ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED
Mosley takes a break from his peerless Easy Rawlins series (Gone Fishin', 1997, etc.) for a cycle of non-mystery stories set in the same violent neighborhood of Watts. Like Easy, Socrates Fortlow has lived a long time with the dark side of life and himself. Thirty-five years ago, Socrates, addled with drink and lust, raped and killed a pair of acquaintances. Now, eight years after his endless prison sentence, he's living in a two-room apartment little better than his cell, and he still watches his back, avoids the Man, and assigns himself a grade at the end of every day. "Once you go to prison you belong there," he says of the brutalizing effect his term worked on him. But no matter how hard he tries, Socrates can't turn his back on life. A walk on the beach stirs memories and desires he'd rather not face; a tense face-off with a neighborhood adulterer awakens both his sharpest censure and his sharpest self-criticism. And he's not just a survivor; amid the allures of the flesh and the fear and anger he feels about being a black American, his life also lurches forward. He pushes the staff of the Bounty Supermarket to hire him as a grocery boxer; he takes in Darryl, a boy he can tell killed somebody else, too; he gets together with a WW II vet to expel a crack dealer from the neighborhood; he wrestles manfully with the question of whether he should rat a homicidal firebug out to the hated police. Whether he's remembering the bookstore intellectuals he used to hang around with or teaching Darryl to stand up to a gangbanger, Socrates constantly judges himself. As he writes to an old girlfriend: "I don't get into trouble even when it's not my fault." The elemental recurrence of fear and lust and rage are right out of Easy Rawlins, even if Socrates' story exhibits rather than extends Mosley's range.