Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley
Easy Rawlins is in his forties in 1966 California, a place on the brink of the Summer of Love. But life ain’t no cakewalk for Easy. His young daughter, Feather, has a life-threatening illness and the only hope is expensive treatment at a Swiss clinic.
Mr Rawlins is a caretaker at a high school with a sideline in private investigations, so he can’t afford the fees. But Easy will do whatever it takes to save his daughter. So when his very good, and very dangerous friend, Mouse, asks him to join a raid on a criminal gang that will net Easy the required sum, he has to take it seriously.
Fortunately, before he has to give an answer, Easy’s other good friend, Saul, comes up with a better option. Both men drive to San Francisco to meet with a representative of Mr Lee, a renowned PI with a global presence, kinda like Hercule Poirot of the sixties. Both Easy and Saul take Lee’s proffered job of finding a woman who goes by the nickname of Cinnamon. She has papers that Mr Lee’s unidentified client wants.
It all seems fairly straight forward, but Easy knows that these things rarely are. Instead of going back to LA, where he’s based and she is said to be, he decides to explore Cinnamon’s life in the Bay Area for clues as to her whereabouts. It leads him right into a massive clusterfuck. Easy stumbles across a dead body that raises all kinds of questions. He’s further hampered by the fact that he’s a black man in a time of much racism in the US, so must be careful regarding his involvement with the cops.
Rawlins’ queries eventually lead back to Los Angeles where he finds the elusive Cinnamon, and wishes he hadn’t. She’s a beautiful woman with her needs which seem to match his own at that time. In short, they shag the hell out of one another. Now don’t be too hard on ol’ Easy as his long-term girlfriend, Bonnie, has been lying down with an African businessman and Easy, fine detective that he is, has only just discovered the truth. What would you do if you found out that your girlfriend, who has just departed for Switzerland with your very ill daughter (not hers), has been unfaithful? What would you then do if a very beautiful woman came on to you? Easy come, Easy go (worth waiting for an opportunity to slot that one in).
There are many different threads to this murder-mystery. It soon transpires that more than one player is after what Cinnamon has, but Easy has no idea who they are or why they are so intent on getting to the erotic goddess. Cicero, a well-known assassin, is on Cinnamon’s trail which brings him into serious conflict with Easy. Luckily, our hero has a friend like Mouse who gets off on challenges like taking on a professional hitman.
The Easy/Mouse dynamic is similar to the Spencer/Hawk relationship in Robert B Parker excellent series. Easy is the moral brake on Mouse’s excesses. Both came up through hard times and have a long history together. They’re family. In Cinnamon Kiss, however, both men are black whereas in Spencer for Hire, only Hawk is. Still, it’s an interesting similarity.
There are quite a few very entertaining characters in this novel. Easy is a well-developed personality, with perhaps a little too much moral angst at times, especially for his profession of PI. For example, on one occasion he pointedly avoids having sex with an available woman in San Francisco that he is clearly attracted to, but ends up with two others elsewhere. His reasoning at the time doesn’t quite add up. Of course, it eventually becomes clear why the author chose this slight irregularity. Twisting a character’s normal behaviour patterns to fit a plot is not recommended.
Mouse is a strong personality and their associate, Jackson Blue, is another intriguing player in the unfolding drama. The interaction between these men is fairly consistent and holds well throughout. The settings are gloriously depicted which helps a lot, especially when reading the book during an Irish winter. It’s nice to visualize California sun when enduring Irish rain.
The overall plot is cleverly constructed. As mentioned, there are some minor flaws, but these are easily overlooked. Cinnamon Kiss is a story that will hook you and hold you right until the very last line. The ending does not disappoint. Rebel Voice can give no greater compliment to Walter Mosley than to say that this site will seek out other books by him to discover more about Easy Rawlins and his coterie of friends in an era of US society when it seemed as if anything was possible. Sadly, today we can see how it was all American pie in the sky. Ain’t hindsight wonderful?
Sult scale rating: 7.5 out of 10. This is a good solid read with a gripping and clever plot and decent character list. Cinnamon Kiss and the exploits of Easy Rawlins make a refreshing change from the production line commercialism that we get so much of these days. It’s a series of books that will be worth following.