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BookBrowse Reviews Down the River unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

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Down the River unto the Sea

by Walter Mosley

Down the River unto the Sea by Walter Mosley X
Down the River unto the Sea by Walter Mosley
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2018, 336 pages
    Feb 2019, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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About this Book



Joe King Oliver must beat dirty cops and dirtier bankers, craven lawyers, and above all keep his daughter far from the underworld in which he works.

In his latest stand-alone crime novel, Walter Mosley continues to write thought-provokingly about interesting, colorful and multi-dimensional characters. They are complex people, some that you might think twice about inviting into your home, but with whom you'd like to have a conversation over a good meal and a fine bourbon, neat.

Joe King Oliver is a former New York City policeman. He's divorced with a teenaged daughter named Aja-Denise who works for him part time at the front desk of his private detective agency. Joe is a chess playing, Hesse reading, fan of detective novels and Thelonious Monk. He's also a man carrying a heavy grudge and it weighs on his every move. It began over a decade ago when, as a cop, he was dispatched to arrest a car thief.

At first it seemed like a slam-dunk. The stolen vehicle was parked at the curb and the alleged thief – a young woman – not only answered the door, but invited Joe in. From there it didn't take much for her to lure him into what became a trap. The ultimate result of his admittedly ill-advised carnal indulgence with her was that his wife left him, he got booted off the force, and he landed in Rikers prison where he received a typical cop's welcome. He still bears the scars.

Only by the grace of a good friend in the department did he escape even more severe punishment at the hands of his fellow inmates. And then, once out, it was he who helped Joe set himself up in his own PI agency. Today Joe is older, wiser, but still bitter because he knows he was set up. He just doesn't know by whom or why – until he receives a letter from that car thief.

It seems she has found God and wants to confess and repent; make amends for the role she played in his setup. She names names. Coincident with this revelation is a new client, flush with cash and information, who wants to hire Joe to investigate why a Black activist is being framed for the murder of two cops. He decides to take both cases on. He knows it's crazy but, "A man can live his whole life following the rules set down by happenstance and the cash-coated bait of security-cosseted morality; an entire lifetime and in the end he wouldn't have done one thing to be proud of."

So Joe teams up with Melquarth Frost, a man of uncertain sanity and a bank-robbing killer of an ex-con who makes and repairs watches and who owes Joe a favor. "I followed him up the stairs and out into a fate filled with madmen and red birds, nameless cops and women who fooled you again and again."

It is the first of several uneasy partnerships Joe has to make throughout the complicated dual investigations. However he knows he can't go it alone: "I learned a lot since I was a police detective thinking he could do it on his own...I learned that reading is important, that law is an ever-changing variable equation, and that a man is a fool if he works alone."

Joe searches for answers. Following a trail of blind alleys, crooked cops, dangerous felons and dead ends that challenged my ability to keep up, Joe rolls with and through the punches. But Down the River Unto the Sea is all good. With Mosley at the helm the means is every bit as rewarding as the end.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in February 2018, and has been updated for the February 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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