I finished The Stand a few weeks ago. It was fine. 1200 pages of fine. Now I’m reading a shorter detective novel, as I am wont to do: Walter Mosley’s Black Betty. The book I read prior to The Stand was Mosley’s White Butterfly (I’m reading them in published order), and it’s telling how prescient his work still is - or, more realistically, how little has changed.
These aren’t super old books (earliest is 1990), but the issues that protagonist Easy Rawlins deals with as a black man in post-war LA feel like they’ve been plucked from the headlines. Black Betty has a subplot about sexual consent, and of course every interaction Easy has in each book is framed by race. Rawlins is a detective who is turned to by white men when they need information that can only be found in black neighborhoods, so often a shared blackness is the pretext of his interactions. Alternatively, he reluctantly code-switches (or tries to) when necessary, and his success and failures in doing so are painful either way.
The books are narrated by Rawlins, and there is a downbeat acceptance of racial dynamics that says more in three or four words than any exposition otherwise would. For example, a tense interaction with a white man who calls him the n-word and pulls a gun on him ends with the insight, “That’s how it is in America,” and basically broke my heart. It speaks to Mosley’s skill that he is able to say so much, so succinctly, and hearkens back to (and often improves upon) the clipped language of crime novelists Chandler, Cain, and Hammett of decades prior. His prose has significantly more heart than theirs, and as such I prefer his work, which is saying a fucking lot.
If you’re curious about Mosley’s work but don’t want to commit to a book (brief though they are!), absolUTELY watch Devil in a Blue Dress, which is a stellar adaptation of the first Easy Rawlins mystery of the same name, starring Denzel Washington. It’s a fantastic detective film in its own right, and absolutely nails the tone and character of his books.