New National Book Award Winner Walter Mosley's America, 2008 - and 2021

Last year, 2020, novelist Walter Mosley (1952-) won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and this year he has just published Blood Grove, book number fifteen in the Easy Rawlins mystery series, and the first new Easy Rawlins in five years. With a total of more than 50 titles to his name, the recognition seems well deserved.

Walter Mosley started out as the new Raymond Chandler (or Dashiell Hammett) with the classic Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), the first of his Easy Rawlins mysteries. Then he decided to write a new book every year (see the non-fiction This Year You Write Your Novel, 2007), ending up sounding more like Ross McDonald.

It is not that Mosley’s – or McDonald’s – books are too many, it is just that it becomes difficult for the reader to distinguish this year’s novel from last year’s, or next year’s, so that like me perhaps you stop reading, or at least stop reading all of them. But among those you did not read, there might very well be some of your own personal favorites, if you had.

The Long Fall (Riverhead, 2009) – a Leonid McGill mystery – may or may not be among his best, but there are two contrasting scenes that you will remember long after you finish reading the book.

On the second page of his novel, Mosley writes this about his protagonist’s meeting with the white receptionist at a New York office: “It wasn’t my skin color that bothered her. People on Madison Avenue didn’t mind dark skins in 2008. This woman might have considered voting for Obama, if she voted …”

But then, on the second page of chapter 14, New Yorker McGill makes the mistake of walking into a bar, Oddfellows Pub, in a town and a neighborhood he is not familiar with ... and into trouble:

“Opening the door, I heard Patsy Cline singing pure notes through a scratchy jukebox needle.”

“There was no Confederate flag hanging over the bar, but then again, neither was there any love lost in the eyes of the patrons. They became aware of me entering their dingy domain the way an owl suddenly notices a snake moving in the grass below. The men, all of them white, had stopped their drinking and conversation to fix me on the pinboards of their minds. I counted eleven, including the bartender, and if it hadn’t been a matter of life and death (McGill is on a case for a client) I would have turned around and walked out immediately.”

“It wasn’t 2008 everywhere in America. Some people still lived in the sixties, and others might as well have been veterans of the Civil War …”

It is now 2021. And on January 20th Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as president and vice-president of the United States, signaling a new beginning for America. Still, as recent events, culminating on January 6, have made it clear, it is not 2021 everywhere in America.