Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Review of White Butterfly by Walter Mosley (Pocket Books, 1992)

Los Angeles, 1956. A man is torturing and murdering black women. The police turn to Easy Rawlins for help; a man used to digging around for answers and who knows the city and its dark underbelly. However, Easy, recently married and with a young baby and school-aged child, is trying to keep on the straight and narrow. When a fourth victim dies, this time a white woman, the police won’t take no for an answer, threatening to jail his best friend and make his life hell. Reluctantly he starts to piece together the last days of each victim. Easy was always a man with secrets and those, his investigation, and his drinking is placing a strain on his marriage. Whether he helps catch the killer or not, it seems he might lose something precious in the process.

White Butterfly is the third book in the Easy Rawlins series set in post-war Los Angeles. In this outing Easy is hustled by the police into helping to track down a serial killer preying on women in the city. It’s the most personal of the books so far in the series, as much about his private home life and him as a person as it is about the case (the first focused more on his history and social circle, the second on his business interests). Easy is a conflicted, flawed, complex character, with secrets that he guards from everyone, including his new wife; an ability to lie, cajole and hustle; a weakness to stray; and a questionable loyalty to a psychopathic friend; yet he also is loving and has his own moral compass he uses to navigate a fraught social world and everyday racism. He exposes all these characteristics as his marriage disintegrates as he searches for the killer. The case isn’t overly complicated, though it has a nice twist, but Mosley tells the tale through an engaging, affective voice and sparse prose that has the cadence of classic hardboiled noir. As with the other books in the series, there is nice historical and social contextualisation and sense of place. The result is a dark, somewhat bleak, but evocative story.

No comments: