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An Alex Grant Review

'one of the most appealing partnerships in modern-day "period" mystery fiction'.

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A new period Los Angeles crime novel by Walter Mosley – this is his 8th full-length such mystery and his second devoted to the highly convoluted exploits of timid book-seller Paris Minton and his WW2 hero friend Tristan "Fearless" Jones – is always a treat.

Mosley began his first cycle of post-WW2 thrillers with the "Easy Rawlins" quintet, which ended with A LIITLE YELLOW DOG. Then he penned a trio of truly eccentric short-story crime/underworld collections: two devoted to randy ex-con Socrates Fortlow and one to Rawlins. Books that had the idiosyncratic and beguiling rhythm of the blues, and were an eye-opener of the gentlest kind to the racism that lay under every black-white human encounter in a lovingly depicted L.A. that sprang to immediate life and that exposed a thriving black community hidden away against all odds.

Yet again this Fearless Jones novel introduces us to an astonishing parade of black Americans struggling to succeed in 1955 California. A flabbergasting plot has Minton and Jones looking for a valuable sapphire and emerald necklace, an heirloom belonging to the wealthy Winifred Fine whose ownership of a host of intersection vacant lots brings her the unwanted attentions of a greedy vengeful white tycoon whose two adult children have been tortured and slain by persons unknown. An assortment of brutal thugs try to abduct and beat the truth out of milquetoast, Paris little knowing that he has stumbled across the real treasure: a C17th book begun by literate slaves in the hope of never losing a written record and a permanent heritage of their own tribulations in the New World.

This third installment of the series of mysteries that succeeded the Easy Rawlins one is little different from the first template : an ordinary guy who cannot resist a little derring-do teams up with a truly tough street-wise figure
( " Mouse" in the Rawlins series ) who is also chivalrous and gentlemanly despite a lack of formal education. A man gifted with intuition though any complicated human exchange is beyond him. In the real world such seemingly simple but astonishingly insightful people do of course exist but they have been sidelined by ‘higher education’ and a low tolerance for folk-wisdom and the profound natural empathy that humanity has always fostered between its members left to their own devices.

The psychological subtlety of FEAR ITSELF lies in the dreadful conflict stirred up by the ancient tome in Minton’s soul. He longs to retain this invaluable record but knows. that he could be on Easy Street with the price offered for it .Fearless would never suffer any such conscience pangs. That is the charm and impetus behind one of the most appealing partnerships in modern-day "period" mystery fiction.

© Alex Grant June 2003

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