Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Reviews: Known to Evil

Known to Evil
by Walter Mosley
This is book two in Mosley's Leonid McGill series. You can read a review of book one here. Or if you don't care to read an entire other review there are some very basic points which you should understand before reading this book. Mosley thoughtfully weaves them in and out of the story although he doesn't do anything as obvious as an information dump. Leonid McGill is a middle aged New York private eye who's trying to turn over a new leaf morally speaking. He's spent a great deal of his life running in some very dangerous circles and doing business with or favors for evil and dangerous men in both the NYC underworld and upperworld. A few years back McGill underwent a moral epiphany. He decided to only do legitimate private eye work. No more setting up innocent people in insurance scams. No more tracking down witnesses for the Mob. No more fixing juries or paying people to perjure themselves in court. And McGill promised himself to try really hard not to kill anyone if he could avoid it. McGill decided to try to make amends where possible to some of the people he hurt. He also chose, as penance for his misdeeds, to stay with his beautiful wife Katrina, who has given him three children, only one of which is his. Katrina is as faithless as she is striking. She's always searching for something bigger and better. The only reason Katrina may be staying with Leonid is that the years are starting to catch up with her, though she remains stunning for her age. Most of the more successful men Katrina might prefer want younger women. That's what Leonid thinks anyway when he imagines Katrina's motivations, which isn't often. He may still be married to her but it's a loveless marriage as far as Leonid is concerned. Leonid's mind is often elsewhere. It's not as if he were 100% true either. In this book Leonid continues to attempt to make amends but learns that you can't just wash your hands once they've been dirty. He's hired by arguably the most powerful man in New York City, the political fixer Alphonse Rinaldo, to find a young woman named Tara. It's supposedly an easy job with no nasty work required. And even a man as stubborn and as independent as Leonid doesn't like to say no to a man like Alphonse Rinaldo. Even more so than Leonid, Alphonse literally knows where all the bodies are buried. Alphonse has access to power which could greatly help or harm Leonid.

It would be a good and healthy thing for Leonid to do this job for Alphonse and have a favor he can redeem at a later time. Alphonse Rinaldo doesn't like hearing the word "no". So Leonid agrees to find the woman. But what should be an easy job turns out to be more complex. Tracking down the young woman, Leonid stumbles into a double murder investigation. It looks like Tara's female friend and a low level hitman have killed each other. And the police are interested in knowing what business Leonid had with the murder victims and Tara. The police brass want to take Leonid down by any means necessary. The top cops view Leonid as the White Whale who got away. If that's not enough to keep Leonid busy for some strange reason his wife of all people is making goo-goo eyes at him again. Leonid finds this more distracting than erotic. This could be because Leonid's true love Aura is stepping out on him with an arrogant lawyer who's trying to get Leonid evicted from his office building. And Leonid's sons, Dmitri and Twill, are in over their heads with various Eastern European gangsters and femme fatale hookers. There's also a subplot about how Leonid tries and mostly fails to help the hapless victim of one of his earlier schemes, a sad pathetic man who's only become more so after his stint in prison. Leonid's deceased father's voice provides Leonid a moral North but even that is warped as Leonid hates his father for having abandoned the family when Leonid was a child. I liked this book a lot. One of the major themes within and one which presumably animates the entire series is change. Can someone who was by any reasonable moral standard, evil, change himself? And what if by doing so he puts his family at risk? Is that worth it? Does someone who was evil have the right to stop doing bad without paying the cost for his misdeeds? Is saying I'm not like that anymore enough for your victims or do you owe them more? 

Not only is McGill an everyman character, he is as the author has confirmed, something of a stand-in for America itself. What does evil mean? Leonid will protect his wife and children but he really only likes one child, ironically the son who isn't his. He provides for his family but can fairly be described as emotionally distant to them. It's something of a shock to Leonid when he realizes that Aura's infidelity can drive him to insensate murderous rage, a trait the cool-headed boxer Leonid has always viewed as a weakness.  Leonid is not exactly an arrogant man but he is someone who has little fear of anyone on God's green earth, with the exception of his "friend" Hush, a notorious killer-for-hire who may be just as much serial killer as hitman. Many very tough people consistently underestimate the short and seemingly pudgy Leonid. It's not usually a mistake they make twice. You should read this book.

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