DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS
Raymond Chandler meets Richard Wright in this not-quite-successful first novel set in 1948 L.A. Here, low-key black detective Easy Rawlins, fired from his job at a defense plant, agrees to locate femme fatale Daphne Monet for white gangster DeWitt Albright--and of course Finds more than he bargained for. Although he's the hero of a detective novel, Easy is no detective: his preferred method of investigation is to circulate among his friends--bartender Joppy (who recommends him for the job), boxer-bouncer Junior Fornay, philosophical Odell Jones, sultry Coretta James, and unpredictably violent Raymond (Mouse) Alexander--mentioning Daphne until he links her to hijacker Frank (Knifehand) Green, and then looking for Green with a deal offered by Todd Carter, the strait-laced white banker Daphne ran out on. As Easy moves through his hazy, gritty postwar hell buying drinks and asking questions, the rest of the cast predictably begins to kill each other off and come after Easy, setting the stage for a climactic confrontation between Daphne and Easy--but Daphne's revelations aren't really worth the wait. Good dialogue and some tensely effective scenes--the air crackles whenever Easy goes up against a white man--don't add up to serious competition for Chandler or Wright. Better wait for the movie, or hope for more incisive plotting in the promised sequel.