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Walter Mosley resurrects his famous private eye, Easy Rawlins, in newest book

AuthorsLiteratureBookArtEnoch Pratt Free Library

Sherlock Holmes un-kicked the bucket way back in 1894. More than a century later, even though Harry Potter ends up on the wrong side of a killing curse, he un-bites the dust.

In "Game of Thrones," Beric Dondarrion has un-bought the farm at least six times, despite having been hanged, impaled by a lance, bashed in the head with a mace and stabbed through the eye with a dagger. And that's just by the end of the third season.

So author Walter Mosley had ample precedent to un-pull the plug on his most famous fictional creation, Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins. Sure, it's been six years since the heartbroken World War II vet drunkenly drove his car off a cliff on the Pacific Coast Highway at the end of "Blonde Faith." And sure, as Mosley reiterated in interviews when the book was released in 2007, he definitely intended to finish Easy off, once and for all.

But none of that is preventing the African-American private eye from directly addressing readers in the opening sentences of Mosley's newest novel, "Little Green."

"I came half-awake, dead and dreaming," Easy recalls. "My eyes were open but I couldn't focus on anything because I was still falling as if the nightmare had followed me from sleep into the waking world. I didn't know where I was or where I'd come from."

No matter. Mosley's fans are just glad that Easy's back.

In "Little Green," once Easy wakes up from the coma in which he has spent the previous two months, he quickly begins a new case. At the behest of his best friend, Mouse, Easy searches for a teen named Evander Noon, who disappeared during an acid trip in the midst of the psychedelic haze that was Los Angeles in 1967. Easy's investigation brings him into contact with drifters, drug lords and other denizens of the Sunset Strip.

The 61-year-old Mosley, who will visit the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Tuesday as part of his book tour, is nearly as indefatigable as his fictional creation. The author of 37 novels, five works of nonfiction and a play, Mosley also has won a Grammy Award for writing the liner notes for a Richard Pryor album. An exhibit of his artwork opened last month in New York.

Mosley recently spoke about his varied artistic output and what the social changes of the '60s and '70s might mean for his fictional African-American detective.

What inspired you to bring back Easy?

I started to get interested in him again. A novel should be an experience, a discovery, and I had lost interest because writing the books had become too easy. No pun intended.

I just started thinking about him again. I thought how the story would go, how would I bring him back, what would happen, the details of the book. I thought that he'd be in a coma for a while, and there'd be a case waiting for him when he woke up.

Most of my other books, fiction and nonfiction, have been about redemption. But this book is about resurrection. It's about actually experiencing death and feeling death and death being right there and you not going there, you going the other way, back to life.

"Little Green" is your 12th novel to feature Easy. Will there be a 13th?

I've already finished it. It's called "Rose Gold." I'd like it to come out about a year from now.

You've said in the past that you'd like to write enough Easy Rawlins novels to bring him into the 21st century. Is that still your plan?

I may do. I'm not really thinking about that right now. Right now I'm interested in the '60s and '70s, and I'm going to stay there for a while. It's a very transitional period in American culture for black people and for women. It's also when we begin to understand ourselves as an international power, even though we have actually been an international power for a long time.

Your books are written in period dialect, and they contain some hot-button ethnic slurs. Just reading those scenes made my chest tighten up, and I wondered if they were difficult to write.

Nope, not in the least. You know, novels are repositories of language, and there's no word that's truly profane or bad. I don't think I'm gratuitous about it.

If I were writing a novel before 1910 in which women were subservient to men and I didn't use the language that was common at the time, I'd feel bad about it. In my opinion, it would be a false representation because I'd be lying about the political journey of women.

You caused a stir a while back when you gave up an advance for one of your novels to publish instead with the Black Classic Press, which is based here in Baltimore. Do you anticipate further collaborations with them?

I have no plans to do it, but Paul [Coates] and I are good friends. If I ever want to publish another book with them, I think Paul will do it.

Literature is one of the vertebrae in the spine of culture. If you don't control your own curating of culture, at least to some degree, then you don't exist inside the literary canon. Black publishers in general, and the Black Classic Press specifically, are very important for that reason.

An exhibit of your artwork, "Alien Script" opens Monday at the Kimmel Center in New York. Do drawing and writing express different parts of you?

I've been drawing for 49 years, and I have thousands of drawings. I was showing them to a curator one day, and she said, "We could do a show."

I used to draw first thing in the morning. Then, when I started to write, that pushed the drawing aside. Now, I write first thing in the morning.

Writing to me is very realistic. It's like painting the world: what things look like, how people move, where are people in the world. My drawing is completely fanciful. I have no talent and no interest in the human body or in rendering a three-dimensional perspective.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you go

Author Walter Mosley will read from his new book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the central Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St. Free. Call 410-396-5430 or go to prattlibrary.org.

About the book

"Little Green" was released May 14 by the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. $25.95, 306 pages.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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