Farewell, Amethystine by Walter Mosley

Author:  Walter Mosley

The cover to Farewell, Amethystine by Walter MosleyNew York. Mulholland Books. 2024. 325 pages.

A major distinction between the classic or English mysteries, most popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and the hard-boiled American or noir crime fiction has to do with law enforcement and the judicial system. The goal of the classic mystery is the discovery and apprehension of the perpetrator; at the conclusion, he, she, or they—if still alive—are delivered to the authorities. It is assumed that justice will be done.

Such is not the case in hard-boiled fiction. Schooled by the rise of organized crime and its corrupting influence during Prohibition, noir protagonists do not count on “connected” criminals being convicted or serving time. So, justice, with more than a dollop of revenge, becomes a personal goal, to be carried out between the P.I. and criminals.

In this matter, Walter Mosley has an advantage. Whereas most authors have to detail or build a case of official abuse and corruption, all it takes is one unnecessary traffic stop by white policemen to establish the inequality and abuse of law enforcement toward black citizens. Being taken to headquarters for “interrogation” cinches the case, even if the police are not on the side of the criminals. The time period (1960s–1970s) of most Mosley novels adds support for discrimination, given the number of southerners, white and black, who settled in Los Angeles from the 1930s through the 1950s. In one novel, Mosely observes that most had planned to go back home once they made some money but didn’t.

Thus, even though “Easy” Rawlins has left his hustling days and established a detective agency, he still has to alternate between two behaviors, natural middle-class and uneducated fieldhand, depending on to whom he’s talking. He has to be ready to fight or take a beating, depending on who he’s confronting. That such inequality is common leads to widespread distrust of white law enforcement and creates opportunities for Rawlins as a private detective, a fixer, a finder of missing persons.

Farewell, Amethystine, the seventeenth Rawlins novel, begins with a familiar situation. A beautiful woman wants Rawlins to find her ex-husband. Easy is attracted to her, even though he doesn’t trust her. His investigation uncovers probable criminal activity involving a planned takeover of a casino and a murder victim. Then another. As is typical, a second problem or case arises. In Farewell, Rawlins learns that his only friend on the police force has gone missing, seemingly with a price on his head. The fact that Rawlins now has an adopted family adds to a sense of potential vulnerability, as things get complicated.

As usual, Rawlins needs help from his friends, most notably an enforcer. Not Mouse, the friend who would rather shoot than investigate, but Fearless Jones, a tough vet who began his fictional existence in a separate novel. Fearless has a more developed sense of right and wrong but is efficiently lethal if the need arises. At a given point, through normal questioning, rough interrogations—police-style—and illegal searches, enough is known or speculated to set up tests and schemes to catch or deal with perpetrators.

The plot unfolds smoothly, lightened by nuggets of wisdom—Raymond Chandler style—that help establish Rawlins’s perspective on life in the mean streets of LA. As he drives through a white area with a body in his trunk, Easy muses, “One of the good things about having lived half a century under the weight of second- and third-class citizenship—bad luck was never a surprise. If they wanted me they would get me.”

At the end of this novel (semi-spoiler alert), he counts his family as unexpected good luck. He has achieved what his friend Primo had achieved in earlier novels. And he’s still alive.

W. M. Hagen
Oklahoma Baptist University