In this successful and intriguing departure from his usual work, Mr. Mosley creates a substantial subplot about heritage and history.... In the end this audacious novel is about facing up to such brutal realities. But it is also about seeking refuge.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
Despite the heavy themes, the book never bogs down, and Mosley keeps the action flowing with his direct, colloquial writing.
Even in his genre fiction, which includes mysteries and science fiction, Mosley has not been content simply to spin an engrossing action story but has sought to explore larger themes as well. In this stand-alone literary tale, themes are in the forefront as Mosley abandons action in favor of a volatile, sometimes unspoken dialogue between Charles Blakey and Anniston Bennet. Blakey, descended from a line of free blacks reaching back into 17th-century America, lives alone in the big family house in Sag Harbor. Bennet is a mysterious white man who approaches Blakey with a strange proposition—to be locked up in Blakey's basement—that Blakey comes to accept only reluctantly and with reservations. The magnitude of Bennet's wealth, power and influence becomes apparent gradually, and his quest for punishment and, perhaps, redemption, proves unsettling—to the reader as well as to Blakey, who finds himself trying to understand Bennet as well as trying to recast his own relatively purposeless life. The shifting power relationship between Bennet and Blakey works nicely, and it is fitting that Blakey's thoughts find expression more in physicality than in contemplation; his involvements with earthy, sensual Bethany and racially proud, sophisticated and educated Narciss reflect differing possibilities. The novel, written in adorned prose that allows the ideas to breathe, will hold readers rapt; it is Mosley's most philosophical novel to date, as he explores guilt, punishment, responsibility and redemption as individual and as social constructs. While it will be difficult for this novel to achieve the kind of audience Mosley's genre fiction does, the author again demonstrates his superior ability to tackle virtually any prose form, and he is to be applauded for creating a rarity, an engaging novel of ideas.
This is a stand-alone literary novel from Mosley, who is best-known for his detective fiction. He arranges character and plot development so that Charles Blakey, a purposeless, unemployed, African American, accepts payment to let the mysterious Anniston Bennet spend two months imprisoned in his basement—and thus the stage is set for a sequence of philosophical dialogs and debates that influence and change the path of Charles's life. The conversations veer around topics like the dynamics of power, the need for redemption through punishment, and the nature of guilt. To fans of Easy Rawlins, Socrates Fortlow, and Fearless Jones, this will be a departure, but it is recommended as demand warrants. —Kristen L. Smith, Loras College Library, Dubuque, IA
As in many of Mosley's books, the story begins with a knock on the door: Anniston Bennet, a wealthy white man with mysterious motives, wants to rent Blakey's sizable basement. But while there is mystery here, this...is fine, provocative writing from the prolific Mosley, whose gifts extend well beyond his excellent mysteries. —Keir Graff
In Mosley's boldly understated fable, an unemployed African-American agrees to rent space in his basement to a wealthy white businessman for two months. Except for living in New York's Harbor district, Charles Blakey might be a double for the denizens of Mosley's Watts (Six Easy Pieces, 2003, etc.). He's got no wife, no current girlfriend, few friends—though those few are ancient and loyal—and no work since he was fired from his job as a bankteller for petty embezzling. Worse still, he's about to lose the house his family's lived in for seven generations because he can't make payments on the mortgage he's taken out to tide him over. But when Greenwich reclamation expert Anniston Bennet approaches him with a request to let his basement for the summer, Charles isn't even tempted—until his other feeble sources of income dry up and his back is to the wall. It turns out that Bennet is offering a fabulous sum, nearly $50,000, for his stay; that he's picked Charles out especially as his host after doing a great deal of research; and that in cleaning out the basement to make it ready for him, Charles, who according to antique dealer Narciss Gully has turned up family heirlooms worth just as much as Bennet promises, doesn't really need his money anymore. By this time, however, he's become entranced by the combination of mastery and submission the white man is offering him, and the two enter into a relationship that becomes steadily more lacerating for them both. Fans of Mosley's nonfiction (Workin' on the Chain Gang, 1997, etc.) will know from the beginning what Bennet wants from Charles. Even given the resulting lack of suspense and a story that falls off sharply by the end, this slender parable is Mosley's most provocative and impassioned novel yet.
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