2018-07-12 / Opinions

Book Review

Down the River Unto the Sea

Walter Moseley is an award-winning author, known best for his mystery series about Easy Rawlins, set in California after World War II. His new book, Down the River Unto the Sea, is contemporary, set in New York City, where he lives now. Joe King Oliver is his protagonist this time. Like his others, Joe is a black male hero.

In the opening chapter, Joe explains that he used to be a cop. “My particular problem with women was, at one time, my desire for them.” He soon reveals that it was a woman who helped frame him for a crime that sent him to the notorious prison at Rikers. He was abused and attacked, only surviving because he was placed in solitary.

A tape had been made of his time with the woman; when it was shown to his wife, she turned against him and refused to use his savings to get him released on bail. His dreadful prison experience changed him. No longer able to be a policeman, with the help of his old friend in the force, Gladstone Palmer, he became a private investigator.

He was not allowed by his ex-wife to see their daughter, but when she was fourteen she stayed with him on a regular basis. Now she worked in his office, knowing that he needed her. “They broke me in there, darling.” “You don’t look broke to me.”

She is the only light in his bleak life now, until he receives a letter from the woman who helped frame him, now religious, and offering to come to New York and testify for him. Though no longer on the side of the law, Joe is not a criminal. He does, however, hover on the shady side of things. The letter begins to bring him back to himself. Then he is visited in his office by another character. Wilma has been working for a crusading lawyer known for representing people falsely accused like “A Free Man.” Wilma tells Joe that the famous lawyer “has turned,” and is no longer committed to the case. Joe thinks, “If Man was innocent and I freed him, then it would be, in some way, like freeing myself.”

Joe reads the material Wilma has brought, thinks hard about himself and his daughter. “It was at that moment I knew I was going to take both cases: my frame and A Free Man’s conviction.” He knows that he can be a good investigator again. He will be in frightening danger against powerful people, and he will need help. He goes to an acquaintance, Mel, formerly a vicious criminal who has “gone straight” and who is grateful to Joe.

Both men are skilled and clever. They are far from angelic, but their cause is just, and the reader forgives their violence and holds her breath as they move through the maze of evil people and corrupt police. A good thriller, Down the River Unto the Sea is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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