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.



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