“Trouble Is What I Do,” Mulholland Books, by Walter Mosley
Many years ago, a Mississippi bluesman named Catfish Worry had an affair with the daughter of a wealthy white banker whose ancestors came to America on the Mayflower. Their dalliance produced a son who could pass for white.
That son, Charles Sternman, who was raised by the white side of his family, is now the fabulously wealthy owner of a private New York City bank. He is also a vicious racist. Somehow, he learns that Catfish, now 92 years old, has arrived in Manhattan with a letter that would expose the Sternman family lineage.
Catfish plans to deliver it to Charles’ daughter Justine on the eve of her wedding. Incensed, and more than a little frightened, Charles hires a formidable team of thugs to murder Catfish. But Catfish isn't without resources. He seeks out Lenoid McGill, a former career criminal turned private detective, to make the delivery.
“Trouble Is What I Do” is the seventh novel in Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Walter Mosley’s series featuring McGill, and as his fans already know, McGill is the right man for the job. He’s dangerous in his own right, and his network of underworld acquaintances who owe him
Racial identity is a prevailing theme in Mosley’s 44 novels, and this isn't the first time he's explored the complex perils of passing for white. In his debut novel, “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1990), the first in his brilliant Easy Rawlins series, Easy is hired to track down a missing white girl named Daphne Monet who, it turns out, is actually a mixed-race woman named Ruby.
As McGill schemes to deliver the letter, the threat of violence looms over every page; but action fans may be disappointed that the gunplay, including a final act of retribution, occurs offstage. The charms of this short novel lie in Mosley’s memorable characters, his portrayal of the world McGill inhabits and the author’s uniquely lyrical writing style.
In the end, McGill finds inspiration in Catfish’s courage to defy “the oldest oppressors this nation has to offer.” This has, he says, given him “drink and song and trust. These were sacred gifts.”
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”
Bruce Desilva, The Associated Press