If you have not yet read Fearless Jones and Fear Itself (the first two books in the Fearless Jones series), I strongly urge you to do so before reading Fear of the Dark. Both of those books are better written and more entertaining than Fear of the Dark. Without the perspective that those books give you on Fearless Jones and Paris Minton, you'll like Fear of the Dark less than you might.
Paris Minton is a most unusual character for Walter Mosley. Paris is the owner of a used bookstore in Watts in the mid-1950s that he has to subsidize with a part-time job. Minton is a largely self-educated black man from Louisiana who came to California to find libraries that were open to all. His store's books are discards from local libraries. He has achieved a fragile kind of peaceful life, living and working in his bookstore (and reading when there are no customers, which is often). His head is full of classic literature (the oldest Greeks are his favorites) and carries a heroic perspective into every situation: They only trouble is, he's no hero. Paris is afraid of everything and almost everyone.
How does Paris cope? He has the equivalent of Dumbo's magic feather in the swashbuckling Fearless Jones, a modern archetype for the knight errant. Whenever trouble looms, Paris calls on Fearless for help. In many cases, Fearless's reputation is enough to solve the problem. But when rough stuff is needed, Fearless is your man. A World War II hero, Fearless met when Minton when Minton spontaneously bought Jones a drink during the post-war celebration. "He appreciated my generosity and gave me a lifetime of friendship for a single shot of scotch." As you can see, Mr. Mosley writes like an angel. Minton, the man of logic, reciprocates by helping Fearless solve problems where his bravery and reputation are not enough.
The two characters remind me of a Star Trek episode where a transporter malfunctions and Captain Kirk is divided into two people, one who is totally dominant and carnal and the other who is caring and weak. Paris and Fearless are similarly opposites, yet totally compatible as though they came from the same source. Obviously, Mr. Mosley is equally fascinated with how the opposite ways of pursuing the masculine life play out.
Since Paris operates in a tough area, he won't open his door for just anyone. He has an elaborate series of mirrors that allow him to see who wants in. When the mirrors show that his cousin Ulysses S. Grant IV (generally referred to as "Useless") is at the front door, Paris turns Useless away. Why? The last time he let Useless in, Paris almost ended in being framed for a robbery that Useless had done. No fool, Paris isn't about to repeat that mistake. "Useless was like monosodium glutamate for problems; he brought out the evil essence and magnified it." Useless leaves a cryptic message for his mother with Paris, "Tell Three Hearts that there's a man named Hector wrote my name on a black slip'a paper. Tell her that I tried to make it work with Angel, but I guess I was mudfoot just like she said."
Three weeks earlier, Paris had found his own way into trouble. He rescued a skinny young white woman named Jessa Brown who was trying to run a con on a small restaurant. The two became lovers . . . which becomes a problem when Jessa's ex-boyfriend Tiny (who is anything but) shows up at the bookstore while they two were engaged with one another on the floor.
Life gets more complicated from there. First, Tiny shows up dead in the bookstore. Then, Aunt Three Hearts shows up looking for Useless, and Paris cannot turn her down. Why? She has a reputation for putting the Evil Eye on those who don't do her wishes. Fearless Jones is tied up protecting Milo Sweet, the bail bondsman, from a dangerous felon, but Fearless does double duty in helping Paris as well.
It soon becomes clear that Useless has gotten himself into some very dangerous waters. Paris and Fearless set out to unravel the mystery and put the pieces back together again.
I found Fear of the Dark to be less interesting than the earlier two books in the series because the secondary characters and their motives are much less inspiring in Fear of the Dark. Why would anyone other than his mother care about Useless? As fine a woman as Three Hearts is, it's not as rewarding as it might be to read about her trying to save her son from himself. You know that Useless will just end up in some new trouble. There's also a lot of sexual innuendo in the book that didn't really advance the story or develop the characters beyond where they were at the end of Fear Itself.
But if you enjoy Paris Minton as a character, I think you'll feel rewarded for reading the book. The best part of the story is how Paris ends up taking on lots of danger so that he can avoid things that he's even more afraid of. Yes, a frightened man can be brave . . . especially when all is required is intellectual courage. Just don't have your highest expectations in place when you begin Fear of the Dark (a good double play on Paris's fear of dark places and society's fear of the African-American male).