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The man at Charles Blakey's door has a proposition almost too strange for words. The stranger offers him $50,000 in cash to spend the summer in Charles's basement, and Charles cannot even begin to guess why. The beautiful house has been in the Blakey family for generations, but Charles has just lost his job and is behind on his mortgage payments. The money would be welcome. But Charles Blakey is black and Anniston Bennet is white, and it is clear that the stranger wants more than a basement view.
There is something deeper and darker about his request, and Charles does not need any more trouble. But financial necessity leaves him no choice. Once Anniston Bennet is installed in his basement, Charles is cast into a role he never dreamed of. Anniston has some very particular requests for his landlord, and try as he might, Charles cannot avoid being lured into Bennet's strange world. At first he resists, but soon he is tempted--tempted to understand a set of codes that has always eluded him, tempted by the opportunity to understand the secret ways of white folks.
Charles's summer with a man in his basement turns into an exploration of inconceivable worlds of power and manipulation, and unimagined realms of humanity. Walter Mosley pierces long-hidden veins of justice and morality with startling insight into the deepest mysteries of human nature
Even in his genre fiction, which includes mysteries (the Easy Rawlins, Fearless Jones and Socrates Fortlaw series) and SF (Blue Light, etc.), 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.