by Walter Mosley
The second Leonid McGill crime novel. Leonid McGill, still haunted by the guilt of the bad things he used to do (or so he says, but the examples given of his supposed misdeeds seem very mild), is asked to track down a woman for “the most powerful man in New York.” He is also consumed with helping out a former victim who has just been arrested on baseless terrorism charges, rescuing his son’s girlfriend from her violent pimp, and managing the tightrope between his loveless marriage and the women he beds. As he puts himself in more and more danger for his son, his victim, and the missing girl, he unravels a strange story of corporate corruption.
I called the first McGill novel, The Long Fall, a mixed bag; this one is even less impressive, sadly (as I have enjoyed Mosley’s books before). The plotlines are barren of drama, because the supporting characters aren’t fully developed, because McGill is too introspective and fearless for the reader to feel any tension when he is captured and worked over, and because finally the reasoning behind the various plots is so outlandish. McGill moves in lush, wealthy circles as well as shady, underground ones, but the tone of the novel is so closed in by McGill’s constant ruminations, there’s little difference between the two. The ending is awkward and poorly explained (the villain of the piece is, simply, “insane,” lacking any real motive), but even if it weren’t, the book would still be uninteresting. Mosley writes good terse prose, but the world of McGill is rendered sadly cartoonish in its absolutes: McGill knows no fear, but constructs spy-worthy escape plots. He has a target on his back painted by everyone from police captains to hired thugs, yet he snarls insults at everyone who threatens him, and never gets comeuppance, no matter how over-powered. He is retired from the crime game, but keeps up with an extensive network of criminals and stone-cold killers who apparently owe him unwavering loyalty. He’s short and ugly, but women throw themselves at him. And Mosley’s portrayal of the world of power is simply so cartoonish it’s absurd. One crowning unintentionally funny moment comes when McGill gives a friend a “special 911 line” that is used by the ultra-rich, that brings a squad of SWAT agents coming double-time; I was reminded of Homer in “The Simpsons,” being told to use the “real” emergency number – 912 – when he is admitted to the world of the Stonecutters.