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Onyx reviews: Little Green by Walter Mosley

There are advantages and disadvantages to having people think you're dead. For one thing, your enemies tend to leave you alone. On the other hand, people feel free to take your stuff and squat in your house.

Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins is a war vet who once liberated a concentration camp. His rugged upbringing made him grow up early—author Walter Mosley says Easy was a man when he was ten and his friend Mouse (real name: Raymond Alexander), a man known in every illegal corner of Los Angeles, was probably a man when he was two.

Easy is a rare bird in the 1960s in that he's a black detective. The local police (mostly white) hardly know what to make of him when he flashes his license to keep them from rousting him. He gained the license after helping the police solve a crime that they never would have managed on their own. He has a realistic view of life: we're always at war, he tells a group of young people. Even love is war. 

After eleven books featuring his most popular series character, Mosley intended for the 2007 novel Blonde Faith to be the end of Easy. Despondent over a lost love, Easy drove his car over a cliff on the Pacific Coast Highway. However, Mosley had a change of heart. Comparisons to Sherlock Holmes' supposed death at Reichenbach Falls and subsequent "resurrection" are inevitable.

After over two months in a coma-like condition brought about by a concussion and exposure, Easy awakens to find himself in bed in a house rather than a hospital. His friends and his adopted family have been tending to him during his convalescence, assisted by a visiting doctor and a live-in nurse.

From the moment he opens his eyes at the beginning of the book, it takes him nearly four chapters to get out of bed, amble downstairs and eat his first solid food. Realizing that Easy needs to get back on his feet or run the risk of dwindling away, Mouse asks for his help in a routine missing person case. Evander Noon, known as Little Green, the teenage son of a woman Mouse once knew (who now despises the very sun that shines on his back), disappeared after a night of partying on Sunset Strip.

By all rights, Easy should be in no shape to take on a case, but this issue is solved by a magic potion called Gator's Blood that comes from a swamp witch named Mama Jo. A trip to her enclave at the end of a dead-end street in Compton is like going to the bayous of Louisiana. Mouse uses a milder version of her elixir as a hangover remedy but for Easy it's a 1960s version of an energy drink. It clears his head and gives him the strength to navigate the mean streets of Los Angeles, which is a world apart from the California dream of surfers and Hollywood stars. While Easy was "dead," the world changed. The Strip is filled with free love, multi-ethnic hippies, peaceniks, beatniks, runaways and throwaways looking to drop in and drop out.

Cops are still willing to roust a black man because of his color, but white bystanders are more willing to speak out against such injustices. As members of a counter culture, they were beginning to understand what it was like to be shunned, segregated and hassled by the police simply because they looked different. The Watts riots made some whites jumpy, though, and even though the hippies are mostly accepting of Easy as he tries to determine what happened to Little Green after he dropped acid at a night club, there are still cruel and violent people among them who are willing to rob and kill to get something that isn't theirs. 

Mosley effortlessly recreates the new and confusing world of the sixties. Easy's search for the missing boy takes him to whorehouses, crash pads and communes, accompanied by a string of nubile young free spirits. As it turns out, he isn't the only person looking for Little Green, and locating the young man isn't the end of Easy's problems.

A man who has been following death all of his life, Easy has a new outlook. He's happy to allow some people to continue to believe he's dead, but he's recaptured many of the most important aspects of his life. He's not the only one: Mosley, too, has been reinvigorated by literary Gator's Blood and intends to write at least one more book about Easy.

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