Trouble is What I do by Walter Mosley
‘That phone number got me a night of bliss, a broken wrist, and, in the end, it cost a man his life. But that’s another story.’
And so it is, a throw away that just gives the reader an idea of Mosley’s ease with a wittily intriguing turn of phrase. Mosley has created two of the most robust and entertaining detectives in modern crime fiction; Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins and Leonid McGill. The Easy novels chronicle a large slice of post WWII American history from the perspective of a black detective on the west coast. Leonid speaks to the modern experience of a black New York gumshoe, sadly illustrating that not enough has changed in the world, as recent events point up all too well. In that, these are very political and very relevant novels. Trouble is What I Do takes a sideswipe at what’s behind the Trumpian demagoguery and the, (still!), deeply racist nature of old American money and privilege.
Politics aside; for all their flaws, Easy and Leonid are likable characters and Mosley is a born storyteller and a veritable ideas factory. He has a way of setting a story running inside the main story that works to illuminate the important theme and later entwines with the heart of the action. It’s a pleasure reading about Leonid McGill, his complicated life and messy family affairs as well as his deadly cases. That said this is the least complex of his tales, a slight story, more a novella than a novel. There aren’t so many strands to pull together and I miss that, even though this is still a pulpy pleasure I would not want to forgo.
It all starts when Mardi Bitterman informs Leonid McGill they have visitors:
‘She’s the detective agency’s secretary-receptionist and also the human barometer that helps maintain my moral bearings in a world where sin is reflex and kindness a quick death.’
A tall young man with a battered guitar case, Lamont Richards and his ninety-two year-old grandfather, Philip Worry, known as Catfish, an old blues man, stand in Leonid’s office with a strange request. Catfish wants Leonid to deliver a letter to a white socialite, daughter of a private bank owner, descended from a family that dates back to the Mayflower. Justine is about to get married, the letter from her grandmother, Lucinda Pitts Sternman, was entrusted to Catfish a long time ago with instructions on when to deliver. It contains secrets about the family history that her father, said banker, would be prepared to kill to avoid her finding out. The case brings Leonid back in touch with his own past, the time he had to face down a deadly assassin and lived to tell the tale, (fortunately this time they might be on the same side). Leonid soon has to put Catfish and the grandson into hiding as they become targets, the links between the respectable city gent, with political connections, and the city’s most feared gangster become apparent.
Never was delivering a letter so complicated but it’s a lot of fun seeing Leonid try to make it happen. Leonid is best in a tight spot and he’s a very smart man when the fists won’t get it done he can figure something out. Mosley’s hardboiled detective stories are stylish and wholly in the best of traditions but with that richly flavoured, often bitter and brutal, black experience. I would like more meat on the bones but this is an exciting and entertaining story and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
W&N, hardback, ISBN 9781474616522, February, 2020.

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