If there’s one thing about fans of suspense novels, it’s that they have an appetite for close-ups of grit and grime and those mired in them.
So on that count, Walter Mosley is likely to get pretty high marks for his latest work, “Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore.” If the title seems to hint heavily of salaciousness, there is a legitimate reason. Mosley’s latest unfurls the tale of Debbie Dare, a wildly popular black porn queen who lives in a Los Angeles-area mansion with her sleazy husband, Theon Pinkney, an insatiable retired porn star and “film producer.”
The story opens with Dare finishing the shooting of an adult film scene and discovering when she arrives home a short time later that her husband, Pinkney, and a homeless underage girl he had been “auditioning,” have both been killed in a freak electrical accident that may not be totally accidental.
Dare takes Pinkney’s death as a sign that it’s time for her to get out of the industry and start fresh with a more normal life. If only it were that easy. Dare finds that for every two steps forward the third is blocked by someone who had a bone to pick with Pinkney, or someone who forces her to reopen doors to her pre-porn past, or someone who feels personally slighted that she chooses to quit providing voyeuristic pleasures, or all of the above.
For Mosley fans, the book will be something of a mixed bag. They can be assured that it features a range of the best-selling author’s trademark plot roller coasters with their sharp rises, dips, and loop-the-loops, as Debbie negotiates brushes with death and generally dangerous people.
But “Debbie” marks the second time in six months that Mosley, author of more than 40 novels, has unveiled a new book featuring a new protagonist who is a near total departure from his long-successful formula across a half-dozen series of flawed good guys who work as private investigators, either full time or as a sideline.
Last December, in “Odyssey,” Mosley introduced Sovereign James, a corporate human resources executive whose experience with investigations and all-purpose trouble were limited to screening job applicants and measuring employees’ worthiness for raises and promotions — until his own life begins to fall apart after he wakes up one morning blind.
Dare and James may not have much in common with the likes of Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins and his best friend Raymond “Mouse” Alexander — the main characters of Mosley’s best-known books — or any of his other much loved private eyes. But what these newest characters do share with all of Mosley’s protagonists is that their stories begin and end with epiphanic moments in which they recognize that their souls and peace of mind are too high a price to pay for money and power.
Where some of his fans were perhaps not initially fond of the sometimes cold, mechanical James, they may well adore Dare, who inspires a crucial characteristic that all classic Mosley characters have evoked: empathy.
It is difficult not to feel for Dare, who is cold and calculating in how she views her occupation, but who also pines for real love, the touch of a man who is not paying for her company, a conversation with girlfriends over coffee that doesn’t include the best angles for shooting certain types of adult scenes.
In her painful struggle for a better life, Dare holds her own but manages to do even better after she accepts that few of those around her are real friends, and those that are also have ulterior motives. It is a world Mosley fans will find familiar.James H. Burnett III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.