Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Classical (and biblical) gas: Walter Mosley's characters

Walter Mosley in a photo
I wish I'd taken.
I've been reading some Walter Mosley in preparation for next week's Edgar Awards dinner, where Mosley will be named a grand master by Mystery Writers of America and I'll be snapping pictures and schmoozing. Once again I ask myself: Does any crime writer take the Western intellectual tradition as seriously as Mosley does?

He has created protagonists with names taken from biblical wisdom literature (Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins) and from the ur-figure of Greek philosophy (Socrates Fortlow), as a bonus giving the latter a surname related to a Latin root meaning "strong." I thus take it as doubly clever that when Mosley creates a hero short on book learning, he drops the classical and biblical allusions in the name and cuts straight to a quality like those that such names embody: Fearless Jones.

But the Fearless Jones books also include characters named Ulysses (known to all but his mother as "Useless") and Hector. And Fearless' brainy co-hero, who operates a used bookstore when he's not getting into deadly trouble, is Paris Minton.  I suspect, given Minton's susceptibility to female beauty, that he just may be named for Paris, who eloped with Helen and started the Trojan War.

I take it is significant that all those character names go back before the New Testament to Greece, Rome, and the Hebrew Bible. Mosley, I think, is interested in the very roots of things. I find circumstantial support for this view in the novel Fear of the Dark when Minton notices a shelf of Greek philosophers and says: "I like some'a these guys ... But I prefer the older generation: Herodotus, Homer, and Sophocles."

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Blogger seana graham said...

I've known about Mosley for a long time, and even met him once, but I haven't read him for some reason. Got to get to him. I like books that allude to earlier works.

April 21, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I liked the reference to Herodotus because I'm reading his "Histories" at the moment. I had read one or two of Mosley's novels and some of his short stories years before, and I once heard or read an interview in which he showed that he thought seriously about significant subjects. He'd probably be an interesting guy to talk with for a few hours over whiskey or port of beer or what have you.

April 21, 2016  
Blogger seana graham said...

The think I remember best about him is that he was quite flirtatious with the friend I happened to be with at the NCIBA many years ago. We all found it quite amusing.

April 21, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! There's a man who likes to live life to its fullest.

April 21, 2016  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home