Fear Itself wonderfully lives up to the superb quality of Fearless Jones, which began this series. If you haven't read Fearless Jones, I recommend reading that book first.
Fearless Jones is the finest new mystery I have read in decades. Its qualities place it alongside classics like The Maltese Falcon, while its deep exploration of human nature causes it to transcend the mystery genre. The story's subtle psychology reminds me of an ancient Greek drama. This book represents a new peak in the imagination and the writing of the immensely talented Mr. Walter Mosley. You have a rare treat in store. Start this book early in the day. You probably won't want to put it down.
Like the frozen expressions on Greek tragedians' masks, Fearless Jones considers three kinds of human motivation: The self-interested satisfaction of the senses; the rational mind assembling the pieces of a puzzle; and good character that comes the heart. The narration builds from the rational mind and conveys all of the classic elements of the best noir mysteries. Mosley's point is that good character will naturally triumph because of the finer emotions and responses it will evoke in others. I suspect that you will agree with him, and feel uplifted by this tale despite the plot's pathway through many dark alleys of depravity.
Few writers can take you inside the mind and body of the characters like Mr. Mosley. In both Fearless Jones and Fear Itself, you will think and feel along with Paris Minton, the owner of a used bookstore in Watts in the mid-1950s. 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 friend, Fearless Jones, is the archetype of the medieval knight errant . . . always looking to do a good deed. In Fear Itself, Fearless (Tristan) Jones wakes Paris up in the middle of the night because Fearless has promised to help a woman Fearless had never met before, Leora Hartman, who was holding the hand of a three year-old who was crying his eyes out. A World War II hero, the two met 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.
The book revolves around a missing farmer from Wayne, Texas, Kit Mitchell, who has been hiring Fearless to distribute his watermelons. The mystery soon adds more missing people and items, and other people who want to pay Paris and Fearless to find whatever is missing. However, people are more willing to pay than to describe what they are supposed to be looking for. Whatever it is, it's dynamite!
The story reminds me The Big Sleep in a positive way.
No review of this book would be complete without observing that Mr. Mosley again demonstrates an unbelievable ability for capturing the black experience in Southern California in the post-war period. He has an equally uncanny skill for weaving a personalized view of that vulnerable, hopeful footing into the fabric of the overall society during those years. I think that Fear Itself is his most imaginative work in this regard. He adds richness to black heritage in an unforgettable and intriguing way. As much as I enjoyed the story, these heritage elements overshadowed the mystery completely.
After you finish reading the book, I suggest that think back to the many moments of spontaneous kindness in the story. How did you feel when you read them? How would you feel if someone behaved in this way towards you? When was the last time that you offered the fullness of your heart's purest motives to a stranger or near-stranger? How would you feel if you did so more often? Who are you? Who could you be? Who do you want to be?
Live beyond your fears and your desires . . . and be free!