Being caught between a rock and a hard place—or, in this case, a gang of revolutionary firebrands and the secret squad of law-bending cops intent on taking them out—is business as usual for America’s crime-solvingest high school janitor. But this time out, Easy Rawlins is going to have to unravel the usual tangled web of deceit, treachery, police corruption, and murder without the help of homicidal pal Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, who has bitten the asphalt—or so Rawlins’ creator, Walter Mosley, kind of sort of wants us to believe. In Bad Boy Brawly Brown, Rawlins tries to balance the usual life problems—an adopted son who wants to quit high school, the death of a close friend, going cold turkey on the cigarettes—while trying to find another friend’s missing son. Of course, before we know it, Rawlins is stumbling across corpses and the mysteries are piling up like empty Thunderbird bottles in a wino alley. As always, there’s lots of refreshing straight talk from Mosley about the trials of being black in a world where whites make and enforce the rules. If Mosley’s evocation of Los Angeles in the days before the Watts riots isn’t as unremittingly grim as the one painted by James Ellroy, it’s only because Mosley provides his protagonist with a multiethnic island of domestic tranquility amid the virulent racism of the time—which makes Mosley’s books a lot like those by James Lee Burke. Mosley reads Monday, July 29, at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, at Borders, 5871 Crossroads Center Way, Baileys Crossroads. Free. (703) 998-0404. (Michael Little)