Our complete guide to Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books includes all the novels in the series in order. Devil in a Blue Dress, a defining novel in Mosley’s bestselling Easy Rawlins mystery series, was adapted into a TriStar Pictures film starring Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins and Don Cheadle as Mouse.
The hard-boiled detective Easy Rawlins is a black private investigator living in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The books in this series are perhaps his most popular works. In 2020, Mosley received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, making him the first Black man to receive the honor.
In 2018, we had the pleasure of publishing a work of short fiction in our No. 6 Issue (see here).
In what follows, we will provide an overview of all the novels in this series in order:
Set in the late 1940s, in the African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles, Devil in a Blue Dress follows Easy Rawlins, a black war veteran just fired from his job at a defense plant. Easy is drinking in a friend’s bar, wondering how he’ll meet his mortgage, when a white man in a linen suit walks in, offering good money if Easy will simply locate Miss Daphne Monet, a blonde beauty known to frequent black jazz clubs.
It’s 1953 in Red-baiting, blacklisting Los Angeles—a moral tar pit ready to swallow Easy Rawlins. Easy is out of the hurting business and into the housing (and favor) business when a racist IRS agent nails him for tax evasion. Special Agent Darryl T. Craxton, FBI, offers to bail him out if he agrees to infiltrate the First American Baptist Church and spy on alleged communist organizer Chaim Wenzler. That’s when the murders begin.
The police don’t show up on Easy’s doorstep until the third girl dies. It’s Los Angeles, 1956 and it takes more than a murdered black girl before the cops get interested. Now they need Easy. The LAPD need help to find the serial killer who’s going around murdering young, African American strippers. They only show up when the killer murders a white girl.
But Easy turns them down. As he says: “I was worth a precinct full of detectives when the cops needed the word in the ghetto.” He’s married now, a father, and his detective days are over. When the white college coed dies, the cops make it clear that if Easy doesn’t help his best friend is headed for jail. So Easy is back, walking the midnight streets of Watts and the darker twisted avenues of a cunning killer’s mind, in the most explosive Easy Rawlins mystery yet.
For most Black Americans, the 1960s were times of hope. For former P.I. Easy Rawlins, Los Angeles’s mean streets were never meaner—or more deadly. Racial tensions are high—Black folks avoid even stepping foot in white neighborhoods. Despite the ongoing civil rights movement, racism still rules the streets and police officers are no exception.
So when a white man approaches Easy with a wad of cash to find a missing person, Easy would is tempted to simply throw the money back in his sleazy face. But he personally knows the woman the white man wants to find—the notorious Black Betty, an ebony siren whose talent for all things rich and male took her from Houston’s Fifth Ward to Beverly Hills. Short on money and pulled by the strong desire to see Black Betty again, he accepts the job. But why exactly this white man wants to find her isn’t clear. Easy’s questions aren’t being answers and he realizes the case might be more complex than he thought.
Easy won’t stop at anything to find Black Betty. Even as the obstacles grow higher and the bodies begin to pile up.
November 1963: Easy’s settled into a steady gig as a school custodian. It’s a quiet, simple existence—but a few moments of ecstasy with a sexy teacher will change all that. When the lady vanishes, Easy’s stuck with a couple of corpses, the cops on his back, and a little yellow dog who’s nobody’s best friend.
With his not-so-simple past snapping at his heels, and with enemies old and new looking to get even, Easy must kiss his careful little life good-bye—and step closer to the edge.
In the beginning there was Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins and Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, two young men setting out in life, hitting the road in a “borrowed” ’36 Ford headed for Pariah, Texas. The volatile Mouse wants to retrieve money from his stepfather so he can marry his Etta Mae.
But on their steamy bayou excursion, Mouse will choose murder as a way out, while Easy’s past liaison with Etta Mae floats precariously in his memory. Easy and Mouse are coming of age and everything they ever knew about friendship and about themselves is coming apart at the seams.
As Mosley takes Easy and Mouse on this journey to manhood, he weaves together a remarkable cast of friends and foes, who are introduced here for the first time and will later appear in Easy Rawlins mysteries. This is the chance to unravel the mystery behind the souls of every character.
Young Brawly Brown has traded in his family for The Clan of the First Men, a group rejecting white leadership and laws. Brown’s mom asks Easy to make sure her baby’s okay, and Easy promises to find him. His first day on the case, Easy comes face-to-face with a corpse, and before he knows it he is a murder suspect and in the middle of a police raid.
Brawly Brown is clearly the kind of trouble most folks try to avoid. It takes everything Easy has just to stay alive as he explores a world filled with betrayals and predators like he never imagined.
Now from the bestselling and award-winning writer comes Six Easy Pieces. The beloved Ezekiel Rawlins now has a steady job as senior head custodian of Sojourner Truth High School, a nice house with a garden, a loving woman, and children. He counts the blessings of leading a law-abiding life but is nowhere near happy.
Easy mourns the loss of his best friend, Mouse. Though he tries to leave the street life behind, he still finds himself trading favors and investigating cases of arson, murder, and missing people. People who can’t depend on the law to solve their problems, seek out Easy.
A bomb is set in the high school where Easy works. A man’s daughter runs off with his employee. A beautiful woman turns up dead and the man who loved her is wrongly accused. Easy is the man people turn to in search of justice and retribution. He even becomes party to a killing that the police might call murder.
An irresistible story of love and death, this Easy Rawlins mystery takes place during the devastating 1965 Watts riots. Easy’s hunt for a killer reveals a new city emerging from the ashes — and a new life for Easy and his friends.
It is the Summer of Love and Easy Rawlins is contemplating robbing an armored car. It’s farther outside the law than Easy has ever traveled, but his daughter, Feather, needs a medical treatment that costs far more than Easy can earn or borrow in time. And his friend Mouse tells him it’s a cinch.
Then another friend, Saul Lynx, offers a job that might solve Easy’s problem without jail time. He has to track the disappearance of an eccentric, prominent attorney. His assistant of sorts, the beautiful “Cinnamon” Cargill, is gone as well.
Easy can tell there is much more than he is being told: Robert Lee, his new employer, is as suspect as the man who disappeared. But his need overcomes all concerns, and he plunges into unfamiliar territory, from the newfound hippie enclaves to a vicious plot that stretches back to the battlefields of Europe.
Easy Rawlins, L.A.’s most reluctant detective, comes home one day to find Easter, the daughter of his friend Chrismas Black, left on his doorstep. Easy knows that this could only mean that the ex-marine Black is probably dead, or will be soon. Easter’s appearance is only the beginning, as Easy is immersed in a sea of problems.
The love of his life is marrying another man and his friend Mouse is wanted for the murder of a father of twelve. As he’s searching for a clue to Christmas Black’s whereabouts, two suspicious MPs hire him to find his friend Black on behalf of the U.S. Army.
Easy’s investigation brings him to Faith Laneer, a blonde woman with a dark past. As Easy begins to put the pieces together, he realizes that Black’s dissappearance has its roots in Vietnam, and that Faith might be in a world of danger.
When Walter Mosley burst onto the literary scene in 1990 with his first Easy Rawlins mystery, Devil in a Blue Dress—a combustible mixture of Raymond Chandler and Richard Wright—he captured the attention of hundreds of thousands of readers (including future president Bill Clinton).
Eleven books later, Easy Rawlins is one of the few private eyes in contemporary crime fiction who can be called iconic and immortal. In the incendiary and fast-paced Little Green, he returns from the brink of death to investigate the dark side of L.A.’s 1960s hippie haven, the Sunset Strip.
We last saw Easy in 2007’s Blonde Faith, fighting for his life after his car plunges over a cliff. True to form, the tough WWII veteran survives, and soon his murderous sidekick Mouse has him back cruising the mean streets of L.A., in all their psychedelic 1967 glory, to look for a young black man, Evander “Little Green” Noon, who disappeared during an acid trip.
Fueled by an elixir called Gator’s Blood, brewed by the conjure woman Mama Jo, Easy experiences a physical, spiritual, and emotional resurrection, but peace and love soon give way to murder and mayhem. Written with Mosley’s signature grit and panache, this engrossing and atmospheric mystery is not only a trip back in time, it is also a tough-minded exploration of good and evil, and of the power of guilt and redemption. Once again, Easy asserts his reign over the City of (Fallen) Angels.
Rosemary Goldsmith, the daughter of a weapons manufacturer, has been kidnapped by a black revolutionary cell called Scorched Earth. Their leader, Uhuru Nolicé, is holding her for ransom and if he doesn’t receive the money, weapons, and apology he demands, “Rose Gold” will die—horribly and publicly. So the authorities turn to Easy Rawlins, the one man who can cross the necessary lines to resolve this dangerous standoff and find Rose Gold before it’s too late.
Picking up where his last adventures in Rose Gold left off in L.A. in the late 1960s, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins finds his life in transition. He’s ready—finally—to propose to his girlfriend, Bonnie Shay, and start a life together. And he’s taken the money he got from the Rose Gold case and, together with two partners, Saul Lynx and Tinsford “Whisper” Natly, has started a new detective agency.
But, inevitably, a case gets in the way: Easy’s friend Mouse introduces him to Rufus Tyler, a very old man everyone calls Charcoal Joe. Joe’s friend’s son, Seymour (young, bright, top of his class in physics at Stanford), has been arrested and charged with the murder of a white man from Redondo Beach. Joe tells Easy he will pay and pay well to see this young man exonerated, but seeing as how Seymour literally was found standing over the man’s dead body at his cabin home, and considering the racially charged motives seemingly behind the murder, that might prove to be a tall order.
Between his new company, a heart that should be broken but is not, a whole raft of new bad guys on his tail, and a bad odor that surrounds Charcoal Joe, Easy has his hands full, his horizons askew, and his life in shambles around his feet.
It is 1969, and flames can be seen on the horizon, protest wafts like smoke though the thick air, and Easy Rawlins, the Black private detective whose small agency finally has its own office, gets a visit from a white Vietnam veteran. The young man comes to Easy with a story that makes little sense. He and his lover, a beautiful young woman, were attacked in a citrus grove at the city’s outskirts. He may have killed a man, and the woman and his dog are now missing. Inclined to turn down what sounds like nothing but trouble, Easy takes the case when he realizes how damaged the young vet is from his war experiences—the bond between veterans superseding all other considerations.
The veteran is not Easy’s only unlooked-for trouble. Easy’s adopted daughter Feather’s white uncle shows up uninvited, raising questions and unsettling the life Easy has long forged for the now young woman. Where Feather sees a family reunion, Easy suspects something else, something that will break his heart.
Header image source: Devil in a Blue Dress – TriStar Pictures film starring Denzel Washington.