Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Falling into the Deep End a Modern Detective for Modern Times

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Falling into the Deep End a Modern Detective for Modern Times

Article excerpt

In "Down the River Unto the Sea," the much acclaimed writer Walter Mosley introduces a new detective, New York City habitué John King Oliver, in this enigmatically titled, problematic novel.

The author of the colorful Easy Rawlins series can be a wonderful writer. Mr. Mosley's descriptions of New York City denizens, dives and secret places are rich, even pungent. But the interactions of Oliver with too many different kinds of people make the tangled plot lines of this mystery hard to follow.

Oliver, a former city cop named after a legendary New Orleans cornetist, has two mysteries to solve. He's hired to spring a journalist named A Free Man from prison, where Man has been sent for killing two New York policemen accused of trafficking in people and drugs.

At the same time, prompted by a letter from a woman seeking redemption for framing him years ago, Oliver focuses on finding out why he was expelled from the force and brutalized in prison.

The focus is one of the problems, as Mr. Mosley scrambles those plot lines, putting Oliver in touch with nemeses such as the fixer Augustine Antrobus, the cop facilitator Reggie Teegs, and ambiguous players like a cop apologist named Gladstone. At the same time, Mr. Mosley lavishes too much detail on incidental figures like this man, a way station for Oliver on his way to closure of his own case:

"Kierin Klasky weighed well north of four hundred pounds. He could have willed his face to be sewn into a basketball after he died, it was that large and round. The features of his physiognomy were mostly just fat, as were his bloated hands and ham-round thighs."

Mr. Mosley could have cut "it was that large and round." You already had the picture.

If he occasionally overwrites, he also undercharacterizes. Oliver takes the subway one evening. Next to him is a young woman named Kenya Norman, reading a Hermann Hesse book.

They talk about spirituality. Perhaps Kenya reminds Oliver of Aja-Denise, his daughter, who works with Oliver at his detective agency. …

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