Let me begin by saying that I am not a lover of mysteries. I will read them occasionally if the plot or setting sounds interesting. Such was the case with Walter Mosley's Fearless Jones.
The story takes place in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Paris Minton, the narrator, owns a used bookstore (so far, so good. I love the 1950s and I love bookstores). One day, Paris is in his store minding his own business when Elana Love enters. She is in need of some help, and Paris, while well aware of her beauty, wants nothing more than to be left alone, especially when Leon Douglas enters moments later looking for Elana. But Elana has disappeared and Paris has a difficult time convincing Leon that she is gone. Leon isn't listening anyway. He's too busy beating Paris to a bloody pulp. Luckily for Paris, Leon stops short of killing him and leaves. That is when
Elana reappears, and despite his firsthand knowledge of Leon's desire to find her, Paris decides to close up his shop and drive her to a safe place. The next morning, Paris finds his money and his car missing along with Elana. He makes it back to his bookstore in time to watch it burn to the ground. It is then that Paris decides his life is in danger and that he needs the help of his friend Fearless Jones.
Fearless does his name proud. He is strong and altruistic, both
characteristics his friend seems to lack. Paris is what I imagine many black men of his time to be like--bitter about his place in society and feeling powerless to change it. So, aware of how whites and, especially, the police perceive him, Paris becomes a reluctant player in this mystery.
As with most, this mystery involves money and death. Seemingly innocent people die for the sake of a large sum of money. But as the cast of players grew, so did my confusion. Some names sounded like others, while other names were aliases of more. Mosley did not want to remind us who was who, or why someone happened to be where he or she was. But what seemed most confusing was the fact that Fearless and Paris were involved. Sure, Paris wanted to be reimbursed for his burned-up bookstore, but with Jews, Nazis, Israelis, big mean ex-cons and American accountants involved, what chance did a black manin the 1950s have of getting his share of the loot?
Along with the confusion came the rushing. The closer Fearless and Paris came to solving the mystery, the faster the pace of the story. Normally this would not be a bad thing, but in the case of Fearless Jones, it only added to the confusion. Several times, I had to stop reading just to figure out who Mosley was talking about (Morris was the Nazi sympathizer. No, Morris was married to Gella. He worked for Minor. Minor? Isn't that Paris? No, Paris is Minton. Oh, then Minor is the Israeli spy. No, that was Manly. But
isn't that Milo? No, Milo was the bail bondsman. Then who IS Minor? He is the insurance man Morris worked for. Then who is the Nazi sympathizer? Minor is, only his real name is Zimmerman. See what I mean?).
One might think that Mosley's rushing at the end indicated his need to make a deadline. Not having much experience with mysteries nor Mosley's writing, I can't say for sure. What I can say is that the one aspect of the story that interested me in the beginning--a black man owning a bookstore in 1950s L.A. -- had very little to do with the mystery. He could have owned a tackle shop for all the difference it made. And while Mosley tried to keep it interesting with his mix of characters, he may have overdone it, if not with the range of nationalities, certainly with the letter "M".