Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Devil in a Blue Dress, by Jess Lourey

Have you ever read Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley? It was Mosley's debut novel and received rave reviews when it came out in 1990. Mosley was hailed as the next Raymond Chandler, probably for his "gritty realism" (read: tough men, much violence, meddlesome yet sexy women who need to be straightened out by the protagonist whom they are reluctantly yet passionately attracted to--the typical male romance novel).

I began the book with as much trepidation as I watched Capote--I was doing it because it was supposed to be good for me, not because I was going to like it. Turns out I liked it AND it was really really good. You know how when you're at a movie that is so good that you forget you're in a theater? Devil in a Blue Dress made me forget I was reading a book.

Here are my two favorite sections, both of which give you a feel for the sense of place and voice throughout the novel:

"When I opened the door I was slapped in the face by the force of Lips' alto horn. I had been hearing Lips and Wilie and Flattop since I was a boy in Houston. All of them and John and half the people in that crowded room had migrated from Houston after the war, and some before that. California was like heaven for the southern Negro. People told stories of how you could eat fruit right off the trees and get enough work to retire one day. The stories were true for the most part but the truth wasn't like the dream. Life was still hard in L.A. and if you worked every day you still found yourself at the bottom.

But being on the bottom didn't feel so bad if you could come to John's now and then and remember how it felt back home in Texas, dreaming about California. Sitting there and drinking John's scotch you could remember the dreams you once had and, for a while, it felt like you had them for real."

That's good writing. Here's some more:

"I was sitting there, naked on the toilet seat, and watching her go through the mirror-doored medicine cabinet. I felt something deep down in me, something dark like jazz when it reminds you death is waiting."

Check out that language so tight it cries. And I enjoy mysteries with strong character development, ones that go below the surface and examine the human condition, and Devil in a Blue Dress does that. Lots. Oh, and it's a movie! You know it must be good then.

Today's blog freebies: Stuff on My Cat and Llewellyn's Free Tarot Readings. It looks like love is in my cards, and all I can say is that it's about freaking time. What's in your future? Or on your cat? And whaddya know about Mosley?

15 comments:

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I have read all of Mosley's Easy Rawlings novels and love them to death, although I'm not wild about his other books. But whether you like the books or not, the writing in each one is superb. He is a master. And even though my books are nothing like his, he is one of the modern writers who has shaped my desire to write.

Jess Lourey said...

He definitely has a place in the canon, Sue Ann. Good writing inspires all of us to make our own best vision come alive.

G.M. Malliet said...

Where oh where are you finding these crazy web sites? Stuff on my Cat is ridiculous. Also addictive.

Jess Lourey said...

I know, Gin! Did you get your tarot cards read yet? We do write for an imprint of the creators of the site, after all.

G.M. Malliet said...

See Jess in the "New kids on the block" article in MWA's 3rd Degree newsletter.

G.M. Malliet said...

Jess, I tried 3 times until I got the reading I wanted. ;-)

Keith Raffel said...

When I read Devil in a Blue Dress, I felt African-American. A masterpiece.

Jess Lourey said...

I'm not touching the first comment, Keith, but I agree wholeheartedly with the second. Now, what's on your cat?

Jess Lourey said...

Hee hee. Way to take you future into your own hands, Gin!

Julia Buckley said...

I haven't read Mosley, but I always meant to.

Did the tarot thing, didn't understand it.

And boy, I thought I was nuts about my cats. :)

Jess, your next problem will be the MULTIPLE men at your door and choosing between them. You are young, lovely, and getting more famous by the day. His biggest problem will be not feeling overshadowed by your talents.

Paul Lamb said...

I've listened to a lot of Mosley's books on audio. I especially like his Socrates Fortlow character. I have to say, though, that some of his novels are misses rather than hits.

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, why not touch that first comment? Isn't that something we can shoot for -- putting the reader inside a character's head?

Jess Lourey said...

I love you, Julia.

Jess Lourey said...

Keith, to answer your question, I'll paraphrase a quote that Sherman Alexie made around the time that it was becoming cool to be Native American and everyone was claiming their 1/145th Cherokee blood: "You're not a real Indian unless you've ever wished you weren't." I don't think we can lightly claim the mantle of minority groups that have been historically (and are still) oppressed by society.

I imagine your comment was more lighthearted than that, instead about, as you say, Mosley's ability to put us inside his character's head. I would argue though that the genius of his Easy Rawling's series is that it taps into and captures a universal human experience.

Jess Lourey said...

Paul, I haven't read the entire Easy Rawlins' series. Are there any specific misses you can help me to avoid, or are you referring to Mosley's entire body of work when you write that there are hits and misses?