Friday, April 30, 2010

Fearless Jones by Walter Mosley

Title: Fearless Jones
Author: Walter Mosley
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2001)

I have to say right off that this book made me cry so my objectivity might be emotionally compromised. You might not think of a 'whodunit' book as a tear jerker but I'll explain. (This actually might be more of a 'whatthehelzgoingon' than a 'whodunit.' It's a fine line, anyway.) Right, some details. As Fearless Jones opens, Paris Minton is minding his own business - literally, he's reading in the bookshop he owns - when an attractive woman he doesn't know comes in asking about a neighborhood reverend. Shortly after she arrives a man enters the bookstore looking for her. He doesn't appreciate Paris' unhelpful answers and beats him pretty badly. This ignites a shitstorm of unpleasantness for Paris and he decides he needs the help of his friend Fearless Jones to figure out what's going on. As these two black men in 1950s Los Angeles try to figure out what's going on, and avoid further suspicion from the cops, the reader is taken along on a nicely paced ride.

I really liked the writing style and especially the dialogue. There's a real natural quality to it that makes it feel a lot like you're experiencing an actual conversation. Obviously dialogue is never a pure portrayal of live conversation (and let's, like, thank our, yeah, you know, lucky stars for, um, that) but it can often have a representative feel to it. Not so in this case and it's a definite strong point.

Characterization is well done, too. Both the mains and the supporting get more than just casual depictions giving the story a lot of depth. I'm only gonna focus on Paris and Fearless though because I really liked their dynamic. They also made me laugh a lot, too. Chuckles aside, Paris is a bit of an anti-hero. He feels inadequate most of the time and not up to the hero antics of his friend Fearless. On the other hand, you learn that Fearless is the kind of guy that trouble finds and Paris is often there to get him out of a jam. Paris indulges a bit in an inferiority complex and is relentless in his hero worship of Fearless. At first I thought the theme a bit overdone but as the story unfolds the characters weigh in on the idea and, though it's not explicit, I think Paris might change his mind from when we first meet him in the story. The theme is not a new one but I enjoyed going through it with Paris. Here's a little example of Paris' point of view (quote condensed from p. 110 of hardback):

"Somebody going to investigate the death?" I asked.
"Everybody around here got a real job, Mr. Minton. Real jobs and apartments and mouths to feed. [Victim] was just a year outta prison, an ex-con with a bullet in his chest, found after an anonymous call."
Fearless didn't have a job or an apartment or kids to feed. She wasn't talking about him though.

And that's the thing, no one ever is. Paris takes almost everything that can be construed as a criticism on himself. He doesn't resent Fearless and he's pretty funny so these usually had me laughing. The main difference between the friends is that Paris looks at every situation and thinks about survival and Fearless looks at every situation and thinks about the outcome he prefers. He's pretty badass. Well, hella badass and my favorite example of his very obvious badassness was this:

Fearless stood up.
"You don't wanna know what I can do." The 'motherfucker' wasn't said, but everyone in that room heard it.

The two friends have several funny exchanges and Fearless is one of those characters that uses the obvious answer to great effect:

"So he didn't say nuthin'?" I asked.
"How he gonna say somethin' if he's dead, Paris?"

Mosley is one of those talented writers that can describe emotion really well. I kept thinking of Stephen King, actually, who I do not really read as I'm not a big fan (I hear a few other people like him though;), because I've always been really impressed with how accessible King makes emotion. Mosley's got that, too, and he uses it both ways. He conveys extreme emotions just as well as the more superficial emotions that are with us as we make our way through our days (you know, those of us that lead mundane lives reading books).

So here we are at the end of what I have to say and I still haven't brought up that crying bit. It's a bit spoilerish of Paris' back story so I'm going to include it below. However, this reminds me of one last thing that I'll say. Paris' character development and back story are really well done. First person narratives don't always lend themselves easily to this but the type of character Paris is works really well with how his back story is told.

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spoilers and crying below:
Paris is a book lover and has worked very hard to be able to spend each and every day doing what he loves: reading books. When his bookstore burns down at the beginning of the story I was pretty shaken up but when he describes his first trip to a library I was in tears. He was thirteen and with some guesstimating that puts him in early 1930s Louisiana. The white librarian sees him reading outside and then brings him into the library for the sole purpose of telling him it's not for him because he is black. It's hard to comprehend the kind of vile person that deliberately breaks a heart.

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