Leonid McGill is one tough hombre. We saw that in three previous books from the prolific Walter Mosley, and in "All I Did Was Shoot My Man," McGill's fortitude gets highlighted and underlined when some heavily armed thugs make the mistake of breaking into his home.
Putting it simply, it is scary what a naked, angry man can do when his family is threatened. (It also creates a lot of paperwork.)
But Leonid McGill is much more than a steel-nerved, reformed mob fixer. What we also get on his fourth go-round from the masterful Mosley is a deeper look inside this modern-day Robin Hood of an investigator.
Since his debut in "The Long Fall," McGill has been dedicated to righting wrongs and, for the most part, seeing justice done -- as justice is defined by the mean streets of New York City.
Now, Mosley explores more of what drives McGill, and what haunts him. The cases he takes on, complex and entertaining, are almost incidental to the life he is trying to manage around them -- the wife, the kids (his and the ones he claims as his own), the girlfriend, the friends in need. And those things are never going to be all wrapped up and tied with a bow.
Not that McGill won't try.
In case you haven't been introduced, Leonid Trotsky McGill, named by his revolutionary-minded old man and called LT by his friends, is roughly the same age as his creator (Mosley turned 60 earlier this month), and, like Mosley, he lives in New York, but in another part of town. LT, now a Buddhist, is trying to move beyond his criminal past, the deeds he has done, the wrongs done to him, the people he has lost. He also is trying to quit smoking.
And, as "All I Did..." opens, McGill also is fighting a ferocious fever, an illness that only heightens his mystic musings on the past. It is fascinating territory for a pulp fiction detective to travel in, and the author pulls it off like a writer quite comfortable in his voice. We don't just feel for McGill, we feel with him.
And that is Walter Mosley's gift.
Mosley didn't have to take the chance that Leonid McGill would resonate with readers. For 20 years he had been growing a wide fan base that was eating out of his hand, including, most famously, that voracious reader Bill Clinton. They were hooked on Mosley's iconic character Easy Rawlins, a Los Angeles private eye who was living out the civil rights struggles of the mid-20th century while solving crime and sticking up for underdogs.
When Mosley sent Easy Rawlins' car careening off an embankment at the end of "Blonde Faith" in 2007 (it was the late 1960s for Easy), it was hard to believe he really was killing off his signature character. Mosley had as much riding along with Easy as anyone -- though he had dabbled in short stories, nonfiction and other novels, Rawlins was his meal ticket.
But almost five years have passed, and it appears Easy is in no hurry to return from oblivion. Mosley, on the other hand, has shifted to a higher gear.
Rather than trying to rewrite Easy for a world of cellphones and computer hackers, Mosley created McGill, first in a short story, then fleshing him out in 2009's "The Long Fall." Where Easy embodied the African-American struggles of the past, McGill is completely of the present, and using everything at his disposal to make it another day into the future.
Leonid McGill inhabits a dark world familiar to fans of the Raymonds Chandler and Carver, and he shows a comfort in it that Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe would also recognize. They might be puzzled, though, by his level of introspection, his degree of education (he's fluent in several languages; he'll tell you the most influential books of the last century are Marx's "Capital," "The Interpretation of Dreams" by Sigmund Freud, Darwin's "The Descent of Man" and Einstein writing on relativity), and the pain he feels over the unintended consequences of some of his actions.
Mosley, who has a wall full of writing awards, is involved in university writing and publishing programs, and used to work in computer programming. He grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a black janitorial supervisor father and Polish-Jewish mother who could not find a clerk willing to issue them a marriage license.
Unlike McGill, he never framed innocent (but often bad) people for crimes they didn't commit, never killed anyone with his bare hands and does not consort with retired assassins who now drive limousines. Those parts of McGill's world come from Mosley's imagination, and they are rich and detailed.
But when we see McGill dealing with being well into middle age, having regrets and wanting to make things right -- feeling that it is time to tie up loose ends, because time just might be running out -- there is a more universal tone, and it kicks this well-crafted crime novel up several notches.
Even without them, we have a good story: A woman, Zella Grisham, is released from prison after serving eight years -- not for shooting and wounding her man when she finds him in bed with her best friend, a crime she committed, but for grand larceny for a $58 million heist from a global insurance company, something she didn't do. McGill, in his prior life, had set her up. Hence the book's title, and hence McGill's interest now in trying to make things right.
When $58 million is involved, however, there must be someone around who wants things to stay just the way they are, and that propels the intricate, violent action. Meanwhile, McGill's oldest son is moving out of his dad's home to live with a former prostitute from Belarus; his unfaithful wife wants to reconcile, and so does his beautiful girlfriend; his daughter is dating a man three times her age and he is trying to help his criminally inclined other son, Twill, by taking him into the detective business with him.
Meanwhile, he is plagued by memories of his much-hated father, who abandoned the family and left LT's mother to die of a broken heart and is thought to be dead himself. But then again, maybe he isn't.
"All I Did Was Shoot My Man" carries you along with LT as he moves from one complication to the next without ever taking its eye off the ball. It's a great book to pick up to escape what you may consider your complicated life. When you finally put it down, after you exhale, Mosley will have left you feeling somehow better able to carry on.
Melinda Miller is The News' features editor.
All I Did Was Shoot My Man
By Walter Mosley
Riverhead Books326 pages; $26.95