It's Black, White-And Noir: Crime Writers Are Taking a Hard-Boiled Look at Race

By Jones, Malcolm | Newsweek, June 24, 2002 | Go to article overview

It's Black, White-And Noir: Crime Writers Are Taking a Hard-Boiled Look at Race


Jones, Malcolm, Newsweek


Byline: Malcolm Jones

In his forthcoming novel, "Bad Boy Brawly Brown," Walter Mosley sends his hero Easy Rawlins in search of a young African-American man who's joined up with the Urban Revolutionary Party in mid-'60s Los Angeles. But just when Easy finds the young man at a party meeting, the cops barge in. "A police raid meant nothing to me," Easy says. "I'd been in whorehouses, speakeasies, barber shops and alley crap games when the police came down. Sometimes I got away and sometimes I lied about my name. There was nothing spectacular about being rousted for being black."

It takes only a few pages for Mosley to capture the anger and violence of the '60s, and he does it from the point of view of an African-American man who wants no part of radicalism and even less to do with the white power structure that throws the police at the slightest sign of unrest. The remarkable thing about this scene, though, is that it takes place not in some ambitious social novel about racial violence but in a detective story. And these days that sort of social realism is not that uncommon.

Novels with a social conscience, or novels that picked at the warp and woof of the way people lived, were once a high-protein staple of the American literary diet--think Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck or John Dos Passos. But then social realism fell from favor in literary circles. Remember Philip Roth's famous quote in the early '60s that fic-tion could no longer keep pace with reality? These days, with a few exceptions--Richard Price, Colson Whitehead--mystery writers have social realism almost all to themselves. Or as crime writer Dennis Lehane puts it succinctly, "Today's social novel is the crime novel." Lehane backs that claim up with a half-dozen mysteries ("Prayers for Rain," "Mystic River") about life high and low in Boston, and so can writers like Mosley, James Lee Burke, George P. Pelecanos, James Sallis and Paula L. Woods.

Today's crime writers, black and white alike, are tackling the volatile subject of race with a daring conspicuously lacking in mainstream fiction. Because race is almost never the main event in their stories, these writers don't look at racial issues as problems to resolve. They look at them as clues about how society works, or doesn't work. The result is often some of the freshest reporting being done on America. Even law professor Stephen Carter, who got mixed reviews for his eagerly anticipated debut novel, "The Emperor of Ocean Park," drew praise for his portrait of upper-middle-class African-American society--in the middle of a mystery novel.

Mosley kick-started the trend in 1990 with "Devil in a Blue Dress," the first of six Easy Rawlins mysteries in which he's charted the history of black life in Los Angeles from the '40s to the '60s. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

It's Black, White-And Noir: Crime Writers Are Taking a Hard-Boiled Look at Race
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.