Serpent's Tail £12 (316pp). £11 (plus £2.25 p&p per order) from 0870 800 1122; Orion £12.99 (335pp). £11.99 (plus £2.25 p&p per order) from 0870 800 1122

Fear Itself. By Walter Mosley; Last Car to Elysian Fields. By James Lee Burke

Verdicts on a nation from partners in crime

Being fêted North American crime writers and lovers of the blues aside, what do James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley have in common? Each, in his different way, writes - shall we say -to die for, and each, as befits a thinking person living and writing in the United States, has the state of his country at the heart of his work's concerns. Of the two, Mosley is the more articulate about his choice of a popular form in which to express his ideas, whereas Burke - well, it's just possible that he simply wants to hit us with a rattling yarn and some deft characterisation, but all that other stuff keeps getting in the way.

Fear Itself is the second of Mosley's novels to feature Paris Minton, a man defined, as he himself claims, by his intelligence, the second-hand bookstore he operates, and his sexual endowment. And his fear - of almost everything. It is fear that orchestrates just about all Paris does. One of the few things it doesn't do is stop him answering his front door - foolish, when he knows, odds on, it's trouble that's going to come walking through. Most often, trouble comes in the shape of his best friend and alter ego, Fearless Jones, a man utterly true to his name. "Fearless", as Paris puts it, "was my best friend and more trouble than a white girl on the prowl in Mississippi".

The plot itself is orthodox enough: a woman in apparent distress, a missing person, a "Maltese Falcon", here in the shape of an emerald pendant set in white sapphires. Lies and subterfuge, money to be made from oil. People get shot; people die. But, like almost all of Mosley's work, this is a novel about the experience of being black in America, and therein lies its heart and its brilliance.

The setting is Los Angeles in 1955, which places it historically between A Red Death and White Butterfly in the author's Easy Rawlins series, and marks it as part of Mosley's project to provide a history, marginalised in popular fiction, of the postwar black experience. It is no coincidence that a missing chronicle of one black family's time in America, dating from the 18th century, lies at the core of this book. Nor was the decision to make its hero a bookseller an arbitrary one. "Literature," Paris explains, "came to my aid when I had to face the hard reality of racism".

It's difficult to know what to bring to the aid of Dave Robicheaux, back in Burke's Last Car to Elysian Fields and haunted by alcoholism, vestigial malaria, the death of two wives and the ghosts of Vietnam. A story which involves the road death of three teenage girls, the unsolved disappearance of Junior Crudup, who once sang with Leadbelly, and the relationship between a rebellious Catholic priest and a lapsed assassin, is unlikely to help.

But Burke's readers will know what to expect. Assisted, if that's the word, by his buddy Clete Purcel - the only man with more pent-up rage and self-disgust than Robicheaux himself - our hero batters his way through all-comers to a melancholy but relatively positive conclusion. What he can't step around is the fact that the America he loves is rapidly going to hell in a handcart. Corporate greed and theological fanaticism have, as he says, root- ed themselves in the modern world. It is no surprise to find oil money floating at the base of this book, too, in profits to be made from new drilling contracts in Iraq "after Shrub turns it into an American colony".

James Lee Burke's prose is the antithesis of Mosley's (he never uses one sentence when three or four will do), but it has a muscularity and richness that is entirely appropriate to its Louisiana setting. And after a few detours to Texas with Billy Bob Holland and a backwards look at the Civil War in White Doves at Morning, this is Burke back at his bayou best. Read one and then read the other.

'Men from Boys', a collection of stories edited by John Harvey, is published by Heinemann

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness