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Easy Rawlins gets a little rough around the edges

If you can name anybody cooler than Easy Rawlins, you're probably mistaken.

Walter Mosley's street-smart, tough-guy hero walks the line between right and if-you-don't-get-caught-it-ain't-wrong smoother than anyone since Sam Spade.

And smooth is how it feels to spend a few hours with Easy in "Blonde Faith," Walter Mosley's 10th novel about the Los Angeles private eye -- circa 1967 in this installment.

As usual, Mosley's writing is tight, sharp and much more than a mystery. Instead of growing stale, his familiarity with his character takes readers deeper into Rawlins' psyche, drawing out his strengths and his demons.

We see a man more comfortable in his environment than with himself. The kind of fellow Denzel Washington played in "Devil in a Blue Dress," the movie made from the first Easy Rawlins book, is the public Easy. The Rawlins in "Blonde" is getting rough around the edges: Think Samuel L. Jackson.

"Devil" was set in the 1940s. Leaping forward a couple of decades for "Blonde," Easy's private investigating again has a personal connection. He is looking for his old friend Raymond "Mouse" Alexander, a stone-cold killer suspected of murdering a mostly insignificant man who may or may not be dead.

At the same time, Rawlins is trying to track down his friend Christmas Black, another lethal weapon on legs who acquired his deadly talents in Vietnam and hasn't forgotten anything. Christmas disappeared after dropping his daughter, Easter Dawn, at Easy's house. Easy wants to know why.

While the search for his two old friends is what occupies Easy, it is the loss of his girlfriend Bonnie that preoccupies him.

Whether on a stakeout or standing up to yet another protector of the public good who hadn't gotten the equal rights memo, Easy's thoughts always turn back to Bonnie. He can't escape the sense that pushing Bonnie away (actually he threw her out) may have been the biggest mistake of his life.

"Thinking about Bonnie's departure," Easy muses, "was like staring into the sun. I needed to get my mind off her, to distract myself."

The distractions are there: He starts his Mouse-hunt by looking for Pericles Tarr, the man Mouse is alleged to have killed. Tarr left behind a wife worn down to a shadow and a "beady-eyed brood" of about a dozen unruly children. One visit is all it takes to get an inkling about why Mr. Tarr may have left the building. Solving this one is only a matter of time.

Finding Christmas Black is far more dangerous. With a trio of rogue soldiers pursuing him, Christmas is leaving a trail marked by the bodies of those who caught up. But woe to those who get caught in the middle -- and if he's not careful, that could include Easy.

The investigations unfold across the landscape of Vietnam-era Los Angeles divided by grim realities of race and war. For many people there, Rawlins is the problem solver, the fixer. His connections extend into every neighborhood; his friends are legion; his success never in doubt.

But in the end, Easy Rawlins may be able to save everyone but himself, as Mosley leaves us with one last mystery: Has he tired of his greatest creation? Does he want to spend more time with Paris Minton and Fearless Jones, who live in his latest series?

It could be interesting times when Rawlins reappears. In his world, 1968 is just around the corner.

Melinda Miller is an editor of the online edition of the News.


Blonde Faith

By Walter Mosley

Little Brown

308 pages; $29.99

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