by Walter Mosley
Leonid McGill is a P.I. with a shady past, a lot of guilt, a wife he doesn’t love whom he stands by anyway, a lot of powerful friends in low places, a devastating punch, and a need for money. So when he’s asked to track down some kids who got in trouble years ago, he reluctantly agrees, even though he knows all isn’t what it appears to be. The same is true of hunting down a mob accountant – he wants no more death on his hands, but he’s hardly in a position to refuse powerful gangsters. A short, overweight black man with education and a funny name, McGill is looked down on and underestimated a lot, but he often uses that to his advantage.
This book is a mixed bag, but its pros outweigh its weak points. I’ve read three previous Mosley books, and while McGill doesn’t have the straight-shooting approachability of Socrates Fortlow, he’s a great character. Unfortunately, though this is the first McGill novel, he’s appeared in earlier stories that are referenced here, which gave me the feeling of being lost at first, or that Mosley was trying to artificially inflate his character’s past. There are a few scenes that don’t quite work, either – the police are presented as stupid straw men for the most part; hit men are glorified in rather juvenile fashion; and at one point McGill’s lawyer is present at his being picked up by the police for attempted murder, but he is not present at the questioning, which is utterly absurd. Still, though, this adventure – which is heavily redolent of Hammett’s Continental Op, from the short portly strong protagonist to the baffling array of characters, motives and family secrets – has gravitas and suspense. First, the mystery is complex and rewarding. Secondly, McGill is a man wrestling with guilt, love, and lust. He’s a man with few options and a lot of pressure. In that way, it’s a very relatable, human story, not an action adventure.