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trouble is what i do

22 december 2022

Trouble Is What I Do is one of the later installments in Walter Mosley's Leonid McGill series, which I continue to read in whatever order I find them in used-book stores. At 166 small pages, it is barely longer than a novella. Mosley tells a satisfying story of justice brought about by deadly force, lovingly applied by sentimental killers.

McGill, private eye and general fixer, gets an old marker called in. A legendary hit man named Ernie Eckles demands McGill's help in delivering a letter to a bride-to-be. It is a potentially explosive letter. The bride is a white heiress; her plutocrat father is a notorious white racist; and the letter, from the plutocrat's real father, reveals that both racist and daughter have African-American ancestry.

The racist father hires some stone-cold killers to murder his own father, which poses McGill and his allies some trouble, but McGill assesses the situation – and paraphrases Sugar Ray Robinson – by uttering the book's title. Unlike other installments in the McGill series, Leonid himself never seems in personal trouble during this novel, but we are not quite as sure about his ability to protect those who need it. There are a lot of weaker characters here who depend on McGill's chivalry and his ability to assemble a team of killers who are meaner than his opponent's killers. All ends well, though. I hope that is not a spoiler.

I recently read Attica Locke's excellent novel Bluebird, Bluebird (2017). In several ways Mosley's book is a contrast to Locke's – his features a New York private eye, hers a Texas Ranger. But both novels hinge on the risks of revealing a long-buried racial secret. In both, the secret of passing is kept desperately by the unsympathetic characters but becomes an opportunity for forging new family connections among the more sympathetic ones. Both books assert that the history of black and white in America is not an eternal struggle of opposites so much as an extremely complicated family feud.

Mosley, Walter. Trouble Is What I Do. London: Weidenfeld [Hachette], 2020.