BY NICO VREELAND
Author: Walter Mosley
Riverhead Books, 2009
Best ebook deal: BooksOnBoard
For me, the most important part of a new mystery or crime series is the personality of the main character, especially if it’s a first-person narrative. Whether the hero’s a PI, a cop, or a career criminal, I have to be willing to spend time with him, even if I wouldn’t ever want to meet him.
The answer to the question of whether I can spend time with Leonid McGill, the protagonist of Mosley’s new mystery series, is a resounding… “I guess so.”
It’s not that McGill isn’t up to the job Mosley gives him: he’s tough, knowledgable, and competent, as first-person hardboiled heroes have to be for the narrative to work. It’s more that nothing about McGill stands out. You’ll recognize a checklist of standard detective character traits: a soulful gruffness, a love of women and drinking, a checkered past, etc. etc. Mosley tweaks a few of the details (McGill has a decent relationship with at least one of his kids), but he isn’t trying to break the mold.
All in all, The Long Fall, like McGill, is passable but not terribly noteworthy. It’s a book that might be a little expensive in hardcover, but would be worth spending a few days on down the line.
The plot of The Long Fall is your standard hardboiled fare, with a slight twist. McGill takes a case that unsettles him, and when the people he was sent to find start dying, his conscience makes him dig deeper. It doesn’t hurt his motivation that somebody tries to kill him, too. One of his kids (the one he likes) gets in trouble, and that makes for a decent subplot.
While Mosley’s a pretty good plotter, he’s not nearly so good at characters. He draws everyone in broad strokes and they’re all the most of something: the most beautiful woman, the most deadly assassin, the best son, the best hacker, etc. etc. But then, I guess you’re not expecting Faulkner.
Mosley’s prose style is, like everything else, recognizable and nothing new. It’s primarily just-the-facts, with a sprinkling of half-cocked poetry (“I traded the history of four troubled young men’s lives for nine filterless Camels and eight red-tipped matches.”) that occasionally borders on wince-inducing (“It would have been the perfect moment for us to come together once more if it wasn’t for the madwoman running around the couch, shrieking at the top of her voice. That madwoman was my life.”). There’s also a streak of racism throughout, but it passes, most of the time, for streetwise realism.
Mosley doesn’t bother himself cracking any jokes, but he does provide some unintentional comedy as he tries to wedge technology into McGill’s life. My favorite part is when McGill assigns different ringtones to his different cell phones. One is a growling bear, and the other is a “solitary seagull [crying].”
On the scale of gruff ex-boxers using technology, this roughly translates to making McGill’s email address Ace#1Detective@leonidmcgill.com. It’s such a lame gimmick that Mosley himself gives up on it after two or three quick mentions.
If you’re already a Mosley fan, I’m sure this one won’t disappoint. If not, give The Long Fall a try if it comes across your desk. However, I can’t say that it’s worth either the $20 the hardcover costs, or the effort of finding it at the library.
Similar books: Check out the Parker series by Richard Stark (the hard-crime pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake) if you want the checkered past, and not just the tortured allusions to it. And, any Vachss novel, especially his Burke series, will while away a few days.