Walter Mosley’s mystery ‘Down the River’ is familiar but satisfying


Walter Mosley’s “Down the River Unto the Sea” begins what looks to be a new series with a protagonist whose territory covers New York City’s outer boroughs—and, yes, that means Staten Island, too.

Joe King Oliver was an ace investigator with the NYPD until his roving eye helped him get framed for sexual assault. “Trouble ambushed me with my pants down and my nose open,” as he explains to an acquaintance. He is kicked off the force and thrown into Riker’s Island, where he faces the kind of demeaning and vicious attacks a jailed cop would expect from inmates until a stretch in solitary confinement and an abrupt release save his life. Eleven years later, King (as some of his friends call him) is making a living as a private eye based on Brooklyn’s Montague Street when his mundane existence is jolted by two events: a letter from a woman admitting she was coerced into setting him up years before and a case involving a radical black activist who’s been sentenced to death for killing two corrupt, abusive officers. King sees serendipity in the convergence of these two cases, believing that if he could exonerate the activist, it’d be a way of finally exorcising his rueful memories. His dual inquiries carry him from glittering Wall Street offices to seedy alleyways all over the city, and he encounters double-dealing lawyers, shady cops, drug addicts, hired killers and prostitutes along the way. The only people King can count on are his loyal and precocious 17-year-old daughter, Aja-Denise, and an equally loyal but tightly wound career criminal named Melquarth “Mel” Frost, whose capacity for violence will remind Mosley devotees of Mouse, the homicidal thug who either helps or hinders Easy Rawlins in the author’s first and best-known series. Indeed, so many aspects of this novel are reminiscent of other Mosley books that it tempts one to wonder whether he’s stretching his resources a little thin. But ultimately it’s Mosley’s signature style — rough-hewn, rhythmic and lyrical — that makes you ready and eager for whatever he’s serving up.

It’s getting to be a bigger blues band on Mosley’s stage, with Joe King Oliver now sitting in with Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill. But as long as it sounds sweet and smoky, let the good times roll.

(Mosley will speak and sign copies of his book starting at 6 p.m. March 3 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)

One of the last wild places

A veteran geologist recounts time spent studying Greenland’s remarkable landscape during a series of six expeditions in “A Wilder Time.”

William E. Glassley’s (geologist at University of California, Davis) exploration of Greenland’s wilderness and the “emotional truths” it contains is profound and moving. This is a rich reading experience for those interested in one of the few remaining truly wild places and how humans relate to it. Glassley’s narrative “unfolds in three parts, each part containing a suite of formative sensory experiences that shifted my perceptions.” The author’s writing skills are such that even those lacking any knowledge about Greenland or the science of geology will be readily transported to one of the world’s most exotic locations. Though the titles of the sections — Fractionation, Consolidation and Emergence — may sound daunting to some general readers, Glassley expertly combines understandable explanations (and a helpful glossary) with a beautiful, lyrical prose. Whether he is writing about the magnitude of the landscape, the silence that permeates each day, mirages, lichen, falcons, gulls, ptarmigan, fish, ice or tidal currents, his descriptions capture the majesty of the area. Just as captivating are Glassley’s detailed explanations of the complex geologic processes that formed this incredible environment. He conveys the significance of shear zones, straight belts, “root” zones and the feeling of standing in the middle of a molten rock chamber formed 65 million years ago 10 miles below the surface of the Earth. The author’s final thoughts regarding the preservation of wilderness are especially poignant within our current turbulent environmental, political and cultural arenas. “With infinite hubris,” he writes, “the modern world is imposing the consequences of its industrial avarice on lifestyles it knows nothing of. The moral bankruptcy of the rationalizations for the destruction of wilderness and the people who live in harmony with it is staggering.”

Glassley’s book is a superb tool for a better understanding of the natural world and why real science matters.



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