Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) is Walter Mosley's first novel as well as the first book of the Easy Rawlins mystery series. Mosley has said that although he has long been enamored of detective fiction, he did not set out to write a mystery series. He explained in an interview, " ... When I wrote Devil in a Blue Dress, I didn't know it was going to be a mystery. It just was." Mosley began his writing journey with the novel's first sentence: "I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's bar." Mosley explains that after he produced the book's opening sentence, his writing process for the novel was an improvisation. He quips: "I wrote that sentence. And the book I knew was in there, but I didn't know what that book would be. But I know that I was confident enough in the language that I could follow it." In essence, Mosley jumped into Easy's shoes and discovered the mystery alongside his protagonist.
As improvisational as the process was, writing Devil in a Blue Dress helped Mosley define a mission for himself as a black writer. In his own reading, Mosley noted of people of color, "A lot of our histories are left out of the fiction. We don't have a history in the literature. Because you know for a long time we weren't published ... And that's changing now." Mosley took on writing as a social as well as an artistic cause in order to educate his readers about the many roles black people have played in United States history. His dedication to drawing attention to African American history is obvious in his first novel's references to black involvement in World War II. Easy Rawlins is a black World War II veteran, through whom Mosley comments on the army's segregation and the hardships of returning to Jim Crow America.
Mosley set Devil in a Blue Dress in Los Angeles because he considers it his "psychological base." He used the rich narratives of his black Southern relatives in order to reconstruct historically, socially, and tonally the world of African American Los Angeles in the late 1940s. Of the novel's focus on violence and danger, Mosley explains that in the time and place of the novel, "You couldn't depend on the law to protect you. So of course guns and violence grew out of the anger and frustration of poverty." Because the characters cannot rely on the police - typified by the cruel and degrading Mason and Miller - they must resort to violence to keep order in their community. When asked about his protagonist, Mosley explains, "My interest in Easy is that he's a way to look at how you make it in America if you're not educated - if you have to work hard." To Mosley, Easy is a vehicle through whom to explore the reality of a hard, unprivileged, working-class life. Of mixed race and an educated background himself, Mosley draws from his family's oral heritage and historical experiences to keep Easy grounded in social realities.
Devil in a Blue Dress was a success that inspired the now-prolific Mosley to continue not only the Easy Rawlins series, but to branch out into children's fiction, non-detective novels, science-fiction, and non-fiction writing. It garnered praise from critics who called it "richly atmospheric" and socially incisive. In the year it was published, Devil in a Blue Dress won the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America as well as the Edgar Award nomination for best new mystery from Mystery Writers of America. The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association named the novel "One of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century." In 1995, the movie version of Devil in a Blue Dress was released, adapted for the screen and directed by Carl Franklin. The movie was a success due in large part to its stellar cast including Denzel Washington as Easy, Don Cheadle as Mouse, Tom Sizemore as DeWitt Albright, and Jennifer Beals as Daphne Monet. Since Easy Rawlins' debut in Devil in a Blue Dress, he has gone on to star in eight other novels and to become a favorite contemporary literary hero.