Review: Fearless Jones

I think of Walter Mosley as being famous for his mystery and crime work, so it may be surprising that Fearless Jones is the first work of his I’ve read from that genre. I have heard parts of a few radio adaptations, so I knew some of what to expect.

The writing is excellent, which will surprise no one who has read Mosley before. He is a master of so many forms that he seems at his best in one of his favorite genres. I’m not enough of a mystery fan to comment on how he might be tracking or playing with the conventions of the genre. Even without knowing any of them the complex plot was easy to follow and if I were trying to solve the puzzle, I would have had no complaints.

When I do read mysteries, I read them for the characters, settings, and writing. Mosely’s writing is sublime. His characters are deftly drawn, deep, and believable. He can give a surface impression of a person with a few lines , and does. But even incidental characters who recur display their inner lives through small moments. It makes the story so much more immersive for me, and I imagine that for the puzzle solvers this can only help when looking for motives. His main characters show themselves in more detail and are a delight to get to know in both their beauty and their failings.

The immersion continues in the richness of the setting. That setting is one near and dear to my heart: historical Los Angeles. That I love the place does not blind me to its flaws, and Mosley takes a historical perspective – no year is given but it feels late 1950’s or early 1960’s to me – that throws those flaws into clear relief. He brings out the vibrancy of LA’s poorer communities, making it clear how people in them lived. That includes the ways that people and police treat them. It’s easy to paint broadly there, but Mosley brings out how the treatment varies and how the people doing it mitigate or intensify the unfairness. And the poor communities also vary.

Absent the puzzle, Fearless was about the precariousness of life at the edges of society and how the communities living on the edge come together to meet those threats. Early in the story, the protagonist (Paris Minton) loses basically everything he has because of he’s unwillingly dragged into a violent criminal contest. He quickly realizes he cannot fight this alone and connects with other in his world with the talents and hearts that can help him. These allies never seem like plot conventions that conveniently appear; they are fixtures in Paris’s life that he has a history with. Some owe him favors and some he has to convince. No one comes out and says anything like “this could happen to any of us,” but there are moments where I feel that shared understanding. It’s a warm feeling.

Fearless is also a thriller, and a compelling one. The pages flew by, and I was always eager to see what happened next. Even if you don’t care about character definition or historical LA, this book is great fun.

Strongly Recommended.

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