LITTLE GREEN: An Easy Rawlins Mystery, by Walter Mosley. Doubleday, 291 pp., $25.95.

When we last left Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, he had fallen off the wagon and driven his car over a cliff. This is nothing new for literary detectives. Sherlock Holmes once took what seemed a fatal fall off the Swiss Alps into the Reichenbach Falls.

Holmes came back. So has Easy, who was introduced to readers 22 years ago with "Devil in a Blue Dress," an explosive noir mystery set in post-World War II Los Angeles. That book set off one of the best series in the genre of "hard-boiled private eye" fiction -- one that is also a steadily enlightening portrait of social and cultural mores of mid-20th century Southern California.

Eleven Easy Rawlins books followed, along with about 20 other books. Mosley's teeming brain has yielded so many wonders, one wouldn't have blamed him if he'd decided to end things with the franchise that started it all.

But I suppose neither he nor we would have forgiven such a calamity. And besides, Easy's life story is stuck in 1967, still close to the proverbial dawn of the Age of Aquarius. And though by now in his late 40s with all these fresh dings, creaks and scars from his near-death experience (along with the lingering aftereffects of the broken heart that started his fateful binge), Easy seems up for anything the new age has to offer -- even a request from his sociopath sidekick Raymond "Mouse" Alexander to find the missing son of a woman who hates his guts. The young man, nicknamed "Little Green," was last seen dropping acid somewhere around Sunset Boulevard.

As if that were any weirder than anything Rawlins had to deal with before. And where else would a homicidal lowlife like Mouse go to for help? "You read a man's face like a little kid readin' Dick and Jane," Mouse tells Easy.

So off Easy goes, hassled by white thugs in and out of police uniform, underestimated by the well-heeled, drug-addled and bottom-feeding alike, and fueled by some mysterious black potion labeled "Gator's Blood" that bolsters his battered senses. This hoodoo riff adds a somewhat serio-comic element to this installment of the Rawlins saga, culminating in a denouement that would be ludicrous if it weren't for Mosley's elegant storytelling and his main character's composure.

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If you know Mosley, you know Easy's euphoria over surviving his mishap won't last. In the years to come, his world's got assassinations, earthquakes, crack, Crips, Bloods and the Rodney King mess in store. Hard on Easy; thrilling for the rest of us.