Every Man a King by Walter Mosley

In 1990 Mosley said that he writes to investigate the existential question,

How do I act in an imperfect world when I want to be perfect? . . . I like the moral questions.

New York Times Archive

and he is still writing to explore this issue in Every Man a King. This book is one of the King series and the imperfect world has much to offer: white racists, siblings who want to remove their father as CEO of a very wealthy company, prisons of all sorts and that mix that he is so good at that allows things to be not quite what they seem.

In this book the white supremacist is married to a Black woman. The man who is supposed to have murdered his son’s rival in love didn’t do it but covered up who did to protect his son. Even those who are on the ‘good’ side are imperfect. A detective with a compromised past, an ex-prisoner who may or may not be a psychopath and a white billionaire who is the partner of his Grandmother with all the history a Black woman of that age might have or as King says as ‘black as a moonless night on an ancient sea’. It says so much. It is all described as ‘coloring outside the lines’.

The prisons involved in this story are real such as Rikers, where King was once incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, to a billionaire mansion guarded by people and walls and to the poverty of the people who he is hiding out amongst. Absolute poverty, King muses is

the experience of being slowly murdered by a state of being


But in this book are also slight flights of fantasy. A hideout that is under rocks with a special sliding door to admit people that reveals itself to be a well-appointed apartment where you could hide out off-grid for many months. It’s a little bit James Bond but is countered by King’s 91 year old Grandmother being shot in the ‘butt’ and shrugging it off – up and walking within a few days.

The writing is spare, pacy and his use of similes is worthy of academic research. I loved it.

Everything good and everything bad that makes us human. 

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