If you’ve been wondering what Leonid McGill and his family private-eye business have been up to lately, how does trying to foil a billionaire’s murderous plot to conceal his black heritage sound to you?
The seemingly unstoppable Mosley (John Woman, 2018, etc.) shifts his restless vision back to contemporary New York City and to McGill, the ex-boxer who’s as agile at navigating both sides of the law as he was in the ring. Here, Mosley delves into the murky waters of history and racial identity as Leonid’s agency is asked by one Philip “Catfish” Worry, a 94-year-old African American blues musician from Mississippi, to help him to deliver a letter to the daughter of a wealthy, ruthless, and incorrigibly racist white banker saying that he's her great-grandfather because of an illicit liaison he had with the banker’s white mother. Sounds simple enough, but the aptly named Mr. Worry warns McGill that the banker is desperate enough to do anything within his considerable and far-reaching power to stop that information from getting to his daughter. (“One thing a poor sharecropper understands is that messin’ with rich white people is like tipplin’ poison.”) When his client is wounded three hours after he takes the case, Leonid calls upon every resource available to carry out his assignment, including various characters scattered throughout Manhattan who are somehow beholden to him, whether it’s a physician recovering from opioid addiction or an ill-tempered NYPD captain who dispenses the kind of stern-but-friendly admonitions police detectives have given private eyes since the days of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Watching McGill coolly deploy the physical and intellectual skills he’d acquired in his previous life as an underworld “fixer” provides the principal pleasure of this installment, along with Mosley’s own way of making prose sound like a tender, funny blues ballad. (At one point he says a character is “as country as a bale of cotton on an unwilling child’s back.”) But there isn’t much more than that to this mystery, which is far less complex than its setup promises.
Even at less-than-peak performance, Mosley delivers enough good stuff to let you know a master’s at work.