Over Thanksgiving weekend, David, Chris, Steve, and I had the chance to discuss our second book — Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. This conversation was completely different from our discussion of The Last Templar. For one thing, we all liked this book.
The first in the Easy Rawlins series, this book introduces memorable characters, such as Easy and Mouse. Played by Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle respectively in the movie, these characters really come to life with Mosley's deft hand. Using his words like brushstrokes in a painting, Mosley creates characters we can see and picture for ourselves. David and Chris had not seen the movie when they read the book, but David said he could really picture this story as a movie. Steve and I saw the movie years ago and again recently, so it was difficult for us to picture the characters looking like anyone other than Washington and Cheadle. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Cheadle's portrayal of the pathological Mouse is summed up beautifully in one scene in the movie:
Easy: Mouse, why did you kill him?
Mouse: If you didn't want him dead, why did you leave him with me?
In the book, however, we hear about Mouse long before we see him, but more about that in a bit.
A Houston transplant, Easy lives in Los Angeles in a community that is populated by many other people who have moved from Houston to LA. Set in post-World War II, Easy Rawlins takes great pride in the fact that he owns a home. Mosley gives us little snippets of insight into Easy's life growing up, and Easy says he "loves that house more than any woman he's ever known." The house is almost a character in itself; Easy is willing to go to great lengths to protect it and not lose it.
The story begins with Easy losing his job because he won't apologize to his boss. Easy won't do it because he doesn't believe he is wrong. A veteran of the war, Easy knows how to stand up for himself and what he is capable of. David made the point that Easy isn't always consistent in this--he often doesn't stand up for himself and suffers physically as a result; at other times, he exercises great restraint by not using violence to get himself out of trouble.
Easy's unemployment makes him vulnerable to losing what he values most, so he gets involved in a situation that he knows is going to lead him to trouble. From there, he meets the Devil in a Blue Dress and his troubles get much, much worse.
We all felt that Easy's feelings for the girl and her feelings for him were quite different. We all thought that she was merely using him to get what she wants, despite her protestations to the contrary. Easy, on the other hand, goes to great lengths for her, but we readers felt that the emotions didn't seem deep enough for him to do all that he does. In other words, we "didn't feel the love." Steve did point out that his name is Easy for a reason! Easy definitely does not play hard to get.
As Easy's back gets pressed harder and harder up against the figurative wall, he needs help. He writes to Mouse but is stunned when he actually shows up. You know from several conversations he has with those around him that Mouse is someone that is not easy to be around. Steve pointed out that Mosley somehow makes us like a true sociopath--not an easy feat!
Mouse shows up at a most opportune time, and you can't help but wonder if Mouse is always there to watch Easy's back throughout the series.
Until we read the book, I didn't realize that Mosley had written an entire series with Easy Rawlins as the main character. Chris wishes that Mosley's use of dialect was more consistent, particularly because he makes a point of saying that Easy communicates his true feelings better speaking as he did growing up rather than in proper English as he learned to do to get ahead in life.
Chris and I were very distracted by the Easy Rawlins' short story at the beginning of the book called The Crimson Stain. I started to read it because I thought it would set the context for the book, but I was not happy to discover that the story actually takes place some time much later than Devil in a Blue Dress and reveals certain facts about the characters that we should not have been privy to. If Devil in a Blue Dress is the introduction to the series, why include a short story that is, in many ways, completely disconnected from this story? If included at all, it should have been at the end of the book, not at the beginning.
The consensus was that the book was a successful read for couples. We aren't sure what our next attempt will be, but we'll keep you posted!