Accused of rape a decade ago that led to several months in prison and his subsequent dismissal from the NYPD, former cop turned P.I Joe King Oliver receives a letter in the mail from his accuser stating she was paid to set up the frame by another detective. Joe decides to follow up and meet with her in an effort to finally clear his name. At the same time, he accepts a case involving the murder of two on-duty cops by a radical black journalist. Prior to their deaths, the cops had been throwing their weight around and abusing vulnerable citizens in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The woman who hired Oliver believes the accused to be innocent.
Down The River Unto The Sea is my first Walter Mosley experience. He comes highly regarded for his Easy Rawlins series as well as a few other signature characters and acclaimed stand-alone books. When I heard he won the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America last week for this book, I decided to check him out.
To say that this really didn’t do anything for me would be putting it lightly. I had a miserable time reading it and I have no idea how in the world it won any award, let alone Best Novel. Then again, the MWA gave Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes Best Novel in 2015, so what do they know?
One of the reviews I had read said that while the plot wasn’t all that great, the writing saved it from being an average read. I totally get that, I’ve been there before. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels are an exercise in frustration when it comes to following the plot. However, the writing here was just.. bad. I can’t count the amount of times a character said something “with a smile” or “with a smirk” or “with a sneer” or “with a smirk that quickly turned into a sneer”. It happened so often it became distracting and bordered on parody.
Something about his 17 year old daughter constantly calling him “Daddy” just rubbed me the wrong way. There was also a weird part where she wore something skimpy to the office and after telling her to cover up with a coat, he referred to her as his “trench-coated blood”. What the hell is that? Just head-shakingly weird.
Joe King Oliver is an awful protagonist. Mosley shoehorns in several books and albums Oliver is reading and listening to that ultimately feel forced because they have nothing to do with the scene. When they happen, we have to stop and listen to Oliver’s thoughts on a specific writer or band. It halts the progression of the story and comes across like the author is showing off. Also, Oliver seemingly takes no responsibility for his actions. Sure, the fact that he was framed for rape is definitely no laughing matter, but Mosley paints Oliver as this uncontrollable sex-maniac who wants to bed every woman he meets. They’re all introduced into the story based on Oliver’s opinion of their figure or how badly he wants them in the sack. He hates his ex-wife despite the fact that he admits he was cheating on her constantly (which he believes she was aware of) and she only left him after she was confronted with pretty undeniable evidence he raped a woman. Like, sorry dude. I don’t feel bad for you and I certainly don’t blame her.
Look, a lot of people seemed to enjoy this book, but I have no idea what the hell they were reading because it can’t be the same story. I’m not about to write Mosley off entirely because I don’t believe him to be a bad writer based on his track record. I plan to at least check out the Easy Rawlins books at some point, but not anytime soon.