Down The River Unto The Sea

Written by Walter Mosley

Review written by Bob Cartwright

Down The River Unto The Sea
Orion Books
RRP: £20.00
Released: March 8, 2018

Thirteen years ago, Joe King Oliver was a Detective First Class in the NYPD, one of those cops who took his role seriously and remained untainted by the fruits of corruption. He was married with one daughter. But then his world crashed down.

He was accused of rape, a frame set up by his crooked colleagues, and imprisoned. Deserted by his wife, he is left to fend for himself in the viscous and hostile confines of the notorious Rikers. Fortunately, his prison sentence is cut short through the efforts of some former colleagues to beat the rap. Nevertheless, his days as a cop are over, and he embarks on a new career as a Private Investigator, albeit with a strong resolve to clear his name if, and when, the opportunity arises. 

His career as a private investigator progresses well. He remains estranged from his former wife who has now remarried. But he is reconciled with his daughter Aja Denise who combines her college studies with organising his office. The opportunity to revenge himself arises with two discreet events.

Firstly, the woman he was accused of raping writes to him confessing that she was coerced into the accusation by police officers who wanted Joe out of the way. She is now prepared to give evidence on his behalf. 

The second development arises when he is approached by a friend of his daughter working for a solicitor with a good record for taking civil rights cases. She has been involved with the attorney in efforts to save the life of a Black activist accused of killing two of the corrupt detectives engaged in the sexual trafficking of youngsters in care. She is upset when the attorney uncharacteristically decides to drop the case. She wants Joe to continue the investigation.  

Joe takes up both of the challenges fully aware that he is putting his life on the line. But he can’t do it all on his own and enlists the help of several people he encountered during his career as a cop, creating an unholy alliance of lawmakers and law-breakers.

Sounds bland?  Or yet another account of police corruption? Not a bit of it. This is Walter Moseley at his best, a craftsman still at his peak some twenty years since he gave us Devil in a Blue Dress. Down the River…. is nothing short of riveting from start to finish. Characters enter in short but sparkling cameos which blend with the underlying theme. New York comes to life as a backcloth struggling to balance the conflicting pulls of gentrification and pauperisation. And Joe King Oliver is a wonderful creation who ranks alongside the latter-day heroes of Dash Hammett and Raymond Chandler. And unlike Joe they weren’t Thelonius Monk fans which, in my book, gives him the edge on Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

I wish Walter Moseley and Joe Oliver every success with this book which deserves to hit the bestsellers and stay there. But it raised questions for me about the paucity of Black authors in contemporary crime fiction. At the point in the 1990s when Moseley entered the galaxy there were great hopes for Black crime writers as Sarah Weinman argued in the New Republic (The Case of the Disappearing Black Detective Novel, 2015): “But then writers like Eleanor Taylor Bland, Penny Micklebury, Paula Woods, Charlotte Carter, and others fell away in the relentless turnover of the publishing industry.” In recent years only Attica Locke has approached Moseley’s level of popularity. As Weinman concludes: “it is frustrating, even shameful, how few writers of colour get through the mystery corridors with a fictional representation of their own experiences.”

And that is equally true of the UK. Whatever happened to Mike Phillips after his initial success in the 1990s with the Sam Dean books? More recently, is A.A. Dhand the only non-white crime writer we can boast in our Mean Streets?

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor