By Walter Mosley

Pocket Books, 1996 (308 pages) $6.50

With A LITTLE YELLOW DOG, Walter Mosley takes Easy Rawlins on his fifth outing in th this series. Honestly, I sporadically read Mosley's writingk and I've not kept up with the series from start to finish. However, I have found Mosley's writing style to be very distinctive and very easy to read. Undoubtedly, Mosley's appeal is his unique character and unique slant on the mystery genre. Easy Rawlins is not a cop or private investigator in the traditional sense. Rawlins is a working class man trying to survive and to chase the American dream of prospering and getting ahead.

Mosley's setting and point of view are very distinctive, as well. Rawlins is a black man in the era starting right after World War II, just after the jubilation of defeating the Third Reich. It was a time when many people returned home, after helping liberate the world from Axis powers, to try to build their own dreams of freedom. Yet in America, blacks were still treated as second class citizens. Not only does Easy Rawlins have to worry about solving a problem or helping a friend, but he also has to think inside the restrictions of a white controlled society, including the criminal justice system. In some of Mosley's novels, I find myself dissatisfied with the resolutions of the mysteries and the endings of the books. Overall, I like Walter Mosley's writing style: his blend of characters, setting, and period pieces, using tidbits of history to favor the story. He has a gift of dialog and of setting.

In A LITTLE YELLOW DOG, Easy Rawlins has taken a job in the public school system running the janitorial services. He is also a single parent raising two children in the early 1960s. He's trying to be a family man and keep the edge of the streets out of his life. Like many parents try to do, Rawlins is just trying to give his family all that he can, physically and emotionally, but once again, he is drawn into solving a mystery, in part to help protect himself as well as some ingrained belief in justice.

The book starts with Easy arriving at school early one morning only to find a distraught teacher, Idabell Turner, crying in her classroom. Idabell claims she is upset because her husband has threatened to kill her dog, Pharaoh. She has hidden the dog in a closet in her classroom. As a favor to Idabell, Easy agrees to hide her dog, so she won't get in trouble with school officials.

Rawlins senses that Idabell is upset about some deeper problem, but he doesn't press her. This chance encounter turns out to be the start of more trouble when the police discover a murdered man on the schoolgrounds. No one knows who the dead man is but Easy suspects it is Idabell's husband. He begins to wonder if the teacher murdered her husband. Out of curiosity, he starts digging around, trying to find out what happened.

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