Paris Minton - used bookstore owner in 1950s
Socrates Fortlow - ex-convict and hero
Above are all black men living in the Watts section of Los Angeles, California
Leonid McGill - NYC P.I.
(Jump down to see list of more Walter Mosley books reviewed)
"Fear of the Dark"
(Reviewed by Hagen Baye APR 21, 2007)
"All three of us were living according to black peoples’ laws. The minute I came upon that white boy’s body I knew that I would be seen as guilty in the eyes of American justice. Not even that – I was guilty. There was no jury that would exonerate me. There was no court of appeals that would hear my cries of innocence."
Fear of the Dark is the third installment of Walter Mosley’s series about his odd couple characters, Paris Minton and Fearless Jones, and their dealing with the reality of being Black men in Los Angeles of the 1950’s.
Minton and Jones are as different as different can be. Paris Minton, owns the Florence Avenue Used Book Shop, and is a bookworm, more comfortable in the classroom and library than the streets. Indeed, he is an admitted coward who would rather run than fight. “Scared if I do,…and scared if I don’t.”
Fearless Jones, on the other hand, is a heroic man, not afraid of anything or anyone. He will not run from a fight, will take on bullies gladly, but will not pick a fight just to show how tough he is. He has little formal education, but has great intuition and insight into persons and situations. He is also a true blue friend and a man of uncommon honesty and integrity.
As square as Minton is, trouble always finds him. He is like a magnet that attracts trouble. As Fearless remarked to Minton, “…I know men who run in the streets every night don’t have half the trouble you got. I know people live more peaceable lives in prison.”
Trouble comes Minton’s way in Fear of the Dark principally due to his first cousin, Ulysses S. Grant IV, known to all as “Useless,” except for his mother and Fearless. When Useless comes to Minton’s door, Minton refuses him admittance and the trouble he is surely bringing. But the rebuff is a mere temporary reprieve from the problems that do follow.
Soon thereafter arrives Useless’s mother, Minton’s aunt, Three Hearts, all the way from Louisiana. Minton loves but also greatly fears her. All believe that Three Hearts possesses special powers, including the evil eye, and no one, especially Minton, ever wants to get on her bad side. So, when she tells Minton that her son is missing and she needs Minton’s help to find him, he has no choice in the matter but to begrudgingly agree—for he does not want her to cast a spell on him.
Minton eventually learns that cousin Useless, true to form—he is after all “a petty thief, liar, a malingerer and just plain bad luck” who had no sense but a “sense of survival”—has gotten himself involved in a scam. Using a beautiful Black woman and a supposed flawless poker winning system as lures, Useless and his partners in crime trick white men entrusted with the control of large sums of money--officers of banks, insurance companies, churches, financial management firms and the like--to participate in rigged card games at which they are fleeced and then blackmailed by threats of exposure unless more money is paid and/or referrals made naming other potential marks. The blackmail includes pictures of the marks in compromising positions with the beautiful Black woman cohort who first entranced these respectable men into participating.
Minton finds evidence that either the victims were seeking revenge or Useless had ripped off his partners and one or more of them are coming after him. This explains some of the dead bodies within Useless's circle of associates and the heat (evidenced by, among other things, his getting beat up and shot at) that makes Minton feel that he, Three Hearts and anyone else associated with Useless were likewise at risk.
There is no grandiose social commentary in Fear of the Dark, as there is in Mosley’s most recent Easy Rawlin’s book, Cinnamon Kiss and several of his other recent works. Fear nevertheless does make a significant statement about the reality that confronted Black men in LA in the 50's. They were constantly at risk of being arrested in any encounter with the police for any and no reason and for whom serving time was a likely prospect, with or without cause. As Fearless related to Minton: “You know we always on the edge, brother. You don’t have to do sumptin’ wrong for the cops to get ya and the judge to throw you ovah. All you got to do is be walkin’ down the street at the wrong minute. Shoot, Paris. You always got to be ready to run.” A poignant example is made when Minton’s is not even able to read a book in a public park without being harassed and suspected of criminal activity by the police. Ironically, he is reading a quite imaginative science fiction book by a Russian writer, written at a time when all Russian citizens were thought in this country of being repressed and brainwashed and incapable of any imagination and of any such book being publishable. Mosley’s point is that for all the negative opinions about the Russian communist state during the so-called Cold War period, the treatment of Blacks and of other racial minorities in the United States and the outright infringement and curtailment of their civil rights was an outright disgrace and made us no better than the Russians in many respects. Fearless’s view of the matter was that the police, and/or those who controlled the police, felt it necessary to keep them down, otherwise Blacks would rise up—which is exactly what happened during the following decade.
Fear of the Dark is an extremely well written and entertaining book with a fascinating story with fascinating main and secondary characters (colorful folks like Mad Anthony, Whisper Natly, Van “Killer” Cleave, Man Dorn, the $2 Man Bobby Frank) during a fascinating period—thought to be dormant, but it was in fact the brewing ground of the pressures that would boil over in the following decade. Fear is a fine addition to Mosley’s continuing contribution to American fiction. In Paris Minton and Fearless Jones he has created mportant characters, as important as Easy Rawlins, the character that helped establish Mosley’s reputation.
- Amazon readers rating: from 24 reviews
Read an excerpt from Fear of the Dark at Mostlyfiction.com(back to top)
(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUN 10, 2001)
Paris Minton is a mild mannered, book reading kind of gentle man, unlike his handsome but trouble attracting best friend Fearless Jones. When Paris discovered that libraries "discard" thousands of books every year, he came up with a plan to open a used bookstore. Not an exceptional idea these days, but Paris Minton is a black man living in 1950s L.A. To protect his interest as a new business man, Paris decides to leave Fearless to serve out a jail sentence rather than pay his fine as he would have in the past. Ironically this proves to be a bad decision when it comes to protecting his business.
For the previous three months, Paris was the happiest man in LA spending his days reading in his swivel chair and making enough money to stay ahead of his bills. Then a "picture perfect damsel in distress" by the name of Elana Love comes into his store looking for help from a Reverend Grove of the Messenger of the Divine Ministry. At the news that the ministry left the neighborhood one night under the cover of darkness, she swoons and Paris takes her into his curtained off back room/living quarters for water. No sooner than he does this, ex-convict Leon Douglas comes into the store demanding to know "wherethegurl?" When Paris won't answer, this "volcano crushed down into just about man size," slaps him until he loses consciousness.
When Paris is sleeping off the beating, the woman comes out of hiding. When Paris realizes that he's going to have to give up on the notion that she's simply going to go back out the way she came in, he offers her (and the trouble she came in with) a ride out of there. For the first time he understands how you can be doing nothing and trouble finds you, just as his friend Fearless always insists. In short order, Elana Love takes his money, gun and car. And his beloved bookstore is burned to the ground. So Paris cashes out his savings to get Fearless out of jail. He needs help from someone who isn't afraid of anything and who has a strong instinct for making things right because "burning down my store was just the same as shooting me, and somebody would have to make restitution for that crime."
The one thing that seems to hold some truth out of all Elana Love's lies and duplicity is that, while in jail with Leon Douglas, a man named Sol Tannebaum gave a bond for her to hold until each man was out of jail. So now we have Paris and Fearless, two black men with no money, no home, no car and only the clothing on their back looking for a white man's bond, crossing back and forth between LA's white neighborhoods and black. As the two protagonists follow the leads things get scary fast. In 1950s LA, it is clear that these men have few rights and little recourse when under attack.
As in his previous novels, Mosley has his characters walk the fine line of race in America. With Fearless Jones, he has a man that's proud to be a World War II veteran in a country that would just as soon take away his rights than to thank him for his duty. From the start you see how ready the police are to accuse Paris Minton of stealing the books he sells. But what makes Mosley's novels work is that he isn't militant about showing a black versus white world; he shows there are good and bad people of all races and nationalities. Mosley gives a full appreciation of time and place which then provides the context and circumstances by which race and nationality are affected. Nothing is excused but neither is it ignored.
Anyone who has enjoyed Mosley's previous mysteries featuring Easy Rawlins or Socrates Fortlow will like this one as much. This noir style novel is written in first person narrative with Paris Minton telling the story and providing observations with Mosley's usual perceptive humor. For example, Paris and Fearless are discussing how Elena uses "bein' a woman to fight her way through." When Paris asks if this is the first time Fearless realized that a woman uses sex to get what she wants, he say "'Course not. But I never thought of it like fightin'. I never thought that a kiss could be like a loaded gun." It is dialogues such as this that carries the reader along the fast paced and ever deepening plot.
Fearless Jones is one more must read from a writer I hold in the highest regard.
- Amazon readers rating: from 54 reviews
Read an excerpt from Fearless Jones at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- R.L.'s Dream (1995)
- Blue Light (1998)
- Futureland (2001)
- The Man in My Basement (2004)
- 47 (2005)
- The Wave (2006)
- Fortunate Son (2006)
- Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel (2006)
- Diablerie (2007)
- The Tempest Tales (2008)
- The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (2010)
- Parishioner (2012)
Easy Rawlins Mysteries:
- Devil in a Blue Dress (1990)
- A Red Death (1991)
- White Butterfly (1992)
- Black Betty (1994)
- A Little Yellow Dog (1996)
- Gone Fishin' (1997)
- Bad Boy Brawly Brown (July 2002)
- Six Easy Pieces: Stories (2003)
- Little Scarlet (2004)
- Cinnamon Kiss (2005)
- Blonde Faith (2007)
- Little Green (May 2013)
Socrates Fortlow novels:
- Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1998)
- Walkin'the Dog (1999)
- The Right Mistake: The Further Philosophical Investigations of Socrates Fortlow (2008)
Paris Minton and Fearless Jones Mysteries:
Leonid McGill, P.I. series:
- The Long Hill (2009)
- Known to Evil (2010)
- When the Thrill is Gone (2011)
- All I Did Was Shoot My Man (2012)
Crosstown to Oblivion:
- Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History (2000)
- What Next: An African American Initiative Toward World Peace (2003)
- This Year You Write Your Novel (2007)
Movies from books:
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- Official website for Walter Mosley
- Wikipedia page on Walter Mosley
- The New York Times review of Fearless Jones
- The Mystery Reader review of Fearless Jones
- January Magazine review of Fear Itself
- La Bloga review of Fear of the Dark
More reviews of Walter Mosley's books:
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Man in My Basement
- MostlyFiction.com review of Easy Rawlins series
- MostlyFiction.com review of Socrates Fortlow series
- MostlyFiction.com review of Futureland
- MostlyFiction.com review of Workin' on the Chain Gang
- MostlyFiction.com review of When the Thrill is Gone (Leonid McGill series)
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About the Author:
Walter Mosley, born in 1952, grew up in Los Angeles and has been at various times in his life a potter, a computer programmer, and a poet.
His books have been translated into twenty languages. Devil in a Blue Dress received the 1990 Shamus Award for "Best First P.I. Novel" from the Private Eye Writers of America and was also made into a movie starring Denzel Washington. His collection of short stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, a 60 year-old philosophical ex-convict, in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was also latered released as a movie.
He has been the president of the Mystery Writers of America and a member of the executive board of the PEN American Center and Founder of its Open Book Committee and on the board of directors of the National Book Awards. In 2002, Walter Mosley won a Grammy for "Best Liner Notes" for a Richard Pryor box set.
Mosley lives in New York City.