Charcoal Joe: An Easy Rawlins Mystery

Written by Walter Mosley
Review by Rebecca Kightlinger

Los Angeles, 1968. Private Investigator Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, having just opened his own detective agency, is feeling pretty good about life. And then Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, “gunman, strongarm, and wildcard,” shows up and calls in a marker. It seems prison inmate Rufus “Charcoal Joe” Tyler wants to hire Rawlins to investigate the double homicide for which his friend’s son, physicist Seymour Brathwaite, PhD, has been charged.

Rawlins, who owes Mouse his life—and then some—agrees, enlisting Fearless Jones, “one of the three people that Mouse claimed he wouldn’t want to tangle with,” to keep the artless PhD under wraps while he investigates. One victim, Rawlins learns, was shot dead and the other tortured and then shot in the eye and the heart. Both were found lying in a pool of blood at Brathwaite’s feet. The police found no weapon at the scene, and Brathwaite claims he was there looking for the housekeeper, his foster mother, Mama Jasmin.

Buying Brathwaite’s story—for now—Rawlins prowls the underworld searching for a link between a housekeeper, a physicist, and a slaughter. He turns up a gambler, a jewelry clerk, and a big chunk of change that went missing the night of the murders and that just might get him killed.

Mosley, building story character by character, can ratchet up the tension with just a look. “Tony Gambol was the type of man that you don’t want to squint at you.”

Or with a brushstroke. “Elias Shaw—three hundred and then some pounds of muscle, hard fat, and bad intentions.”

Or with a word of counsel. “Walk softly wherever it is you goin’. You know Charcoal Joe’s a tombstone just waitin’ for a name.”

Mosley’s unforgettable characters and superior literary craft bring poetry to noir in Charcoal Joe. Highly recommended.