Devil in a Blue Dress
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Devil in a Blue Dress is a 1990 hardboiled mystery novel by Walter Mosley, his first published book. The text centers on the main character, Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, and his transformation from a day laborer into a detective.
Set in 1948, the story begins in the Watts area of Los Angeles, with Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins. Easy is a Houstonian, from that city's Fifth Ward, who lost his job at a Los Angeles aviation defense plant, and is unable to pay the mortgage on his LA home. Easy is sitting in a bar run by Joppy, a friend who is also from Houston, when a man named DeWitt Albright walks into the bar and offers him a job finding a young woman named Daphne Monet. Monet, a young white woman, is rumored to be hanging out in bars frequented mostly by African Americans, although white women are allowed inside.
At the bar Easy meets two old friends, Coretta and Dupree, among many other people that he knew from his former life in Houston. Coretta says that she knows Daphne, but gives an incorrect address to Easy. He goes home with them and has sex with Coretta, with Dupree asleep in the next room. Easy then leaves her early the next morning, only to be arrested by the LAPD. Shortly thereafter following police interrogation, he is told that Coretta is dead, and that he is a suspect in Coretta's murder.
When he finally does find Monet, he figures out that she has stolen a large amount of money from a man named Todd Carter, who is a local wealthy businessman. Albright wanted to claim it for himself. Eventually, Albright finds Monet through Easy, who is trying to shield the thieving woman.
Easy enlists the help of a friend and fellow Houstonian, Mouse, who shows up due to a half-hearted invitation from Easy, and domestic strife back home. Easy and Mouse find Monet with Albright and Joppy. They rescue her, and kill Joppy and Albright. Then Mouse reveals that Monet is actually Ruby, an African-American woman passing as white, and the sister of a local gangster named Green. Mouse and Easy blackmail Ruby, taking her money and dividing it into thirds for each of them. Daphne/Ruby leaves shortly thereafter, and Easy has to clean up the mess with the police, as well as Todd Carter, who had initially hired Albright to find her, since he really did love her, and not his money.
Easy approaches Carter and requests his help with the police. He blackmails him by saying that he will leak the information about his love for a black woman unless he is protected from the law. Carter does so. At the conclusion, Mouse returns to Houston, Easy takes up detective work, and Ruby disappears.
- Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is an out of work African American man who has moved to Los Angeles from Houston. Easy is a war veteran and owns his own home. He is drawn into a mystery by Dewitt Albright, who hires him to locate Daphne Monet, telling him that it is on behalf of a wealthy businessman named Todd Carter. Easy had no interest in life as a detective, but his tutelage under Albright encourages him to consider doing "favors" for people as an ongoing career.
- Raymond "Mouse" Alexander is Easy's best friend. Mouse is described as dangerous and deadly. Easy calls him to assist when the case becomes dangerous but Mouse's deadly nature causes Easy to question whether this is the right decision.
- Daphne Monet is the young woman who has gone missing in the Watts neighborhood of LA. Easy Rawlins is tasked to find her and as a result, gets caught up in the intrigue.
- Dewitt Albright is the white private investigator who hires Easy to find Daphne Monet.
- Frank Green is a criminal in the Watts neighborhood who is known for his skills with a knife. He is connected to Daphne Monet and a person of interest in Easy's investigation.
- Jackson Blue is Easy's intelligent and cowardly friend who assists him with information on his case.
- Matthew Teran is a pedophile who recently dropped out of the mayor's race. He keeps a little Mexican boy as a sex slave and is grotesque in appearance. He tries to use Daphne to get back at Mr. Carter, who forced him to withdraw his candidacy.
- Odell Jones is Easy's quiet, cautious, religious middle-aged friend. He is wont to sit at John's or Vernie's and sip one beer all night. Odell is a voice of fear, advising Easy to run away from his problems.
- Todd Carter - a well-connected white man who has a relationship with Daphne Monet. The president of Lion Investments. He is a humble-looking, weak-willed man with more money than any other character. He dated Daphne Monet until she stole thirty-thousand dollars from him and left him. He hires Mr. Albright and later, Easy, to bring Daphne back to him. He also helps Easy avoid jail time.
The novel is an important contribution to African-American and ethnic detective fiction in that it focuses on a black protagonist who falls into the role of detective, but by the series end, has made the profession and the identity that often comes along with it both his own. Easy's use of African-American English and the emergence of "the Voice," an inner voice that advises Easy during particularly stressful or dangerous situations, are noteworthy. Literary scholars of ethnic detective fiction have explored the qualities in conjunction with genre study approaches and gender identity approaches.
The book was adapted into a 1995 film of the same name, which starred Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins, and also featured Jennifer Beals, Tom Sizemore, Maury Chaykin, as well as Don Cheadle, as the unhinged "Mouse".
- Lisa Respers France, "Crime writer Walter Mosley debuts new series", CNN, April 6, 2009.
- Genie Giaimo, "Talking back through ‘talking Black’: African American English and agency in Walter Mosley’s Devil In a Blue Dress", Language and Literature, August 2010, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 235–247.
- Marilyn C. Wesley, "Power and Knowledge in Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress", African American Review, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Spring 2001), pp. 103–116.
- "The Shamus Awards, Bestowed by the Private Eye Writers of America", The Thrilling Detective website.
- "Listings | The Late Book: Devil in a Blue Dress", Radio Times, Issue 3766, 1 April 1996, p. 109.