I’ve always been a sucker for the hardboiled detective—the one walking the street through the foggy night, head down, wearing his trench coat and narrating the hard-luck life of the private eye. From the first words of And Sometimes I Wonder About You by Walter Mosley, I had a feeling I was going to be treated to that kind of story. Mosley’s detective, Leonid McGill, is a distinctly modern, 21st-century private eye, but I found that Mosley’s style and descriptive language lent itself to reading the book with the voice of that old, streetwise detective.
The story begins on a train from Philadelphia back to McGill’s hometown of New York, he having just completed a case. A beautiful woman seeks McGill’s company, claiming to need protection from her fiancé. McGill finds himself taking care of the damsel in distress, disarming a man with a knife. This leads to an affair that lasts until the case is put to rest.
Upon returning to his office he’s faced with an odd client, one claiming that if the private detective can find a distant cousin there’s a fortune to be had. Finding the story fishy, McGill turns the case down, only to take the case up again when the client winds up dead and the wall of his office is blown out.
If that’s not enough, McGill’s wife is in a sanitorium, fighting a deep depression. His son, an aspiring private eye, is missing after taking a case that the father doesn’t know anything about. His secretary is facing issues with her father. His father, a left-wing revolutionary who abandoned his family years ago, has returned. His brother is in jail. There’s little sleep to be had for a man with this much on his plate.
Leonid McGill lives a gritty life. There’s violence. There’s sex. There are associations with some of New York’s finest and some of New York’s worst. But he manages to befriend them all (or in some cases, they at least tolerate him). He’s a remarkable character, fiercely protective of those he cares about, always thinking about right and wrong (even if he doesn’t always act on what’s right), fully aware of his flaws, but constantly hungry to prove himself.
Walter Mosley, who identifies as both Jewish and black, has created a series of colorful characters with great deals of depth, and that’s what drives this story. With so many storylines running, there are important elements that don’t show up until later in the book, but the characters and description are what kept me turning the pages.
Something to keep in mind: this book is the fifth in the Leonid McGill mystery series. There’s clearly a lot that has transpired in the private detective’s life in the first four books. But something Walter Mosley does very nicely as an author is to give enough information about past events that you won’t feel lost jumping into the middle of the series. I’m likely to head out to pick up the first four books and get the entire backstory, though.
If you like some of the old-fashioned crime novels, this book is a modern take that will satisfy your need for colorful characters, twisting storylines, and a hero that is far from perfect.
Walter Mosley is speaking at the St.Paul JCC on November 19th as part of the Twin Cities Jewish authors series. Tickets $25. To win two free tickets to see Mosley on the 19th, sign up for our free newsletter that give you events, articles, jobs and more each week! Contest ends November 15th