15 November 2006

Eugena Pilek, Cooperstown. New York: Touchstone, 2005.

Set in America's Most Perfect Village in 1979, the year Willie Mays was inducted, Cooperstown is about the people who work in and around the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The main characters include a set of friends who had attended the first induction, with Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb in 1939, the best ballplayer ever to come from the home of baseball, and the Baseball librarian.

Our characters are bound by a secret document, discovered in 1957 by the friend who went on to oversee collections at the Hall of Fame, which the librarian will try unsuccessfully to reveal. This is what comes of not having a trained archivist as curator! While the secret could destroy the village, events only come to a head when a psychiatrist sharing the surname of a famous umpire moves to town. Even as the townfolk come together to fight against a proposed baseball theme park, they are also coming, one by one, for help with the problems their secret has caused. As we might hope, everyone experiences personal growth and the town is not destroyed—even though the theme park wins.

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02 November 2006

Walter Mosley, The Man in My Basement. New York: Little, Brown 2004.

I've enjoyed Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries ever since Devil in a Blue Dress, so when I saw a new book of his while browsing, I knew it would be a smart, well-crafted piece. And tagging along on a case with Easy is always a good time.

The Man in My Basement is smart and well-crafted, but is otherwise unlike anything else I'd read from Mosley. Except for that nagging question, "who IS that man in the basement", this is a straight novel—no hint that Mosley is associated with mysteries. Given over to close character study, it is almost like a drawing-room novel from Austin or Wharton. Mosley focuses on an artificial, self-imposed relationship entered for personal gain, almost totally excludes the outside world, and deep insights result in profound personal changes for the characters. Mosley plays with ideas of good and evil by sending Anniston Bennett to live in a nine-by-nine cage in Charles Blakey's basement. Blakey dislikes the idea, but needs the money Bennett offers. He cleans out the basement, which brings him into contact with his heritage and starts a romantic sub-plot. Thus, Blakey becomes jailor, confessor, and student of his strange guest. And, unlike those Easy Rawlins stories, this is more than just a fun bit of reading. We do eventually learn who Bennett is, but The Man in My Basement forces us to consider big questions like freedom and truth without providing the sort of answers we really want.