By Walter Mosley
Doubleday. 320 pp. $25.95
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Oline H. Cogdill
Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels have always been a perceptive time machine, providing a view of racism as the black community navigated post-WWII Los Angeles and of how those same concerns and issues are part of the fabric of the 21st century.
Racial profiling, corrupt cops, and young men targeted as scapegoats haven't gone away. And while Mosley weaves these situations into Rose Gold, his 13th outing with private detective Easy, he never resorts to a screed, but shows how the best of crime fiction truly is the contemporary social novel.
In Rose Gold, it's late 1967, early 1968, and revolution is in the air on college campuses and the streets of Los Angeles as the war in Vietnam rages. But the big news in Easy's life is that he and his daughter Feather have moved into a large house in a lovely neighborhood where his bright child has the chance to go to a good school. Things are a-changing, the "rules were slowly evaporating," Easy says, "but they lingered in the memories, desires, and expectations of the old guard and their offspring."
Easy's "moving day" is clouded when Roger Frisk, the police chief's special assistant, shows up with some of his squad. Frisk coerces Easy into taking the job of finding Rosemary Goldsmith, a college student and the daughter of wealthy munitions manufacturer Foster Goldsmith. Rosemary - Rose Gold as Easy calls her - was last seen with Robert Mantle, a black boxer turned political activist who's suspected of killing three cops and a high school vice principal and taking part in an armored-car heist. Rose may have been kidnapped or she may have gone willingly, but if Easy can find the boxer, he'll find the college student. Easy's investigation runs up against the FBI, the State Department, and a few local gangsters.
Easy's habit of trading favors with his far-flung contacts has earned him the trust of the black community, allowing him to move among the neighborhoods. Along the way, Easy discovers that Rosemary may not be as innocent nor Robert such a villain as to warrant the police's shoot-on-sight decree.
Although Rose Gold takes place a few years before the 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst, Mosley uses this historical touchstone to give his novel texture. The revolutionaries of the 1960s - and the aftermath of their actions - don't seem that far removed from Occupy Wall Street. Amid Easy's investigation, he takes the time to tell little stories about acquaintances and friends that speak volumes about racism. A drive from "West Los Angeles down to South Central was like following a social science chart," showing the economic disparity in neighborhoods.
Mosley's 2007 novel Blonde Faith ended with what seemed like Easy's demise, but the author had a change of heart and brought him back in 2013 with Little Green. Rose Gold picks up just five months after Easy's near-fatal car accident.