Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Nine novels that explore secrecy & deception in racial identity

Zach Vasquez is a native of Los Angeles, California. He writes fiction and criticism.

At CrimeReads he tagged "nine crime, suspense and noir novels that revolve around the act of racial passing," including:
Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley

In most classic hardboiled and detective fiction, characters of color—particularly Black characters—were usually depicted as ancillary figures, and broadly defined caricatures (if not outright stereotypes). While there were some writers of color within the genre whose work reflected and gave voice to their own experience, most of them languished in obscurity during their lifetime. The popular and acclaimed mysteries of Walter Mosley—in particular his Easy Rawlins P.I. novels—serve as a corrective to this historical exclusion, working beautifully within the framework of the genre even as they transgress it.

Mosely’s first (and best known) novel is the period mystery Devil in a Blue Dress, which follows a Black WWII vet named Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins as he gets roped into locating a beautiful and mysterious white woman hiding out in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Rawlins—a rough-around-the-edges, but inherently moral hero cut from the same cloth as Raymond Chandler’s shambolic knights errant—ends up uncovering a deadly conspiracy that reaches from the gutters of the criminal underworld to the echelons of political power, and quickly discovers that nothing is what it seems—including one key player’s true racial identity.
Read about another entry on the list.

Devil in a Blue Dress is among Peter Colt's eight books featuring unlikely detectives, E.G. Scott's ten best pairs of frenemies in fiction, Alex Segura's nine top jazz-infused crime novels, Lori Roy's five top morality-driven thrillers, and Al Roker's six favorite crime novels.

Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, from Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, made The A.V. Club's list of “13 sidekicks who are cooler than their heroes.”

--Marshal Zeringue