"Blood Grove" by Walter Mosley; Mulholland Books, 320 pages, $27.
Walter Mosley’s books about Easy Rawlins are crime fiction, not history. But taken together, they’re a vivid picture of Black life in Los Angeles in the mid-20th century.
Mosley writes in many genres, and he does it so well that the National Book Foundation gave him its 2020 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters a few months ago. He’s published more than 50 books, but the best known are in the Rawlins series.
The series began with "Devil in a Blue Dress," published in 1990 but set just after World War II. Easy Rawlins arrived in L.A. as a young Black man, a combat veteran of the war and, given his upbringing in Louisiana and Texas, a walking example of the Great Migration. Having had enough of taking orders, he set up his own business as a private investigator.
Mosley’s new novel, "Blood Grove," is the 15th in the series. It’s set in 1969, and Easy is almost 50, still plying his trade as a private detective with connections on both sides of the law.
His business is a success, with several employees, but Easy still deals every day with the same old challenge: “In America everything is about either race or money or some combination of the two.”
A client who owes him a lot of money has given him a canary-yellow Rolls-Royce Phantom VI as collateral, but Easy’s pleasure in driving the car is so spoiled by being constantly pulled over by the cops that he stores it in a friend’s garage.
Easy is alone in his company’s offices one morning when he’s startled to realize that a visitor has made it all the way to his office door without being seen or heard. The young white man, Craig Killian, is a Vietnam veteran who has brought home jungle survival skills and a bad case of PTSD. But that’s not why he’s in Easy’s office.
He tells the detective he’s had a strange encounter at a remote spot called Blood Grove, for the blood oranges grown there. Camping near a cabin, he heard a woman screaming. He saw a white woman tied to a tree, then got into a fight with a Black man, then blacked out. Both people were strangers to him, but Killian thinks he might have stabbed the man to death, and he wants Rawlins to find out.
It’s a bizarre case that will get stranger by the minute, but Easy feels a soldier’s camaraderie with the troubled Killian, so he starts looking into it.
There are distractions along the way, of course. As Easy notes, “The late sixties were the cream-filled center of the sexual revolution.”
He’s also worried about his adopted daughter, Feather, just turning into a teenager. The two are living at a fabulous mountaintop compound called Brighthope Canyon, owned by a wealthy friend of Easy’s. Their house is a fanciful round tower with a garden of rosebushes on its roof.
But that fairy-tale keep might not be enough to protect Feather. Easy has been her guardian since her parents were murdered when she was an infant, and she’s his heart. When, after a decade, her uncle shows up out of the blue, a hitchhiking hippie who wants to meet her, Easy is filled with dread.