one of his tutors there, the prize-winning Irish novelist Edna O'Brien, became a mentor to him and encouraged him, saying, "You're Black, Jewish, with a poor upbringing; there are riches therein". I have always thought DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS was unusually close to the author's bone; he'd never venture so close again. However, I can also recommend the deeply-felt Black Betty (Mask Noir), about a black servant, and A Red Death (Mask Noir), about Jewish Holocaust survivors: both are powerful stuff.
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on 8 April 2011
This is the first of the Easy Rawlins series and it is very well done. Of particular note is the striking feel for black Los Angeles in late 40's and early 50's that Mosley conveys effortlessly. The mystery is a bit convoluted but convinces on the level of the messiness of reality if nothing else. The dialog has been smoothed out somewhat to strike a balance between street talk and mainstream English, and occasionally it jars, but it's a minor point and does not detract from the flow of the story. Because we are 60 years down the road from the time of the events, the cops look a bit stereotypically nasty and corrupt, but they accurately reflect how things were then. Recommended.
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on 6 September 2012
I loved this book the first time I read it. It introduced me to the world of Easy Rawlins a black WW2 veteran in post war LA . It has been a long friendship. I suggested this book to my book club and took the opportunity to re-read it myself. The dialogue is as fresh as ever . The characters are fully rounded individual from the start. With time we come to know them well,if they survive!!!!. This story involves the search for a missing white girl in the black area of LA. Along the way we explore the seedier side of life , and the search by a man for his place in life and his struggle to keep it. The dialogue varies almost seamlessly from standard english to the patois and slang of black LA and the southern states of the USA. Not to make too much of the novel it explores the reality of life in post war america for black men who have seen white men die as easily as they do themselves in war. Thus leaving the way open for a different world
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