Saturday, 22 February 2020

Down the River Unto the Sea, by Walter Mosley.

           Walter Mosley has a huge body of work to his name and, as always, I have been shamefully ignorant of his accomplishments until now:  his stand-alone novel featuring brilliant, world-weary and jaded Afro/American Private Investigator Joe King Oliver follows all the rules of classic crime fiction as laid down by Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler et al, but lends a 21st century perspective to crimes and corruption as old as civilisation itself.
            Joe wasn’t always a PI;  he used to be a hot-shot, ambitious Detective in the New York Police Department, until he was mercilessly framed by anonymous colleagues:  he was unwittingly getting too close to some of their horrifying scams and he needed to be removed from the scene.  This involved luring Joe into the embrace of a beautiful, supposedly wronged woman whom he was sent to arrest and he was videoed by hidden cameras used to provide ‘evidence’ when she screamed RAPE.  He was incarcerated for several months in the infamous Rikers prison;  his wife could have bailed him out, but was shown the ‘rape’ video by colleagues supposedly meant to be his friends;  now his marriage is in ruins;  he is irreparably damaged by his time in Rikers, not to mention physically scarred and, if it hadn’t been for one of his old work mates who set him up as a PI, he would be on the streets:  his life is one big grudge – except for the existence of his teenage daughter, literally the light of his life.
            She works for him after school as his receptionist and one afternoon ushers in a young woman on a mission:  Willa is a lawyer who has recently been working for attorney Stuart Braun, who has been crusading with great fanfare to free black radical activist Leonard Compton.  Compton killed two police officers he said were drugging and trafficking young, poor women and he is now on Death Row, but Braun’s zeal and enthusiasm to appeal for justice seems to have waned:  he is no longer interested in the case.  Could Joe read through the files she has brought and consider finding out what happened to make Braun lose interest?
            And Joe does, embarking on a dangerous, almost fatal journey to dig through layers of corruption so thick he thinks he’ll never reach the bottom – until he does, starts to ascend and realises that he’s climbing into the heights of wealth, gentility – and power. 
            Mr Mosley’s story is well-constructed, smart, funny and peopled with great characters, including a spectacularly evil man who is thoroughly engaging and charges Joe a dollar for all the mayhem he alone can create (he owes Joe a favour from long ago).  For lovers of Crime Noir (and there are so many of us) he cain’t be beat!  FIVE STARS.      

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