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Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins Mystery    by Walter Mosley order for
Little Scarlet
by Walter Mosley
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This Easy (Ezekiel) Rawlins story takes place just after the explosion of the 1965 L. A. riots. Easy has been observing events, while trying to control a mounting anger, one that's built up all through his life. Trying to explain to his daughter Feather, Easy muses 'I didn't want the violence but I was tired of policemen stopping me just for walking down the street.' He tells Feather that people fight because they don't understand each other, 'they don't know what it's like to be in the other man's skin.'

A white police officer named Melvin Suggs shows up at Easy's office. Backed by Deputy Commissioner of Police Gerald Jordan (a man whom Easy despises), Suggs asks for Rawlins's help in tracking down the murderer of a young, black woman, Nola Payne, affectionately named 'Little Scarlet' by her loving aunt. Nola took in a white man who was beaten by the mob. Now, the police suspect that this unknown man killed her, and plan to find and arrest him before the facts become known and trigger further riots. They need Easy's investigative ability at a time when white police officers are even less welcome than usual in black neighborhoods.

With help from Mouse, 'the most dangerous man in L.A.', Easy soon tracks down the man involved, but believes him innocent and focuses instead on a hobo named Harold, who may have killed many black women involved with white men. Rawlins had previously informed the police of his suspicions of Harold for another killing, but his input was discounted. As Easy digs into his suspect's past, he uncovers a disturbing background. Along the way, he meets old friends Paris and Jackson, and is tempted from his commitment to Bonnie by a lovely - and available - young woman named Juanda.

Little Scarlet is more than just a mystery. Mosley explores the causes of the L. A. riots, shows how they changed everyone's reality, and presents a range of black women's lives at that time, from the successful to the tragic. He overlays on all of this his hero's dogged search for a killer, not for revenge, but to prevent him from striking again. Even as deservedly angry as he is in this novel, Easy Rawlins is an engaging mystery companion, and this is his best book yet.

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