Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley
The Goods: Socrates Fortlow has spent most of his adult life in prison for a murder and rape he committed as a young man. Now near 60, he lives an invisible existence in Watts, squatting in an abandoned apartment and working at an L.A. grocery store, written off by almost everyone as just another shiftless ex-con. Each story in this book is an episode in Socrates' hard-won quest for redemption and his attempts to bring justice to his violence-torn neighborhood.
Thoughts: While the stories are great, what really makes this book tick is Mosley's complex and engaging rendering of Socrates Fortlow. Here's a man with a tremendous capacity for violence, compassion, vengeance, and wisdom, and also with the force of will to keep the contents of his soul in balance. It's kind of how I imagine Djay, the pimp turned rapper from Hustle & Flow, might be if the movie caught up with him twenty years down the road. Socrates is no longer a bad man, and he's not yet a good man - and Mosley raises the possibility that his past crimes may make that impossible - but he's trying to put something good out there in the years he has left.
If You Liked...: Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins detective novels and want to branch out, Ida B. by Karen E. Quinones Miller, the story of a Harlem community who bonds together to save their home and solve a horrifying murder, or Yesterday Will Make You Cry by Chester Himes, an autobiographical novel from the 50s about the racism, corruption, and random violence of prison life, this book is for you.