Devil in a Blue Dress

By Walter Mosley,

Book cover of Devil in a Blue Dress

Book description

Devil in a Blue Dress honors the tradition of the classic American detective novel by bestowing on it a vivid social canvas and the freshest new voice in crime writing in years, mixing the hard-boiled poetry of Raymond Chandler with the racial realism of Richard Wright to explosive effect.

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Why read it?

9 authors picked Devil in a Blue Dress as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

What I really love about this novel is the voice of the main character, Ezekial “Easy” Rollins. Easy is not your typical P.I. A recently fired machinist in post-war Los Angeles, he’s just a guy trying to pay his bills. But he’s also a black man from the South trying to survive in a white, west-coast world. When a white gangster hires him to find a missing girl, Easy senses that he’s in extreme danger, but he has no choice but to take the job.

Told in the first-person, this book captures all of Easy’s doubt, dread, and defiance as…

Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, the first of his novels to feature Black WWII-veteran-turned-detective Ezekiel ’Easy’ Rawlins, reads like a hard-boiled blues song.

The prose is both terse and descriptive, flowing easily on the page with Mosley’s fantastic ear for dialogue and the workings of Easy’s inner voice.

Again, we’re in postwar Los Angeles, in 1948, following Easy on a trail of misadventures as he runs afoul of both cops and crooks in his quest to track down a mysterious blonde.

And while Devil in a Blue Dress is most certainly a detective novel, Mosley’s wit and insight…

Mosely’s debut is drenched in barrooms and none better than John’s Place, a speakeasy behind a convenience store that has to stay a speakeasy in 1948 because the owner has trouble with the law. A perfect metaphor for the Black experience: even when it's legal, it’s still illegal for Black Americans. I love this book for its voice: it just sounds so cool. “They didn’t have many groceries, and no fresh produce or dairy goods, but she’d sell you what was there and if you knew the right words, or were a regular, then she’d let you in the club…

From Michael's list on bars where I'd like to get a drink.

I love heroes you can root for who are not perfect people. Easy Rawlings the primary character in the novel is such a guy. Far from perfect, solidly flawed even, we still want him to win. Again the writing is superb. Mosley is like Crumley, and maybe, just maybe, S. A. Cosby has taken some of his inspiration from here, but who knows; dive in and find out for yourself.

From Simon's list on noir crime from old to new.

I’m a sucker for noirish crime fiction set in L.A., my adopted hometown, and would love to name one of Michael Connelly’s splendid Harry Bosch novels here, but for the fact that Harry is just so damn serious. Not so Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosley’s hard-luck WWII veteran who’s hired off his barstool to track down a missing woman who may or may not have absconded with a large sum of money. Nothing, of course, is quite as it seems in this gritty, twisting romp through Watts, down Central Avenue, and smack into the social and racial politics of post-war…

The first crime novel I read is set in 1950s Los Angeles and centers on Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, a Black WWII veteran living in the predominantly Black neighborhood of South Central. It’s beautifully written, and while the mystery is at the forefront, it's very much about the Black experience in Los Angeles, especially for those who came to Los Angeles during the Great Migration. What's striking is how Easy must use his wits to stay alive, avoid prison, and come out ahead, an enduring metaphor for the Black experience. 

I could pick any of the Easy Rawlins books as favorites, but Devil in a Blue Dress is where Easy started, and is required reading for any historical crime reader. 

Set in the late 1940s, World War II veteran Easy Rawlins is fired from his job at a defense plant. He’s drinking in a friend’s bar, wondering how he’ll pay the mortgage, when a white man walks in offering to pay Easy to locate Daphne Monet, a beautiful blonde known to frequent Black jazz clubs. Of course, it’s not as easy as that, and no one is who he or…

From D. E.'s list on American historical crime.

As a white boy from a mid -20th-century California suburb, I had often wondered how poor black folks endured the conditions of their lives without exploding into rage and violence. In the person of Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosley gave me valuable answers. Devil in a Blue Dress expertly integrates racial, class, and personal struggles. Also, and most importantly, the novel’s every character is truly human.

From Ken's list on 20th century PIs.

Another book and film that takes place in LA after World War II, Devil in a Blue Dress focuses on a Black war veteran named Easy fired from his job and hired to locate a girl. Easy is the perfect definition of an anti-hero played by Denzel Washington in the film. He’s been put through the wringer in his life, so you understand his motivations for misbehaving when it’s called for. A love letter to jazz music while equally being a treaty on race, discrimination, sexism, and oppression. 

From Lee's list on noir that are great films.

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