Sunday, January 22, 2012

All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley (4/5)

I’ve wanted to read something from Walter Mosley for a while now.  I hear good things about his hardboiled mysteries—a modern African American twist on traditional Noir—and these days we’re putting all sorts of twists on traditional Noir, so why not try another flavor, right?  That’s why I was really excited to get his most recent novel from the Librarything Early Reviewers program.  It’s called All I Did Was Shoot My Man, and it’s the fourth in the Leonid McGill series.

Overall All I Did Was Shoot My Man was a great book.  The characters were deep and interesting, the thematic elements were full and well formed, and the mystery was riveting.  Hell, I didn’t even work out who the bad guy was before the ending, and that’s a rarity for me.  But most of all I was impressed by Mosley’s ability to turn a phrase and his power with imagery, which are a must when you’re writing hardboiled or noir.  The copy I received was an Advanced Review Copy (ARC), and as such there was some polishing left to do on the manuscript.  It was all easily overlooked, though, considering the strength of the story as a whole (and I’m sure any minor imperfections will be corrected before final publication). 

But you guys are wanting a plot summary, aren’t you?  Well, ask and you shall receive!

McGill is a private detective in New York City, but prior to that he was a bad guy.  Specifically, he was a fixer.  Whenever the really bad guys needed someone framed or a problem fixed, they called McGill.  In the days before he decided to go straight, he helped to frame a young woman named Zella for a bank robbery.  She had just been arrested for shooting her philandering boyfriend three times while he was in bed with one of her best friends.  The boyfriend survived, and Zella was sent to prison.  She might have gotten off altogether if not for the $10,000 from the heist that McGill planted in her storage locker.  The frame didn’t hold up in court, but it was enough to get the book thrown at her for the crime everyone knew for certain she did commit. 

Fast forward eight years, and McGill has used a lawyer friend to get her sprung from prison on bail as a means of assuaging his guilty conscience.  He makes contact with her and helps her get back on her feet, and she asks him to find her child whom she gave up while she was in prison.  McGill agrees, but as soon as he starts poking into her past it becomes apparent that there are more people interested in Zella’s release:  the securities company that lost millions of dollars in the heist, the original heist men, the police who know McGill is dirty and think he had something to do with the heist.  And then there’s whoever is sending hitmen after McGill and Zella.  When two masked men burst into the McGill family apartment (and receive a one-two punch of lethal kickassery for their trouble) the ex-bad guy declares war on his attackers and vows to get to the bottom of the eight year old robbery and make whoever is behind it all pay.

That, ostensibly, is what the book is about.  At least, that’s what the back cover will try to sell you on.  But all of it—the heist, the murders, hitmen in the night—is just window dressing.  The more important story is the development of Leonid McGill’s character, and his family plays a big part in that.  There’s his militant revolutionary father who left him in grade school and never came back,  There’s his Scandinavian wife who hates him and needs him at the same time.  There’s his three grown children, of whom only one is his biological progeny and who just happens to be the one who hates him the most.  Oh, and then there’s the girlfriend he’s estranged from but he still loves.  Did I miss anything?  Maybe, but I’m sure you get the idea.  While Zella and the heist and all that mess are the main thrust of the story, it’s interwoven with elements of McGill’s family life and family history.  It makes the narrative somewhat choppy (though no less interesting) with him constantly jumping back and forth to different strands of the plot, but it worked for me.  The one thing I really didn’t like about All I Did Was Shoot My Man was the fact that the book was filled to the brim with characters and personalities from previous McGill books.  I understand why Mosley included them, since they aid in the development of McGill’s character, but it was annoying having to catch up with umpteen different pet characters that didn’t really have anything to do with the main plot.  Each time Mosley was careful to include an explanation of the who’s and what’s of the past adventures, but still.  Annoying.

Another thing I noticed—not a criticism of anything, but more an observation—is the importance Mosley puts on race when developing his characters and the amount of interracial relationships depicted in the story.  It all makes sense when you consider Mosley’s personal lineage (he’s half Black, half Jewish), but what’s really interesting to me is that there’s very little importance given to a person’s race in the context of the story.  It’s as if the point of the whole thing is to drive home the idea that race isn’t at all important by painstakingly defining it and then not having it really matter at all.  And there are a few instances where race does play a part, but by and large it seems like Mosley is trying to paint the story with an almost post-racial brush.  I dunno, maybe I’m way off base.  I probably am, but I can’t help trying to analyze crap.  I’m a wannabe literary critic.  It says so in the bio.

Overall All I Did Was Shoot My Man is a fast-paced, gritty mystery written by an author who really knows his stuff.  Walter Mosley's intellect and breadth really shine through in his work, which is just one of the reasons why I'll be reading more from him in the near future.  I give All I Did Was Shoot My Man four stars.


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