Mosley (Charcoal Joe, 2016, etc.) begins what looks to be a new series with a protagonist whose territory covers New York City’s outer boroughs—and, yes, that means Staten Island, too.
Joe King Oliver was an ace investigator with the NYPD until his roving eye helped him get framed for sexual assault. “Trouble ambushed me with my pants down and my nose open,” as he explains to an acquaintance. He is kicked off the force and thrown into Riker’s Island, where he faces the kind of demeaning and vicious attacks a jailed cop would expect from inmates until a stretch in solitary confinement and an abrupt release save his life. Eleven years later, King (as some of his friends call him) is making a living as a private eye based on Brooklyn’s Montague Street when his mundane existence is jolted by two events: a letter from a woman admitting she was coerced into setting him up years before and a case involving a radical black activist who’s been sentenced to death for killing two corrupt, abusive officers. King sees serendipity in the convergence of these two cases, believing that if he could exonerate the activist, it’d be a way of finally exorcising his rueful memories. His dual inquiries carry him from glittering Wall Street offices to seedy alleyways all over the city, and he encounters double-dealing lawyers, shady cops, drug addicts, hired killers, and prostitutes along the way. The only people King can count on are his loyal and precocious 17-year-old daughter, Aja-Denise, and an equally loyal but tightly wound career criminal named Melquarth “Mel” Frost, whose capacity for violence will remind Mosley devotees of Mouse, the homicidal thug who either helps or hinders Easy Rawlins in the author’s first and best-known series. Indeed, so many aspects of this novel are reminiscent of other Mosley books that it tempts one to wonder whether he’s stretching his resources a little thin. But ultimately it’s Mosley’s signature style—rough-hewn, rhythmic, and lyrical—that makes you ready and eager for whatever he’s serving up.
It’s getting to be a bigger blues band on Mosley’s stage, with Joe King Oliver now sitting in with Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill. But as long as it sounds sweet and smoky, let the good times roll.