In the history of detective fiction, there may never have been a
pair quite as dissimilar as Paris Minton, owner of the Florence
Avenue Used Book Shop, and Fearless Jones, former U.S. Army
assassin and one of the toughest men in black Los Angeles in the
years after World War II.
Paris is not just bookish and intellectual, but is a self-confessed
coward. Everything fills him with dread. Fearless is, well,
fearless. He might be a killer, but he is also "pure of heart" and
honest. Fearless always tries to do the right thing, but he is not
a fellow you want to get on the wrong side of.
But they say that opposites attract, and the improbable and loyal
friendship between the two men works perfectly in the third book in
this series, FEAR OF THE DARK.
Since arriving on the literary scene in the early 1990s, Walter
Mosley quickly established himself as one of our best mystery
authors with the Easy Rawlins books based on the black detective
working the streets of L.A. Mosley has also distinguished himself
with both non-mystery novels and nonfiction books.
The sun-drenched streets of L.A. have provided the perfect setting
for noir since the days of Raymond Chandler in the 1940s. Easy
Rawlins and now Paris Minton and Fearless Jones work those same
mean streets. But they take us into parts of La-La land that
Chandler's Marlowe could never easily go. They take us into the
bars and pool halls and apartments of Watts, South Central and
Compton. Mosley writes about the African American communities of
But as with Chandler before him, Mosley finds nothing but
corruption, violence and loads of devils in the City of Angels.
Paris is not much of a businessman, nor does he want to be. He is
perfectly content to sit alone and read great books all day. But
those familiar with this wonderful series already know that trouble
comes for Paris with a knock at his front door.
This time the knock comes at 3:51 on an afternoon in 1956 and is
delivered by his cousin, Ulysses S. Grant IV, in desperate need of
help. A visit from Ulysses, not so affectionately called "Useless"
by everybody who knows him, is not a good thing. Despite his
possible presidential lineage, Useless is no good and brings
everybody he is involved with bad luck. Paris tells us, "Useless
was the kind of trouble that could get a man killed."
And that is indeed what happens to get this wonderful book off to a
rollicking start. Paris is also at the time in the process of
unsuccessfully trying to break up with a white woman whose rent he
has been paying for a few weeks. He decides on the breakup after
discovering that she has a jealous white boyfriend named "Tiny."
That is probably always a good idea, but sure enough Tiny barges in
to find Paris and his girlfriend in a compromising position on the
floor of the bookstore. Paris literally flees for his life "with
pants in one hand and drawers in the other."
When the coast is clear, he returns home only to find a very dead
Tiny on his floor, shot in the head, and the girl missing. This is
obviously a job for Fearless Jones, and Fearless comes to his
cowardly friend's assistance no questioned asked, much as Paris has
always done for him. But it also produces a hilarious scene where
Paris has to be locked in a dark cellar with the body until the
always-calm Fearless can return with a truck to dispose of it. Not
exactly the best place for a man who is afraid of everything.
Of course, Tiny and the girl will eventually be linked to Useless.
And pretty soon murder will be linked to blackmail schemes aimed at
powerful white men. Paris will be drawn further in the mess with
the arrival of Useless's mother, Three Hearts, from Louisiana. She
possesses an "evil eye" that also scares the daylights out of
Paris. Three Hearts thinks the world of her boy, as most mothers
do. Paris has no choice but to honor her request to find Useless,
and you better not call him that name around his Mama.
Mosley is brilliant in painting an atmospheric picture of 1950s
L.A. that was never covered in the travel guides of the period. We
follow Paris and Fearless to places like Jerry Twist's pool parlor.
On the bottom floor of the lime-colored building housing Twist's is
Ha Tsu's Good News Chinese restaurant, the only Chinese restaurant
that employs a bouncer.
But as in a classic film noir, everything is just a little
off-kilter to indicate that things are not quite what they seem to
be on the surface. And Mosley is terrific at portraying the reality
of being black in America in those now-often idealized "good old
days" of the 1950s.
Paris and Fearless must solve the case themselves. For a black man
to go to the police would simply give the cops a black man to
unjustly pin the crimes on. "And there I was: one kind of man in
another kind of world," Paris says at one point. When a police car
stops Paris and Fearless in the middle of the night in a
neighborhood not their own (read white), they must spend the night
in jail even though they did nothing wrong. At another point Paris
is harassed by the police for the simple act of sitting alone on a
park bench reading a book.
Fearless puts it into perspective for Paris. "They stopped us
'cause they scared. An' if they ain't scared, the people pay 'em
is. That's the on'y reason they want to keep you from readin' yo'
book. That's the on'y reason they ask that white man were we
botherin' him. They wanna keep on our ass 'cause if they don't,
they worried we might start fightin' back."
Paris Minton and Fearless Jones are characters you will enjoy
spending time with. Walter Mosley has done it again. He has written
a solid mystery, a fun story and a book that will also give you
something to think about as you enjoy it. If you love a good
mystery and a well-written novel, FEAR OF THE DARK is the book for
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 21, 2011