The Sentence-Driven Detective Fiction of Walter Mosley

The work of Walter Mosley, I suspect, inspires some people to revisit tired old genre wars. To my mind such inclinations have less to do with determining what is supposed to be literature and more because his novels, especially the Leonid McGill books, demand appreciation on the sentence level as much, if not more, than the story level. Which is why I was glad, having reviewed THE LONG FALL last year for the B&N Review, to take a crack at KNOWN TO EVIL in Sunday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times. Here’s how the piece opens:

Walter Mosley’s last novel, “The Long Fall,” was the detective fiction

equivalent of a system reboot, a riff on the author’s favorite brand of

story. Instead of Los Angeles, we have New York; instead of the past,

there is only the present (or, at least, the 2008 variety of present).

Instead of Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins stumbling through tumultuous social

change with lethal sidekicks and an unorthodox family, meet Leonid

Trotter McGill, “a survivor from the train wreck of the modern world”

who stumbles through his own prolonged internal crises backed by a

lethal sidekick and a most dysfunctional family.

There are similarities — yes, striking ones. That is beside the point.

Mosley’s sense of story is so fundamentally sound, so in tune with the

wants and needs of a crime novel that plot points reveal themselves as

if by instinct or by feel. As evident in “The Long Fall” and the series’

new second installment, “Known to Evil,” the reader witnesses a

calibrated act of narrative sedimentation. Once the architecture, as

grand and opulent as the Tesla building where Leonid keeps an office, is

in place, then the real, twinned pleasures assert themselves: Leonid’s

continued search for redemption amid corruption, and the nuggets of

wisdom seeping through, sentence by sentence…

Read on for the rest, which I admit, is basically me cherry-picking many of my favorite quotes from the book. Such impulses were hard to resist.