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Book Review: Fear of the Dark by Walter Mosley

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Fearless Jones and Paris Minton are back doing another off-the-books investigation that takes them down the dark alleys of 1956 Los Angeles. The city, especially the areas where Fearless and Paris live, is violent and filled with civil unrest.

I discovered Walter Mosley through his first Easy Rawlins novel, Devil In A Blue Dress, which was a lucky occurrence. The Rawlins series tends to be chronologically driven. The first novel is set in the late 1940s and is currently in the early 1960s. A lot has happened in Easy’s life during those years.

A few years ago, Mosley wanted to take a break from his popular series character and took a chance to create a different kind of hero to Easy. Paris Minton and Fearless Jones come across as two halves of a whole. Fearless is a decorated World War II veteran in his mid-30s. He lives up to his name, totally without fear and good at heart. Paris is the true brains of the outfit, the part that is inventive, deceitful, and selfish — to a degree. Without Paris, Fearless would probably never get to the bottom of one of their investigations, but without Fearless Paris would never survive.

Fearless exists by doing tough-guy favors for people. Body-guarding and bounty-hunting are two of his primary pursuits, but always within the black community of 1956 Los Angeles. Paris runs a book store that he loves because it gives him the chance to read all the time. They’ve appeared in two previous novels, Fearless Jones and Fear Itself. In all of their “cases” they pursue what start out as small crimes that play out big before the adventures are over.

In this book, Paris is haunted by family. His cousin Useless (Ulysses S. Grant IV) shows up at an inopportune moment and things go downhill quickly from there. Not long after Paris turns Useless from his door, Paris gets interrupted by his current girlfriend's current boyfriend. Paris flees for his life (his first rule of operation) and looks up Fearless for backup. But by the time they return to Paris's bookshop, there's a dead man lying there.

No sooner than Fearless and Parish have the body hidden away so no one will take the fall for murdering him than Paris's aunt Three Hearts arrives and begins threatening Paris. Since her evil eye is known to kill, Paris aims to please.

Their investigation is hampered by the fact that Useless is a chronic liar and a man not afraid of committing criminal behavior. His mother, Three Hearts, believes nothing but the best of her son. She’s also one of the book’s best characters: a gun-toting black woman totally unafraid of unloading on anyone stupid enough to take her on.

It doesn’t take Paris and Fearless long to realize that the dead man in Paris’s book shop and Useless’s disappearance are connected. They seek out the trail and start getting deeper and deeper into trouble. Fearless also has a recovery job he’s doing for one of the local bail bondsmen that occasionally gets in the way.

Fear of the Dark felt a lot like the other two books, but that's good. The investigation proceeds at a nice clip and the characters are always fun. Paris narrates, and his voice is at once young and aged, savvy and naive.

Mosley's pacing in this book will keep readers flipping pages late into the night. He seems more comfortable at this length than he has in previous novels. There's also more back story and a better view of California at the time. His dialogue seems dead-on and so do his characters.

I’ve always had a good time with Mosley’s work. Up until now, I’ve always enjoyed the Easy Rawlins novels most, but with this latest entry Mosley has pulled the race to a dead heat. Easy has hard-hearted killer Mouse (Raymond Alexander) covering his back when he gets into dangerous waters, but Fearless Jones is truly heroic, a kind and gentle soul capable of great violence.

If you're new to Mosley's work, I'd recommend Devil In A Blue Dress first. The FEAR series can be read pretty much in what order you find them.

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