Leonid McGill, P.I. is struggling to stick to his reformed ways while the people around him pull him in every direction. He has split up with the only woman he has ever loved, Aura, because his conscience won't let him leave his wife. Meanwhile, one of his sons seems to have found true love - but the girl has dangerous men in her past who are now threatening the whole McGill family. And his other son, the charming rogue Twilliam, is doing but facilitating the crisis.
Most worryingly of all, Alfonse Rinaldo, the mysterious power behind the throne at City Hall, the fixer who seems to control every little thing that happens in New York City, has a problem that even he can't fix - and he's come to Leonid for help. It seems a young woman has disappeared, leaving murder in her wake, and it means everything to Rinaldo to track her down. He won't tell McGill his motives - but turning down Rinaldo is almost impossible to even contemplate. To make matters even worse important people at the NYC police department want McGill to pay for past demeanours and it doesn’t matter how they get to put him behind bars, so long as that’s where he ends up.
Leonid McGill is an anti-hero, a fallen man who is working to redeem himself, but is constantly held back by the murk of his past. This is a device that has been worked well in the past by other writers and this does nothing to detract from Walter Mosely’s achievement with Known to Evil.
McGill’s actions were not mere misdemeanours but serious crimes against his fellow man that should earn our opprobrium, but because McGill is such an engaging character and because he is so serious in his intention to repent we are not only pulled onside, we are there with him shouting into his ear. Of course we want McGill to find the girl and then save her life, but we also want him to make the right choice between his wife and his mistress, to resolve matters with the men he has wronged in the past and to be there to be a positive influence on his children.
Following on from the much loved Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosely has created another serial character of complexity who, I’m certain, continued to breathe out of sight whenever I closed the book. Which I did often as I was keen to savour every sentence. For many writers I greedily consume their words as I anxiously race to the end, but with Mosely I find that I consciously slow down so that every insight, each description, every word is rubbed against the microscope of my thoughts.
Known to Evil has three plot strands and each one is worked with virtuosity. Threaded through the plotting, like delicate strands of silk Mosely offers up themes of guilt, atonement and ultimately, dissatisfaction. McGill deflects his own sense of this on to his fellow passengers on the New York underground describing them as going to a job they don’t want to do and leading a life they never wanted. As for McGill himself, no matter if he is making a choice that will lead to an unhappier existence, he will do whatever he thinks sits well within his strict moral code.
And then there are the words on the page. Mosely is keenly aware that a good story also has to be well written and his prose manages to be textured, rich, energetic... and at the same time economical. Descriptions are brief, layered with meaning and on the button; his dialogue has all the musicality of a jazz musician riffing among friends in a smoky filled club. There is no doubt about it, Walter Mosely has earned his place among the greats of modern fiction and Known to Evil is yet another work of excellence to cement his position there.
So what you waiting for? Get your lardy/ cute butts to a bookstore now and buy a copy. Tell them Michael sent you.