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BOOK REVIEW

Mosley's new P.I. has his hands full

Walter Mosley is the author of the renowned Easy Rawlins mysteries. Walter Mosley is the author of the renowned Easy Rawlins mysteries. (Greg Morris)
By Kevin O'Kelly
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2009
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Manhattan private eye L. T. McGill has a list of nicknames of four teenage boys: B-Brain, Jumper, Big Jim, and Toolie. Well, they were teenage boys a few years ago. If they're still alive now, they're grown men. McGill's client, an Albany detective named Ambrose Thurman, wants to know their real names and how to get in touch with them.

Nicknames aren't much to go on, but McGill is very good at his job. Soon he has all four names and hands them over to Thurman.

Within a few days all four young men are dead. And it soon becomes apparent that "Ambrose Thurman" was an alias.

It's a chilling beginning to a book that only gets better from here.

McGill wants answers. At an earlier time in his life he would have just walked away. He's been trading in information for years. Sometimes that information has ended careers, sent innocent men to prison. Now McGill wants to go straight, and he certainly doesn't want to be an accomplice to murder.

But as he follows the trail of Ambrose Thurman and the four dead men, he discovers, predictably, that he's putting himself in danger.

Meanwhile Tony the Suit, a mobster from McGill's old life, wants a man tracked down. McGill knows that if he does this job he'll likely send a fifth man to his death. But he also knows the consequences of turning down Tony: "I didn't have much of a choice," McGill reminds himself, "and I had a family that needed me breathing for them to stay afloat."

But that family provides him little comfort. The only reason his wife is still with him is because her last lover canceled their plans to run away together. And with the help of a talented hacker, he's been monitoring the Internet traffic of his brilliant but reckless son Twill, and begins to fear for his son's future, if not his life.

In "The Long Fall," Walter Mosley, author of the Easy Rawlins mysteries, has given us a new and vividly real detective in Leonid Trotter McGill. McGill is an homage to the gumshoes of LA noir - a hard-drinking, street-smart, world-weary man from the wrong side of the tracks - but he's also a poignantly real character. The cynicism necessary for his work is leavened with sadness and compassion, and his working knowledge of the seamy side of urban life is balanced with a nuanced appreciation of the few people and things he finds worthy of respect or love.

Like all detectives, he haunts the fringes of many different worlds - those of the wealthy, the police, and the mob, to name a few. McGill's observations of these disparate cultures are informed not only by his experiences as a detective, but as a black man and a child of American Communists.

Mosley has created not only the newest of the great fictional detectives, but also an incisive and insightful commentator on the American scene.

And this more-than-worthy successor to Philip Marlowe is our guide through one of the finest mysteries I've read in some time. "The Long Fall" is tightly plotted with unforeseeable twists, to say nothing of fully realized characters and exceptional dialogue. It's also unfailingly real: The fidelity to detail and plausible elaborations made me feel as if I were watching real-life events.

And one last thing before I close: Have I told you yet how much I loved this book?

Kevin O'Kelly is a regular reviewer for the Globe.

THE LONG FALL: The First Leonid McGill Mystery By Walter Mosley

Riverhead, 306 pp., $25.95