Known to Evil: A Leonid McGill Mystery by Walter Mosley
Leonid McGill, Mosley’s newest hero (The Long Fall, 2009), is haunted by the bad things he used to do to people—or so he keeps telling us. At first, the plot seems to support that claim: as McGill works his case, tracking a young woman for a powerful fixer, he is also consumed with helping a former victim, rescuing his son’s girlfriend from her pimp, and remaining respectful in his loveless marriage. But those plotlines are decoys because the supporting characters aren’t fully developed. Each exists to demonstrate something about McGill—his remorse, violence, loyalty—and then is quickly whisked offstage. Mosley has written some classic crime novels, and he has a devoted following, but the strikingly different setting of this series doesn’t hide a glaring flaw: from start to finish, McGill and his supporting cast don’t change. This is a very interior, solipsistic crime novel, and McGill’s first-person narration may feel oppressive to some readers. Others may wonder how such a self-centered sleuth could possibly become a good judge of other people’s characters. In marked contrast to Mosley’s threadbare L.A. settings, McGill’s world is lush and wealthy. But it’s also cartoonish in its absolutes: McGill knows no fear but constructs spy-worthy escape hatches. He has an extensive network of criminals and stone-cold killers. He’s short and ugly, but women throw themselves at him. All writing requires some degree of world-building, but the world Mosley has built here shows the marks of its invention.