Joe King Oliver, the protagonist of his new novel Down the River Unto the Sea, is a black ex-cop who was framed for the rape of a white woman. The premise alone is enough fuel for hours of classroom discussion. Add in a wise teenage daughter, a devilish antihero partner and a death-row inmate inspired by Mumia Abu-Jamal, and we have a wild ride that delivers hard-boiled satisfaction while toying with our prejudices and preconceptions ... Despite its serious subject matter, Down the River Unto the Sea is an optimistic noir. A fitting work for a world riddled with dark contradictions.
When reviewing a book by Walter Mosley, it’s hard not to simply quote all the great lines. There are so many of them. You want to share the pleasures of Mosley’s jazz-inflected dialogue and the moody, descriptive passages reminiscent of Raymond Chandler at his best … Mosley’s densely populated novel is full of characters like Frost, many of them African American, who have struggled to rise above unlucky beginnings. Some, like Oliver himself, have more or less succeeded; others, like Leonard ‘Manny’ Compton, have not … Down the River Unto the Sea — his 53rd book — is as gorgeous a novel as anything he’s ever written. And with Joe King Oliver I’m betting, and hoping, he’s given us a character we haven’t seen the last of.
Oliver is inspired to link this new investigation with his own redemption: ‘If Man is innocent and I freed him, then it would be in some way, like freeing myself.’ That doubly daunting mission is made all the more awkward when Oliver must ferret out rotten apples from the police force he still feels part of … Like many of Mr. Mosley’s protagonists, Oliver seems to be as much on a spiritual quest as a crime-solving one.