Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4


Chapter 3

After taking the first step into a shady world, Easy drives home, thinking about the money he needs to keep his small house. We learn that he grew up on a sharecropper's farm and never had any possessions of his own before. The house is the size of a one-bedroom apartment and is surrounded by a garden. Easy's rent is due in six days, and even though Easy can tell that Mr. Albright is "full of violence," he needs money badly.

Easy goes to meet Mr. Albright on the address on his business card. It is a "buff-colored building" with "cream-colored doors." It is also deserted. A slight white man startles Easy and demands to know why he has come. Easy finds himself dizzied and somewhat frightened in the presence of a white authority figure. Even when Easy regains his composure and asks to see Mr. Albright, the white man distrusts him. Easy is furious and has the urge to "rip the skin from his face like [he'd] done to another white boy." Finally the little man gets permission to show Easy to Mr. Albright's office. In order to reach the office, they cross a courtyard and enter the dusty boiler room, where Mr. Albright's bodyguards, Manny and Shariff, try to pat Easy down, which he resists. They lead him into the office proper and Mr. Albright sends them away.

Easy notices that Mr. Albright keeps a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey right out on his desk. He also notices Mr. Albright's large, black-handled gun, the only thing Mr. Albright seems to wear that is not white. He shows Easy a picture of a light-haired, blue-eyed girl named Daphne Monet. He tells Easy that Daphne likes to spend time in black jazz clubs, and he needs Easy to find her for his client, whom she left. He offers Easy one hundred dollars in advance and the chance to get his job back at Champion. As Mr. Albright talks, Easy again considers how much he reminds him of his old friend, Mouse: a very shady character. Despite his misgivings, Easy takes the job. He explains: "I couldn't see why it shouldn't be my one hundred dollars." After he accepts the job, the two men drink and boast. Mr. Albright tells Easy to start looking for Daphne at an illegal jazz club run by a man named John. Easy knows the place.

Chapter 4

Easy opens by describing John's Place, which was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Even after drinking was legalized again, John could not get a liquor license because of his bad record with the police, so the club remains illegal and hidden in the back of Hattie Parson's market. Hattie is a tiny, light-skinned black woman who sells a few groceries but mostly acts as a door woman for John's Place. She lets in only those who are regulars or seem trustworthy. Her nephew, Junior Fornay, sits on the other side of the door should any trouble arise.

When Easy walks in to the market, he encounters "[his] third white man that day," who is dressed in an expensive suit and is quite drunk. Hattie won't let him into John's Place and the man offers Easy twenty dollars to convince Hattie to let him in, but Easy refuses and leaves him to sit drunkenly against the wall. Hattie tells Easy that Lips and his trio, musicians from Texas, are playing. She also mentions that the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday was there the Tuesday before. Hattie asks Easy for "six bits" as a cover to go into John's Place. When Easy questions why John has instated a cover charge, Hattie explains that a chauffeur, Howard Green, left Billie Holiday's set early and was beaten to death outside the club. His body was so mutilated that his wife could barely identify it. John now charges his customers an entrance fee "t'keep out the riff-raff." Easy hands Hattie seventy-five cents and she allows him to enter the club.

As soon as Easy enters John's Place, he is swept up in the familiar, nostalgic atmosphere. Lips, the other musicians, John, and a good majority of the patrons are originally from Houston, like him. They moved to Los Angeles after World War II expecting abundance, only to find squaller. But for the musicians, patrons, and John himself, John's Place provides a temporary return to the dreams they once had. Junior Fornay welcomes Easy. He is a heavy, strong man about five years older than Easy, whom he knew many years before in Houston. Easy recalls that Junior once knocked him to the floor in a fight and might have killed him had Mouse not intervened. Junior spends his time sitting in one spot in John's Place, guarding the door and smoking cheap cigarettes. Easy sums him up as "a filthy man who [doesn't] give a damn about anything." Easy tells Junior the story of his getting fired from Champion. He had worked a very long day and was ready to go home when his boss, a first-generation Italian-American told him he would have to stay an extra hour. Easy was furious at the way his boss looked down on him because he is black, so he quit.

Easy buys beers for himself and Junior, taking in the scene. He turns his attention to Frank Green, whom the men call Knifehand because of his propensity to stab someone at the slightest provocation. Frank is a gangster who hijacks shipments of liquor and cigarettes in order to sell them himself. Easy can tell Frank is about to go "out to work" because he is dressed in all black. Easy brings the beers back to Junior, who tells the story of Howard Green's murder, adding that the victim had been doing illegal work for Matthew Teran, a white man who recently pulled out of the mayor's race without explanation. Junior says that white men killed Howard, which makes Easy feel even more uneasy. Junior asks after Mouse, and Easy says that he last heard that Mouse was married to a woman named EttaMae Harris. Junior recalls how gallantly Mouse intervened when he was beating up Easy many years before.

We learn that Mouse's full name is Raymond Alexander. Easy has not seen him in four years. The last time they met, Mouse made Easy uncomfortable by bringing up the subject of his stepfather's murder. Mouse had murdered his stepfather and blamed it on a man named Clifton. Apparently, his stepfather's biological son, Navrochet, had come after Mouse because he believed him to be his father's true killer. Navrochet had Mouse at gunpoint and demanded to know where Easy was, thinking him an accomplice to his father's murder. Mouse startled Navrochet by urinating on his boots and then shot him to death. Easy left Texas for good several hours after talking to Mouse.

Easy asks Junior about Daphne, although he pretends not to know her name. Junior says he does not pay attention to the white girls who visit John's Place, but Easy thinks he is lying. Not wanting to rouse suspicion, Easy walks over to sit at the bar.


Though not a theme, dialect is an important element in Devil in a Blue Dress. Mosley's black characters speak in Southern black dialects, which both helps us to imagine ourselves in the black communities of post-World-War-II Los Angeles and also contrasts the language of working-class blacks with that of upper-middle-class whites. Though the white characters likely speak with Southern accents as well, Mosley chooses not to represent them on the page. The only white character who speaks with a working-class Southern accent is Daphne Monet, who, we learn later, is in fact part black. Easy himself tries to speak standard "white" English in order to separate himself from the bad elements of his community. As he admits: "I always tried to speak proper English in my life, the kind of English they taught in school, but I found over the years that I could only truly express myself in the natural, 'uneducated' dialect of my upbringing."

In these chapters and throughout the novel we witness Easy's love for his house. He adores the house as though it were a person in its own right. He even goes so far as to say: "... That house meant more to me than any woman I ever knew. I loved her and I was jealous of her and if the bank sent the county marshal to take her from me I might have to some at him with a rifle rather than give her up." Of course Easy loves the physical entity of his home, but the house also represents his independence. As long as Easy has a house to call his own, he has the identity of "homeowner." He is no longer just a soldier or a Champion aircraft worker; having the title "homeowner" allows Easy to feel as though he is making a real life and identity for himself after having pulled up his Houston roots to fight in the war and move to Los Angeles.

Easy's need to keep his home inspires both constructive and destructive actions. He wants to improve and tend the home, yet his need to pay rent lures him into dangerous situations. And this independant streak goes beyond the home. Easy admits that he is "caught by [his] own pride," driven to embrace danger just to prove himself. He admits: "The more I was afraid of [Mr. Albright,] I was that much more certain to take the job he offered." Having proved himself brave and strong in the war, Easy has returned home to a community that does not see him as tough. He is weak and soft compared to the likes of Joppy, Junior, and Mouse. Working for Mr. Albright renews Easy's sense of strength and bravery.

When Easy meets Mr. Albright at his office, he enters the sordid world that traps him until the end of the novel. The building itself has a similar effect to Mr. Albright's attire: it is so white that it intimidates Easy. Primed to be defensive by the building's appearance, Easy finds himself easily threatened by a small, unassuming doorman. He is so furious that he wants to "rip the skin from his face like [he'd] done to another white boy." Again, when Easy is threatened by racial prejudice, he connects back to his anger from the war and his satisfaction in having killed white men. Despite the pristine, pretentious whiteness of the building, Mr. Albright's office is dirty and secretive. Easy's descent into the boiler room to get his mission from Mr. Albright represents his coming descent into the underworld of crime and violence. Easy is in a dark, basement office of a spotless, white building. Already the lines between black and white, as well as the opposites of right and wrong, are blurring.

Mr. Albright's bodyguards, Manny and Shariff, are of mixed and uncertain race. As such, they are symbols of the uncertainty of the world into which Easy is entering. Manny looks Chinese to Easy at first, but he cannot pinpoint his race. Mr. Albright explains that he was raised in an orphanage and does not know his ethnic background. Sharrif is "tall and slight with curly brown hair, dark skin like an India Indian, and brown eyes so light they [are] almost golden." Manny and Shariff are inhabitants of a world as mixed-up and uncertain as their appearances. Because of this, they both frighten and intrigue Easy. At their best, they can even be beautiful. At worst, they are symbols of bewilderment.

Even Mr. Albright is inconsistent in terms of race. Despite his penchant for white clothing and accessories, he carries a conspicuously black-handled pistol. Certainly, Mosley is not insinuating that violence is a black phenomenon; far from it. Yet he arouses Easy's, and our, suspicion that Mr. Albright is not as pristine as his clothing suggests. In addition, Mr. Albright reminds Easy both of his black friend, Mouse, and "the wide-eyed corpses of German soldiers that [he] once saw stacked up on a road to Berlin." Despite these inconsistencies, Mr. Albright is very clear about certain things. One is money, and another is the fact that he is willing to hurt others to make a living. His bottle of whiskey serves as a symbol of his straight-forwardness. Easy notes that while many men have their liquor hidden in a bottom desk drawer, Mr. Albright keeps his right out on the desktop. Of course this is partially because Mr. Albright works for himself. But it is also a clue for all who enter that Mr. Albright is not one to B.S.

At John's Place, Easy is among friends but still close to danger as always. The knife-happy Frank Green is nearby and dressed for work. Easy is also close to danger when he sits with Junior, who merely laughs, recalling how he almost killed Easy in a fight years before. Despite its element of danger, John's Place is a haven for blacks. It is like a transplanted Southern black community. In each other's company, the patrons can escape the tough, workaday atmosphere of Los Angeles. Along with Easy's house and his dreams, John's place is a dreamlike place, a retreat hidden away from interfering forces such as the police. Consequently, when people bring violence to John's Place, break into Easy's house, and wake him out of his dreams, they shake his sense of security and identity. As he reminds us at the end of Chapter 4, he is first and foremost a homeowner, and that title is what keeps him from running away from Los Angeles and back into the warm comfort of Houston.