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Cover image for A red death
A red death

First edition.
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [1991]
Physical Description:
284 pages ; 22 cm
Series title(s):
Number in series:
Nailed by a racist IRS agent for tax evasion, Easy Rawlins is asked by the FBI to infiltrate the First African Baptist Church to spy on alleged communist union organizer Chaim Wenzler, but the case soon takes a deadly turn, in a mystery set in 1953 Los Angeles.


Call Number

On Order



Easy is out of " the hurting business" and into the housing (and the favor) business when a racist IRS agent nails him for tax evasion. FBI Special Agent Darryl T. Craxton offers to bail him out if he agrees to infiltrate the First African Baptist Church and spy on alleged communist union organizer Chaim Wenzler. That's when the murders begin...

Author Notes

Walter Mosley was born in Los Angeles, California on January 12, 1952. He graduated from Johnson State College in Vermont. His first book, Devil in a Blue Dress, was published in 1990, won a John Creasy Award for best first novel, and was made into a motion picture starring Denzel Washington in 1995. He is the author of the Easy Rawlins Mystery series, the Leonid McGill Mystery series, and the Fearless Jones series. His other works include Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, 47, Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, and Twelve Steps toward Political Revelation. He has received numerous awards, including an O. Henry Award, the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award, and PEN America's Lifetime Achievement Award.

(Bowker Author Biography) Walter Mosley is the author of the acclaimed Easy Rawlins series of mysteries, the novels "Blue Light" and "RL's Dream", and two collections of stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, "Always Outnumbered", "Always Outgunned", for which he received the Anisfield-Wolf Award, and "Walkin' the Dog". He is a member of the board of directors of the National Book Awards and the founder of the PEN American Center's Open Book Committee. At various times in his life he has been a potter, a computer programmer, & a poet. He was born in Los Angeles & now lives in New York.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mosley's second novel (after Devil in a Blue Dress ) confirms the advent of an extraordinary storyteller. It is five years after the events detailed in the first novel and Easy Rawlins has used the stolen money he kept back in 1948 to purchase a pair of L.A. apartment buildings. There he masquerades as the janitor, quietly enjoying the fruits of ownership and dabbling in private investigation. But he is suddenly in the grip of powerful government forces. When the IRS wants to know where Easy got the money to become a landlord, Easy's sole recourse is to agree to work undercover for the FBI on a witch-hunt to net Reds. The situation presents only the first of the moral dilemmas here: Easy's remorseless, deadly best friend, Mouse, has come to L.A. in pursuit of his ex-wife, EttaMae, who has fled with their young son. Etta, however, is the only woman Easy has ever loved, and she is more than willing to reciprocate--at least on the physical level. Solid and entertaining, the story nonetheless remains secondary to the portrait of a time and a place, to the indelible reality of Easy Rawlins, a black man in a world not yet ready to accept him. Mosley, with his unique talents, may well be in the process of creating a genre classic. BOMC, QPB and Mysterious Book Club selections. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

Watts, 1953. Easy Rawlins, fresh from his Edgar-nominated debut (Devil in a Blue Dress), reluctantly agrees to spy on Communist union- organizer Chaim Wenzler for Red-baiting FBI agent Darryl Craxton in order to get IRS agent Reginald Lawrence--hot on his trail for back taxes on his off-the-books apartment buildings--off his back. But nobody (as Easy knows all too well) ever gets off a black man's back; and long before Poinsettia Jackson, one of Easy's hard-case tenants, is found hanging from a strap in the apartment she's stopped paying for and before Chaim Wenzler's work leads Easy to the African Migration movement, the First African Church, and Reverend Towne and Tania Lee are shot in flagrante delicto--inevitably to be followed by Wenzler himself--Easy realizes that the two federal men are playing him off against each other. Who pulled the trigger on Wenzler and the others? As in Devil in a Blue Dress, Mosley's plot is so tangled it hardly matters. But the laconic poetry of Easy's voice floats through a central situation much more original and compelling than before. This time Mosley earns the acclaim his first novel received.

Booklist Review

Mosley's Devil in a Red Dress [BKL Je 15 90] heralded the arrival of a major new voice in crime fiction. Combining a black hero, Easy Rawlins, with a vivid depiction of Los Angeles' Watts district in the 1940s, Mosley staked out previously unexplored territory, displaying both the genre's flexibility and his own sure hand with period detail and character development. In this second installment in the series, the calendar has moved ahead to the early 1950s, and the good-natured (and aptly named) Easy is in a pickle. The IRS is after him for hiding income from the apartment buildings he secretly owns; a Red-hating FBI agent strong- arms him into investigating a labor agitator; and the local police suspect him in two murders. Though a bit less focused than Devil, this solid second effort does nothing to dim Mosley's rising star. As before, the novel's greatest strength lies in the subtle evocation of the sense of community that connects the blacks living in Watts, most of whom are recently transplanted from the South and all of whom share the burden of isolation from the monolithic white power structure that surrounds them. Mosley uses the conventions of the hard-boiled novel to bring social history alive in the most human of terms. ~--Bill Ott

Library Journal Review

Mosley's unique narrative voice ( Devil in a Blue Dress , LJ 6/1/90) reappears in the appealing person of Easy Rawlins, an astute and tough war veteran living in early 1950s Los Angeles. In deep trouble with the IRS for nonpayment of taxes, Easy half-heartedly agrees to spy on a suspected Jewish Communist for an avid FBI agent in return for leverage with the tax man. As before, Mosley's inclusion of life in Watts, contemporary social attitudes, and colloquial speech contribute to the excellence and authenticity of plot and character portrayal. Easy to take. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.