At this point in the Easy Rawlins series, author Walter Mosley might consider turning out a novel in which the rich supporting cast just gets to hang out without having to worry about solving all those pesky mysteries that invariably plague the series' star. Never one to rely on stock types, Mosley invests a lot of care into creating new characters, and over the course of nine novels and a handful of short stories, Rawlins has made enough memorable friends that their appearance can feel a bit too brief. Forgetting the mystery would also allow more time for the rich period detail that sets the Rawlins novels apart. From Devil In A Blue Dress on, Mosley has written an almost offhanded cultural history of Los Angeles as seen from the perspective of a smart, not-always-lucky black World War II vet with a knack for helping others out of jams—occasionally at the cost of his own happiness.

Of course, without a mystery to be solved, there wouldn't be anything to drive the plot forward, so Cinnamon Kiss gives Rawlins a pressing motivation to take on a high-paying case: a daughter with a rare blood disease that can only be cured at an expensive European clinic. Far-fetched? Sure, but Rawlins lives in a world whose noir shadings mean that anyone's worst fears can come true at any moment. To pay for her treatment, he travels to a San Francisco that, in the year 1966, has just begun to let its freak flag fly. After a tense meeting with a reclusive P.I., he begins investigating a case involving ill-gotten bonds and Nazi memorabilia.


It's all deftly plotted, but the plot doesn't stick in the mind so much as moments like Rawlins' surprise at a racism-free encounter with a young, white Haight-Ashbury denizen whose child he saves from running into traffic: "Her gaze held no fear or condescension, even though her accent meant she had to be raised among people who held themselves apart from mine… I knew that if I had been twenty years younger, I would have been a hippie too." Rawlins' mix of pride and usually justified suspicion have deepened him as a character over the years, and the series has deepened with him. That process continues here. The novel ends with him making, out of debatably misplaced pride, a choice that undoes some of the steps he's made toward creating a happy life. In a fairer world, he wouldn't have to make the decision at all, but it connects to the one theme that ties all the Rawlins novels together: History takes no pity on good intentions.