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Sadness, loss fill 'Blonde Faith'

Walter Mosley's latest in the Easy Rawlins series goes to places weary and wise, where male-female ties are tricky but buddy bonds endure.

By Carlo Wolff, Special to the Times
Published November 20, 2007



Blonde Faith
By Walter Mosley
Little, Brown, 320 pages, $25.99

- - -

The balance is clean and elegant in Blonde Faith, Walter Mosley's 10th Easy Rawlins novel, one of his best in a series that began in 1990 with Devil in a Blue Dress.

This time, three women consume Easy. So do three men. They're related primarily in Easy's troubled mind. They are, of course, also related otherwise. Easy's web is never anything but tangled.

In Blonde Faith, we meet Tourmaline Goss, a UCLA student Easy enlists in his amazingly complicated detective work; Faith Laneer, the blond of the title, a siren who meets a tragic end because of her connections to Christmas Black, the dangerous, moral Vietnam veteran who also figured in Mosley's less successful, thematically related 2005 novel, Cinnamon Kiss; and Bonnie Shay, the love of Easy's life, who has left him for a prince. Bonnie's loss roils Easy so, it affects his work ethic - and runs the novel.

The men are Christmas, who has dropped off Easter Dawn, the little Vietnamese girl he adopted, with Easy so Christmas can focus on bringing to justice a band of ex-soldiers involved in illegal drugs; Raymond "Mouse" Alexander, Easy's longtime, sociopathic friend, a cuddly killer whose exploits and women often intersect with Easy's; and Easy himself.

Easy is 47 here. It's 1967, two years after the Watts riots, and Los Angeles is mired in sketchy characters, garish color and hopelessness. Race continues to rear its ugly head in this novel, one of Mosley's weariest and wisest. It's a book of loss and connection.

Mosley is to Los Angeles as James Lee Burke is to New Iberia, La. They site their detective heroes (Easy for Mosley, Dave Robicheaux for Burke) in strenuously complex situations. Easy has Mouse for a best friend; Robicheaux has Clete Purcel.

That buddy bond sustains both series and suggests that for both writers, male bonding, a tradition in U.S. literature since Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, is the most dependable and durable kind.

The male bonds are particularly critical in Blonde Faith; not as sexy as the heterosexual ones, they run deeper. Toward the end, Easy, Christmas and Mouse grow so close they evoke the Three Musketeers, only their terrain is far more dangerous and shady.

Easy has a lot of work to do. He must discover why Christmas dropped Easter Dawn off with him; track down Mouse, who is wanted for the murder of Pericles Tarr, an inventory clerk who has had more than enough of his downcast wife and their brood of 12; and try to get Bonnie back. When he discovered she'd slept with Joguye Cham, a West African prince she'd met through her work as an international flight attendant, he threw her out, to his deepest regret. His relief is sex with a "sidetrack girlfriend," a marvelous phrase Mosley uses in connection with Lynne Hua, a Eurasian beauty and sometime paramour of Mouse.

Not exactly promiscuous - he marinates his libido in guilt - but unwilling to settle down, Easy remains fundamentally unattached. He values his mobility and the way he cuts across all kinds of social strata. But he's getting older. His sorrows and responsibilities make him comfortable in a familiar after-hours place:

"The room stank of sour beer and cigarette smoke, but I can't say it didn't feel like home. The dark despair contained within the walls of Cox Bar was the memory and sensibility that was contained within the confines of my skull. The darkness was a place to hide and plot and grieve."

Mosley's book, a gumbo of sights and characters, gets better as it progresses. Early on, you wonder why Perry Tarr stuck with Meredith and those ugly Tarr children; you understand far in, when Easy finds Perry with the hilariously named Pretty Smart, a prostitute who has convinced Perry he's the man.

And you like Easy, who, for all his faults, embodies virtues such as perseverance, respect for family (scenes with his daughter and his tenants are touching but never cloying) and a sense of honor; he's gallant with Tourmaline and Faith, even as he's wracked by mistakenly banishing Bonnie.

As usual, Easy gets his man (make that men). He doesn't do quite as well with women as he usually does. Whether Easy Rawlins makes it to another day isn't clear, either. Let's hope he does. Easy wears well and ages even better.

Carlo Wolff is a freelance writer from Cleveland and author of "Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories."

[Last modified November 19, 2007, 17:59:00]

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