Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley

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Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley is heavy on characters, heavy on setting and is heavy on cool as befitting an Easy Rawlins mystery. This is book fourteen of the series and picks up Rawlins in Los Angeles, circa the late 1960s, as he begins his new Detective Agency. Life is looking up for Easy as he has a windfall from a prior case, he’s getting ready to propose to the woman he loves and his new partnership has him working alongside friends he trusts and loves.

But life never does come easy for Easy Rawlins as a new job comes along. A job he cannot turn down. Rawlins’ friend Mouse is a killer and feared man and when he calls in a favor, he do what he asks. Mouse introduces Easy to an aging mobster Rufus Tyler, known as Charcoal Joe. Charcoal Joe is currently serving time in prison but that doesn’t stop him from conducting business. But what he needs from Easy has nothing to do with his business, he says, it has to do with a young man he has befriended. A young black man in 1960s Los Angeles, who finds himself being charged for the murder of two white men. Charcoal Joe is positive that the young man could not have committed these crimes. The young man is timid and smart. A young professor at a local college, not the kind of man who runs in criminal circles. The job is simple, Charcoal Joe says, prove the young man is innocent and get him out of jail.

For Easy, this is the beginning of the end of his good fortune. The woman he loves has already married another and needs his help to go into hiding, to protect her new husband. She needs Easy, who she has left behind to help her with this.

The young man in question is a sure fit for the police. A black man standing over two dead white men. Open and shut the police say, unless Easy can find the money.

What Charcoal Joe doesn’t say, what no one mentions until Easy is too far in to get out, is that the dead men are with the mob and there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and diamonds that are missing. The police want it. The mob wants it.

Easy knows how dangerous his friend Mouse is. But what he is learning is that Charcoal Joe is far more than an aging mobster in prison. Charcoal Joe is the boogeyman. A man who is spoken of only in whispers in the criminal community. A man whose reach is far beyond the prison that holds him.

Now Rawlins needs to find out where the money has gone. Who has the diamonds? What is the relationship between a young college educated black man and an aging mobster who everyone, even his friend Mouse, is afraid of? All this with hired guns looking for him and a woman he loves, leaving him and still needing him. Can Easy Rawlins navigate the guns, the money, the times for a black man in 1960s LA and all with a broken heart?

Easy Rawlins is a character you come back to and put on like a really comfortable pair of jeans. Faded some yes. A tear and a rip here and there, yes. But still, comfortable. He will slide into his world, with its darkness and grit and oppressive nature of the times and just like that, you are there. Easy isn’t always a good man. He’s just a hard man trying to do good. He has a daughter that is not his but he loves her just the same. A woman who won’t be his wife and he can never be with, that fills and breaks his heart. Partners who will kill for him and he will kill for. Friends, loyalty and justice. In a world where everything is against them, they are all that stand between the hard cruel world around them.

Mosley writes these tales with an abundance of cool. Easy Rawlins is John Shaft without the arrogance. He’s James Bond without the veneer of being untouchable. That may be what makes Rawlins so good. He feels. He feels his own pain and the pain of others and within him is a need to find the truth.

Any Easy Rawlins story is a treat. Some better than others, true, but often I find myself reading the story more for the character of Rawlins and his narrative than the plot of the story itself. This is true for Charcoal Joe, infused with incredible characters, you will literally go on a tour of meeting awesome characters for the first part of the book while the plot itself seems to stand still. But once all this is laid down, the story picks up and then you will have to hold on for all the twists and turns.

A good read.

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