Given his potent combination of wildly colorful yet believable characters, it’s understandable that some fans of novelist Walter Mosley have yet to forgive him for apparently killing off Easy Rawlins, his most popular character, in the 2007 bestseller “Blonde Faith.’’
Rawlins was, fans argued, not just a character they could envision through Mosley’s words, but also a character they could relate to, one they wish they could have known.
Upon reading “Blonde Faith,’’ a former colleague and Mosley fan declared that reading mysteries “won’t be the same without Easy’’ and asked “where else are you going to find such a colorful, real character?’’
If Mosley fans have not boarded the Leonid McGill train, now would be a good time to do so with the arrival of “All I Did Was Shoot My Man,’’ the fourth book in Mosley’s newest series about a conflicted and compromised New York private investigator.
This time McGill’s mission is to help Zella Grisham after an eight-year prison stint for a robbery she did not commit. What’s at stake for him? Redemption. It seems that McGill was hired to frame Grisham by a gambler who feared that the police would suspect him in the multimillion-dollar heist. He convinced McGill that she was going to jail anyway for shooting her lover after finding him in bed with another woman.
“All I Did’’ chronicles McGill’s efforts to help Grisham reclaim a normal life, find the $58 million she was accused of stealing, and mold his dysfunctional family into something resembling normal.
In the midst of all this, McGill also discovers that his communist, would-be revolutionary father has secretly returned to New York. This is the same father who abandoned the family when McGill was just a boy and who is undoubtedly at the root of McGill’s troubled, splintered sense of self.
The themes of guilt and atonement are a central feature of McGill’s life. He’s broken the law so many times in the interest of a buck and street justice that he feels he has no choice but to spend the remainder of his days taking on cases that may balance out the cosmos in his favor - even if it sometimes means a lighter paycheck.
McGill’s tortured sense of responsibility spills into his personal life. Fans of the African-American detective, named for Russian politician Leonid Brezhnev by his absentee father, know that McGill does not love his unfaithful wife, but feels it is his lot in life to stay in the relationship - even though he has a former girlfriend who would run into moving traffic for him. Two of his three children were fathered by other men. But he feels obliged to pretend he doesn’t know and raise them as his own.
If there is a significant difference between McGill and Mosley’s other potent private eyes, it’s this: While all the others, including Rawlins and Fearless Jones, really just want to be left alone and are reluctant to save the world, McGill sees it as his karmic responsibility.
Helping Grisham may be the first time McGill has been able to carry out that responsibility, knowing that his client was actually innocent.
There’s no question that “All I Did’’ is the best book yet in the McGill series. The plot moves incredibly quickly. But it’s possible that even in a Mosley book’s hang-on-tight world there were too many twists and turns this time.
James H. Burnett III can be reached at james.burnett@ globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamesburnett.