Character in A Red Death (1991) by Walter Mosley. Poor, sick, but still sexy as the novel opens, and soon thereafter dead, Poinsettia Jackson is more catalyst than character in Walter Mosley's second Easy Rawlins mystery, set in Los Angeles in Red-scared 1953. Her murder provides the key to subsequent murders, a window into other characters, and the novel's thematic center. In their reactions to Poinsettia's murder, unorthodox amateur investigator Easy Rawlins and uptight black police detective Quinten Naylor reveal what they have in common—a special sense of responsibility toward black people. When Easy finds Poinsettia hanging in her apartment in one of the buildings he pretends not to own, he thinks she has committed suicide for fear of eviction and blames himself. When Naylor's white partner, accepting too easily the evidence of suicide, asks, “Who's gonna care about this one girl, Quint?” Naylor replies, “I care.” The process of solving the murder shifts the blame from Easy to another black man, his rental agent Mofass, to a racist Internal Revenue agent who has exploited blacks' fear of the law in a racist society to extort money from them. As Easy is cleared of blame, however, he realizes he still bears responsibility, for Poinsettia is the victim not simply of murder but of a chain of victimization in which he, too, has participated. When targeted by the corrupt IRS agent, Easy had betrayed a more vulnerable friend of black people, Jewish labor organizer and alleged Communist Chaim Wenzler, just as Mofass had used Poinsettia, more vulnerable than he because of her sex and poverty, to save himself. Thus, though she plays little active role in the novel, Poinsettia is central to its unfolding of the process by which racism can make its victims participate in their own victimization.
Theodore O Mason, Jr., “Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins: The Detective and Afro-American Fiction,” Kenyon Review 14.4 (Fall 1992): 173–183.
Susan L. Blake