by Mosley, Walter
Once he had dreamed up the Easy Rawlins series, with its colored-coded titles and suave protagonist, Walter Mosley could have coasted for the rest of his life. Instead he delved into impressionistic fiction (RL's Dream) and sci-fi (Blue Light)--and came up with his own variant on Ellison's invisible man, a forbidding ex-con named Socrates Fortlow. The author first introduced this inner-city philosopher in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, allowing him to vault one ethical hurdle after another. Now Socrates returns in Walkin' the Dog, still operating out of his tiny Watts apartment, still figuring precisely what to make of his freedom.
Like his dog, Killer--a spirited mutt who's missing his two hind legs--Socrates has to contend with a number of severe handicaps. Forget the fact that he's a black man in a white society. He's also the fall guy for every crime committed in the vicinity, a scapegoat of near-biblical proportions:
The police always came. They came when a grocery store was robbed or a child was mugged. They came for every dead body with questions and insinuations. Sometimes they took him off to jail. They had searched his house and given him a ticket for not having a license for his two-legged dog. They dropped by on a whim at times just in case he had done something that even they couldn't suspect.Yet Socrates is no poster child for racial victimization. Why? Because Mosley never soft-pedals the fact that he is, or was, a murderer. "He was a bad man," we are assured at one point. "He had done awful things." Deprived of any sort of sentimental pulpit, Socrates makes his moral determinations on the fly. Should he admit that he killed a mugger in self-defense? Can he force his adopted son Darryl to stay in school? Should he murder a corrupt cop who's terrorized his entire neighborhood? His answers are consistently surprising, and that fact--combined with the author's shrewd, no-nonsense prose--should make every reader long for Mosley's next excursion into the Socratic method. --James Marcus
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