After having written four superb Easy Rawlins mysteries, Walter Mosley took a break last year from his celebrated gumshoe and produced "RL's Dream." This tale of down-and-outers in contemporary Manhattan had all the intensity and offhand poetry of Mosley's preceding books. Still, it's hard not to cheer at the return of Rawlins in "A Little Yellow Dog."
This time around the year is 1963, and again the setting is Los Angeles -- including such nonwhite neighborhoods as Southeast L.A., which Mosley describes as "palm trees and poverty; neat little lawns tended by the descendants of ex-slaves and massacred Indians." Easy himself has settled down considerably. He works as a maintenance supervisor for a public school, takes care of his two adopted children, and seems to have sworn off the booze, sex, and gunplay that characterized his earlier life. Circumstances, however, draw him back into some nasty business, involving a missing shipment of heroin.
The plot is great fun, as is the reconstruction of Sixties-era Los Angeles, and the procession of delectable women nearly drives the sex-deprived Easy out of his gourd. As usual, though, the biggest payoff is Mosley's prose, which can pin a character to the page without wasting a syllable. An example: "Doris was a deep brown woman with features that were a series of perfect circles; her nose, her nostrils, her eyes, even her mouth. Her hair had been straightened and now stood up, held by stiff hair spray, like a manicured lion's mane." Observing Mosley's creations as they gossip, eat and drink, make love, or kill each other remains one of the pure pleasures of contemporary fiction.