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There were crime novels with Black American protagonists before Mosley’s 1990 neo-noir classic, but it wasn’t until readers were introduced to Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins that there was a mainstream Black investigator on the level of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. It’s an indictment of the pernicious racism that continues to permeate U.S. popular culture to this day. After all, it doesn’t get more American than Easy—a World War II vet turned private investigator living and working in post-war L.A., trying to solve a murder whose resolution necessitates bringing the superficially submerged tensions between Black and white Americans to the surface. It doesn’t hurt that one of the greatest American actors of the last 50 years, Denzel Washington, portrayed Easy in a 1995 film adaptation, solidifying both the character and actor as exemplars of 20th century U.S. culture. —Elijah Wolfson

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