A hero sandwich

Walter Mosley’s latest noir escapade has two (count ’em, two) protagonists.

Sep 26, 2001 at 12:00 am

Fearless Jones is equal parts Denzel Washington (stature), Luke Cage (strength) and Shaft (fearlessness). Ladies see and want him upon first glance, but all he wants is justice for all. Hell, even stray dogs become his trained pets as soon as he touches them. I guess they sense confidence in his scent and figure — hell, the dude’s a good master to follow.

Jones is the friend of and enforcer for Paris Minton, one of the main characters in Walter Mosley’s latest offering, Fearless Jones. Mosley disguises Jones as a secondary character as cleverly as he covers his plots under layers of mystery. He does so by telling through Minton’s voice the story of a search for an elusive bond, one that is needed to save Minton’s used bookstore.

Mosley’s strength is his attention to detail, which enables him to weave a plot that commands the reader’s undivided attention from beginning to end. When the opening scene involves a serious beatdown, it seems as though you’re in for a fast read. But as Minton and Jones bopsy their way through a host of beautiful women, thugs, corrupt cops, con-artist ministers and secondhand allies, you’ll end up with dog-eared pages and marking names to track unfolding issues. It’s as much fun as a good game of Clue.

This same strength helps Mosley capture the racial climate in 1950s California. Minton’s quick wit and frail physique — well, dude ironically packs a monster in his pants — balances Jones’ flawless constitution and impulsive nature.

Having Minton tell the story is appropriate, because Jones is the type of man who acts more than he talks. A war hero and trained killing machine, he’s seen the worst humanity has to offer, and has tackled the gravest of experiences with frank responsibility and understanding. Jones’ strength and virtue are balanced, and he prides himself on his word. It’s this ethos that has landed him in jail in the past. But it also makes him the obvious choice to call when friend Minton gets into a bind after a chance encounter with Elana Love, an alluring woman with an awkwardly beautiful face. Love enters Minton’s bookstore, catching him completely off-guard by asking to see a man named Rev. Grove. Paris says Grove left two months ago. Love faints. Minton carries Love to the back room. Then Leon enters, looking for the girl, or looking for the girl “muthafuckah.” He proceeds to smack fire outta Minton’s ass and you, the reader, sit there asking, “What the hell just happened?”

You’re on page 9 now, ready and willing to be drawn into a great mystery. Fearless Jones wins because Jones is the most engaging character Mosley’s developed since Easy Rawlins. You want him to win, but triumphantly so. Mosley’s stories do that. He gives his characters enough aura to help the reader put faces on them, scenery around them and history behind them. It’s also why the ending seems to run along the natural path of divine order.

Fearless Jones is another reminder of how confident Mosley is in his own writing style. Don’t look for engaging language and multisyllabic hyperbole. That’s not his strong suit. He writes it in simple terms. But he’s good at drawing you in quickly, and tossing in surprises frequently enough to keep you alert. He’s a wise novelist also, in the sense that he always leaves the opportunity open for his characters to be resurrected in the next book.

Smart dude. Good book.

Read how novelist Walter Mosley digs deep into life's tough mysteries, in Peter Werbe's insightful interview.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].