Author Walter Mosley has more than two dozen books to his credit and has placed many unforgettable black characters at the center of American fiction as lovers, thugs, bad guys, good guys — and guys who are a little of each.
His latest work, Known to Evil, is the second novel starring Leonid McGill, a detective hunting for killers in contemporary New York City.
Mosley frequently deals with redemption issues in his novels, and in this book McGill often refers to himself as a bad guy trying hard to turn over a new leaf and become a better man.
"He realizes that he's hurt a lot of people," Mosley tells NPR's Michel Martin. "And when this became very apparent to him, he had no other choice than to turn around and try to be a different kind of guy, to be, as he says, above board."
McGill is like all of us, Mosley says, in that we're all seeking redemption.
"I think that redemption is the history of the Western world, starting with Christianity and going before it," he says.
This new detective series also weaves diverse relationships and identities into the narrative. Mosley explains that "things are so complex and culture is so complex and how we deal with each other is so complex that it's hard to tell who is who and what is what. But in everyday talk, it all comes out."
His books also feature black male heroes, something not many other writers do, Mosley says.
"I'm not talking about protagonists, and I'm not talking about cartoon characters like Shaft," Mosley says. "I'm talking about ... real people, who are real heroes, like Achilles is a real hero. And black people love that, they love to have heroes that they can identify with."
While he writes about people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, Mosley notes it's increasingly important that the publishing industry become more diverse.
"It would be nice if the peoples of color of America were represented in the halls of publishing," Mosley says. "It's important because black and Latino and Native American and Asian cultures understand things in the world that maybe somebody else might not understand."
Mosley is also lending his voice to an effort by the American Library Association to introduce young people to books with diverse authors and characters.
"The older you are, the more you live in the past," Mosley says. "This is true. And if you accept that it's true, you can gain a great deal of respect for young people and young people can have a greater voice in the forming and organization of their world."