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"Black Betty"
by Walter Mosley

Category: Fiction / Mystery
255 pages; ISBN: 0- 393-03644-8

Rating: 9/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Judith Woolcock Colombo


Walter Mosley doesn’t just write mysteries. He creates a historical landscape peopled with vibrant and authentic characters who like most of us are flawed and lacking in some way. “Black Betty” is Mosley at his best. The mystery is enthralling and many layered, the atmosphere electric, and the villains exquisitely evil.

The time is 1961 the era of Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, and the beginning of The Civil rights movement. Easy Rawlings is raising two adopted children on his own, and his secret real-estate empire is sinking. He has no idea how to solve his financial problems until a sleazy private eye Saul Lynx approaches him with a job. Lynx offers Easy $200 to track down a former acquaintance of his, Elizabeth Eady, aka “Black Betty. Betty a beautiful and sensual woman has vanished from her wealthy employer’s home in Beverly Hills.

Easy’s search for Betty will uncover a trail of chaos and murder. To make matters worse, Easy’s psychopathic best friend Mouse is also out of prison determined to find and execute the man who betrayed him. However, this book is much more than a murder mystery; it is a journey into the heart of racial bigotry and the paradox that is the human race. The language is vibrant and moving:

On the bus there were mainly old people and young mothers and teenagers coming in late to school. Most of them were black people. Dark-skinned with generous features. Women with eyes so deep that most men can never know them. Women like Betty who'd lost too much to be silly or kind. And there were the children, like Spider and Terry T once were, with futures so bleak it could make you cry just to hear them laugh. Because behind the music of their laughing you knew there was the rattle of chains. Chains we wore for no crime; chains we wore for so long that they melded with our bones. We all carry them but nobody can see it—not even most of us. All the way home I thought about freedom coming for us at last. But what about all those centuries in chains? Where do they go when you get free?

This is not merely a fast paced and gripping mystery but a powerful story of one of the saddest aspects of American life. Mosley does not preach nor condemn, he merely presents us with a historically accurate account of an era in which this mystery story unfolds. I highly recommend this story.

Judith Woolcock Colombo: Author of The Fablesinger & Night Crimes
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