Thanks to a blockbuster film starring Denzel Washington and an 11-volume book series, best-selling author Walter Mosley’s name has become synonymous with his most famous character, Easy Rawlins.
But if there were ever a way to remind readers that Mosley’s literary gifts stretch far beyond the character that made him a household name, they lie in his presentation of the Leonid McGill series.
Mosley will return to St. Louis on Saturday evening (Mar. 12) to discuss When the Thrill is Gone, the third installment in the mystery series highlighting the highs and lows of McGill, a retired boxer turned private investigator.
McGill’s life consists of using his work in an attempt to wade his way out of the scum of the earth to build a life for his family, while simultaneously paying for the sins he has committed.
“I needed to write about a character who was not a victim,” Mosley said. “And Leonid McGill for years had been a victimizer. All of his life, he has been doing wrong. And now he realizes that he has to turn around. He realizes very sensibly that he has a lot of enemies. But he’s willing to deal with that to make a life.”
Through Mosley’s latest series, readers are introduced to a rainbow ensemble of characters and situations, including blended families, shady business deals and actions that skirt legal and moral boundaries.
“Leonid is looking for redemption. He’s never going to be Easy,” Mosley said.
“He’s that ‘everyday guy’ member of the neighborhood everybody likes. Have they always done the right thing? No. And he doesn’t expect to. He doesn’t even expect redemption, but he knows that he has to work towards it.”
A vivid comparison occurs to him: “Imagine somebody had a job as a torturer, but they decide they are going to be a farmer. They still have the torturer’s tools – it’s like taking an iron maiden to till the ground.”
While the title claims the book to be absent of thrills, audiences will be instantly caught up in McGill’s whirlwind.
The middle-aged black man is suffering from empty-pocket syndrome thanks to the economy. His white wife has a boyfriend half her age. One of his sons has dropped out of college to become an internet hustler, while the other is on the run from mobsters in Europe.
Enter an African-American woman claiming to be the third wife of a billionaire art collector – a man whose first two wives met untimely deaths under mysterious circumstances.
McGill’s gut tells him his safety is at stake, because she’s leaving crucial elements of her circumstances blank so that he will take the case. His cash flow situation tells him to turn the other cheek and take the $12,000 cash she is offering.
He takes the bait, and what follows is a thrilling pursuit that has McGill running in both directions in every element of his life.
Thrill involves him chasing demons that have haunted his past, veering through obstacles tossed his way thanks to a case his instincts warned him against taking from the moment his prospective client said hello.
McGill has some big shoes to fill with respect to the iconic Easy Rawlins, but the character is apparently up for the challenge. After only three books in, the series has earned Mosley constant acclaim, recurring positions on an array of best and best-seller lists and an HBO pilot.
Mosley deemed it necessary to create a new perspective, as the black man’s approach to the world has changed since the days of Easy.
“Nobody is saying ‘poor me.’ Nobody has the space to say ‘poor me,’” Mosley said. “This is not to say that racism doesn’t exist in their world, but there are a whole bunch of white people that they wouldn’t trade places with for a minute.”
Walter Mosley will be at St. Louis County Library Headquarters (1640 S. Lindbergh) to read from and discuss his latest book, When the Thrill is Gone, on Saturday, March 12 at 7 p.m. For more information, call (314) 993-4400.