16 May 2010

Mystery as science fiction

I was happy to find a new Walter Mosley book on the library shelf. I'd enjoyed his first Leonid McGill mystery (The Long Fall) a bit ago because Mosley has such a way with language. It was a treat to read his sentences.

When I picked up Known to Evil, I was looking forward to more pleasurable reading. I was half way through the book when I took it to that wonderful place by the lake known as Sidetrack. I took breaks from proofreading to finish the book.

Well, the words were there and the magical sentences and the flowing narrative, but this Leonid McGill story wasn't what I expected. It was more like science fiction than a New York-based mystery.

It might have helped if I was more familiar with the big city. As it was, whenever Mosley's character got in his car or on the subway to head off to a building or a neighborhood, he might just have well have been getting in a space ship headed for another planet. And most of those planets (buildings or neighborhoods) were pretty featureless places. They were just other planets.

Whenever McGill stopped in his office or his den for a change of clothes or a change of weapons, he might well have been going to a replicator and asking the computer to make exactly what he needed. He always got exactly what the situation called for.

When McGill's wife starts fooling around with a young man and his girlfriend takes up with another guy, guess what? The replicator produces a comely bar tender who comes on to McGill and beds him when he needs some reassurance. (Oh, and the girl friend returns by the end of the book -- no word on what happens to the 26-year, betrayal-ridden marriage.)

And the bad guys in this book were simply featureless, large, powerful, and evil. And all but once in this story, McGill, a stubby, middle aged former boxer, beat the crap out of the villians. McGill also indirectly got to the big bad guys who hired the muscle who tried to take on the private detective -- even the "bad" cops who had been eager for years to take down Leonid McGill.

It's fantasy science fiction as much as anything else. It's not a bad story and it's well told. Just be ready for a story set in contemporary New York that might as well have been set at a time long, long from now in a universe far, far away.

Book summary from BookBrowse
Sarah Weinman's review from The Los Angeles Times
Vincent T. Davis' review at My SA Entertainment

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