When Cordell Carmel, 45, walks in on his girlfriend Joelle engaging in—well, let’s call it kinky—sex with, unfortunately, a better endowed white man named Johnny Fry, Cordell leaves quietly, unseen. Haunted by the sight of Joelle and Johnny together, he determines to change his mundane life and find fulfillment in wanton sex with beautiful women. Cordell also vows to kill Johnny—but not without first purchasing a porn video starring the mysterious Sisypha, engaging in amazing sex with Joelle (and then Lucy, Sasha, and Monica), ruminating on the rules of sex, and embarking on a new chapter in life.
Bloomsbury. 288 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 159691226X
NY Times Book Review
"Killing Johnny Fry is a frankly pornographic novel, and I mean that as a compliment. … The problem with this novel isn’t that it’s graphic or that Mosley uses the standard set-ups of pornography—the horny neighbor, the girl picked up on the street. The problem is that it’s silly." Charles Taylor
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"I sometimes thought Mosley intended the book to be an ironic commentary on various racial and cultural stereotypes or even a takeoff on Camus—the existential anti-hero as sexual fool—but the tone remains earnest throughout. It’s been obvious for 25 books and almost 20 years that Walter Mosley is a fine writer. But not here." John Repp
Los Angeles Times
"The existential themes of dread, boredom and absurdity come to the fore, but only because the sex scenes become less and less interesting and less and less emotional, if more and more outrageous. … The novel ends up as neither erotica nor philosophy." Diana Wagman
New York Observer
"The sex scenes pop up, so to speak, with numbing regularity and require an endurance that would be impressive in a 17-year-old, probably chemically induced in a 30-year-old and just plain unseemly in someone Cordell’s age. Even more embarrassing than our hero’s heroic potency are his flashes of insight." Adam Begley
Walter Mosley’s fans should not despair; Easy Rawlins will return. Until then, critics and readers must contend with Killing Johnny Fry, an unfortunate blip in an esteemed author’s career. Although Cordell expresses homicidal intent—which could have driven the novel—Killing centers on his sexual counters. Highly pornographic, the repeated sex becomes tedious; thin on plot, the novel falls into clichéd, outlandish scenes. And, despite its subtitle—drawn, in part, from Camus’s essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus"—it offers little in the way of deeper philosophical insight. At the end, Cordell says, "I try to tell myself that there’s always time for redemption." For Mosley, too.
Cited by the Critics
Vox | Nicholson Baker (1992): Looking for some literary erotica? Don’t forget Baker’s book-length phone-sex conversation. And there’s also his The Fermata (1994), where a 35-year-old office temp learns how to stop time and devotes his days to "freezing" and undressing women, replacing music cassette tapes in people’s cars with pornography he’s recorded—and so on.