BOOKS & THE CULTURE / Easy Gone to Texas Mosley Gulf Coast Novel Paints the DetectiveAi Dark History BY DALLAS LACY GONE FISHIN’. By Walter Mosley. 244 pages. $22.00. The recently published Gone Fishin’ is important as the first-written book of a nowpopular series of detective novels, the most highly acclaimed series featuring a black detective since the Harlem Renaissance nov els of Chester Himes. It is also unique in the series in that it is set in Texas, recounting the shadowy back story of the later novels, all of them set primarily in the black neighborRawlins series, now six novels long \(includWalter Mosley \(Mosley’s father is AfricanMosley clearly rose to literary success on his own talents, his commercial career got quite a boost in 1992 when presidential candidate Bill Clinton named Mosley as his favorite mystery writer. Mosley’s subsequent novels have all been best sellers, and with Gone Fishin’, he has begun to turn that success to the benefit of.black publishers. Detective fiction fans who buy a copy of Gone Fishin’ expecting a fairly straightforward mystery in the mode of the other Easy Rawlins books, however, are likely to be surprised. Gone Fishin’written some time before the other novels and set in a period from Easy’s Texas youthdoes not precisely fit into the mystery genre. There is no carefully presented problem in the beginning; neither is there a neatly tied-together solution at the end. Never in the novel does someone ask Easy to help find a missing person or to solve a murder. \(It’s true, however, that even in the other novels, Rawlins is a somewhat reluctant, amateur detective, actually making his uncertain living from a But by setting aside what the book is not, the reader can begin to appreciate what it is: an initiation story which in many ways parallels John Knowles’ A Separate Peace. In both A Separate Peace and Gone Fishin’, the point of view is that of an older narrator, looking back at himselfwhen as a younger man, he reluctantly, almost accidentally, accepted complicity in a murder. The narrator consequencesperhaps never completely finding his “separate peace.” Although Gone Fishin’ is unevenly composed and has little of the cosmopolitan polish of the later books, it does provide a revealing look at the background of Rawlins and his somewhat sinister friend, Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, who figures strongly in the series. One can watch Mosley in the process of inventing the Texas background for his California protagonists. In Gone Fishin’, for example, we are given the post-WWII thoughts of Rawlins \(in Paris on R&R, after serving under Patton tempting to describe what it was like in 1939 when, just nineteen, he traveled from Houston with Mouse southward to Mouse’s home, the aptly named Pariah, Texas. Mouse is grimly determined to settle a vague but bitter score with his stepfather. Easy’s feeling of guilt over his inability to intervene between the two men \(an outcome awkwardly ratified by Easy’s acceptance of life-long moral burden, and shadows the relationship between Easy and Mouse During the war, Easy later tells us, although he already had a safe job behind the lines, he volunteered for Patton’s army so as “maybe” to “make up for my failure in Pariah.” Late in the book, Easy decides that if a son of his ever asks about the war, he will “tell him about the time I had in Pariah. I’ll tell him that that was my real war.” p ” ariah, Texas” is, of course, an imagi nary place. Even so, Texas readers particularly those who have been im pressed. with Mosley’s seemingly accurate description of the Watts neighborhoods in the L.A. of his other booksmay be un pleasantly surprised at the factual errors that abound in Gone Fishin’s fictional version of Texas geography. There are enough appar ently unintentional mistakes to make the reader wonder whether, before he composed this youthful novel, Mosley had ever been to Texasor had even looked at a Texas map. For example, near the beginning of the novel, when Easy and Mouse are traveling “southeast” from Houston \(which actually would take them either to Galveston or into who are supposedly trying to travel due east, to Louisiana \(with no narrative acknowl edgement that the hitchhikers are in fact book, during Easy’s train trip to Dallas from Houston, he describes the Texas he sees out side the train as “a real desert. They have miles of flat gray stone and tumbleweeds blowing and plenty of nothing.” It’s a Holly wood-ish stereotype of West Texas, not to tally accurate even for the Pecos region, and APRIL 25, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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