The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

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by Walter Mosley

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A masterful, moving novel about age, memory, and family from one of the true literary icons of our time.

Ptolemy Grey is ninety-one years old and has been all but forgotten-by his family, his friends, even himself-as he sinks into a lonely dementia. His grand-nephew, Ptolemy's only connection to the outside world, was recently killed in a drive-by

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A masterful, moving novel about age, memory, and family from one of the true literary icons of our time.

Ptolemy Grey is ninety-one years old and has been all but forgotten-by his family, his friends, even himself-as he sinks into a lonely dementia. His grand-nephew, Ptolemy's only connection to the outside world, was recently killed in a drive-by shooting, and Ptolemy is too suspicious of anyone else to allow them into his life. until he meets Robyn, his niece's seventeen-year-old lodger and the only one willing to take care of an old man at his grandnephew's funeral.

But Robyn will not tolerate Ptolemy's hermitlike existence. She challenges him to interact more with the world around him, and he grasps more firmly onto his disappearing consciousness. However, this new activity pushes Ptolemy into the fold of a doctor touting an experimental drug that guarantees Ptolemy won't live to see age ninety- two but that he'll spend his last days in feverish vigor and clarity. With his mind clear, what Ptolemy finds-in his own past, in his own apartment, and in the circumstances surrounding his grand-nephew's death-is shocking enough to spur an old man to action, and to ensure a legacy that no one will forget.

In The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, Mosley captures the compromised state of his protagonist's mind with profound sensitivity and insight, and creates an unforgettable pair of characters at the center of a novel that is sure to become a true contemporary classic.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mosley (Known to Evil) plays out an intriguing premise in his powerful latest: a man is given a second shot at life, but at the price of a hastened death. Ptolemy Grey is a 91-year-old man, suffering from dementia and living as a recluse in his Los Angeles apartment. With one foot in the past and the other in the grave, Ptolemy begins to open up when Robyn Small, a 17-year-old family friend, appears and helps clean up his apartment and straighten out his life. A reinvigorated Ptolemy volunteers for an experimental medical program that will restore his mind, but at hazardous cost: he won't live to see 92. With the clock ticking, Ptolemy uses his rejuvenated mental abilities to delve into the mystery of the recent drive-by shooting death of his great-nephew, Reggie, and to render justice the only way he knows how, goaded and guided by the memory of his murdered childhood mentor, Coydog McCann. Though the details of the experimental procedure are less than convincing, Mosley's depiction of the indignities of old age is heartbreaking, and Ptolemy's grace and decency make for a wonderful character and a moving novel. (Nov.)
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.
Mosley, Walter (Author)

Ptolemy Grey is a 91-year-old African American living alone in violent South Central L.A. Frail and suffering from dementia, largely forgotten by his extended family, he can’t remember to eat, his mind “scattered over nearly a hundred years.” He relives events marked by racism, lynching, poverty, and longing for his long-dead wife. His great-grand nephew, Reggie, takes him to the grocery store and prompts him to eat. When Reggie is killed in a drive-by shooting, Ptolemy’s days appear to be numbered. But Robyn, a beautiful, resourceful 17-year-old, steps in. As she sees to Ptolemy’s needs, she awakens his desire for the lucidity he once had, and he meets a doctor who offers him a chance for several months of mental clarity before almost certain death. Mosley’s dramatic departure from his Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill crime novels appears to be a very personal one, a deeply thoughtful, provocative, and often beautiful meditation on aging, memory, family, loss, and love. Ptolemy and Robynare truly indelible characters. Mosley’s story is ultimately life affirming, and his writing is by turns gritty and sublime. Baby boomers caring for aged parents, or thinking about their own mortality, will line up for The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Mosley’s fans of any age will also embrace it, and every library will be better for adding it. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A return to top form for Mosley, who has slumped a bit since ending his Easy Rawlins series. An aggressive marketing campaign and a poignant autobiographical connection (Mosley helped care for a relative with dementia) will draw deserved attention to a very fine novel.--(Thomas Gaughan)

Los Angeles Times
With his 30th novel, "The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey," the fascinating Walter Mosley not only returns to top form, but also extends once again the boundaries of the hard-boiled suspense genre in which his best work always has been rooted.

No other writer of the 58-year-old Mosley's generation has done quite as much to keep the style of Hammett and Chandler from lapsing into mere mannerism. His popular Easy Rawlins mysteries — probably his best books until now — extended the genre's affinity for social realism and added a dimension of historical recovery in portraying African Americans' vital but bittersweet life in postwar Los Angeles.

Washington Post
Obviously, Mosley is not hampered by lack of ambition, the rules of any genre or the rules of reality that govern this planet (some of his works come under the heading of science fiction or fantasy). He's playing by his own rules, and the instrument he uses is a prose style so sweet that sometimes you can't believe that you - cynical, grown-up person that you are - are actually reading these charming tales.
New York Times Book Review
The character study at the heart of THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GREY ... is a tour de force. Narrated in an intimate whisper, the story draws us deep into the mind of an old man wandering through the remnants of his memories, searching for the key to an old mystery. Physically fragile and mentally lost, 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey lives alone in shocking squalor, dependent on his great-grandnephew Reggie for the basic necessities of life. Ptolemy is still capable of holding a conversation — but mostly with people from long ago, like Coy McCann, the charismatic friend and mentor who entrusted the young Ptolemy with a stolen fortune and the mission to “take that treasure and make a difference for poor black folks.”
Associated Press
Mosley is best known for his critically acclaimed crime novels featuring Easy Rawlins, Socrates Fortlow and Leonid McGill; but he has always resisted being categorized, venturing into mainstream novels, science fiction and social commentary. Making an aged dementia patient the main character of "The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey" is the author's most daring effort to date.
Kirkus Reviews

Fanciful and reassuring, this quietly charming Australian import examines universal experiences and emotions. Clancy, a young boy, has just moved from what appears to be a small-town setting to an imposing urban block. His parents, seemingly oblivious to his discomfort, extol the virtues of their large, modern new home while Clancy yearns for the cozy comfort of the familiar. Gleeson's straightforward, child-centered text highlights this discrepancy in attitudes, contrasting the parents' sweeping pronouncements about the new house with the repeated phrase, "Clancy remembers..." Blackwood's softly scratchy illustrations support the text, pairing large, empty, monochromatic rooms as Clancy views them with small, colorful images he remembers from home, varying perspective effectively to communicate mood. Before Clancy (and readers) can get too distressed, however, the action moves outside, where Clancy finds a new friend. Absorbed in building towers, trains and fairy-tale houses from the empty packing boxes (the last game explaining the otherwise bewildering pig-shaped clouds on the cover), Clancy clearly begins to feel more at home. Cozy and sweetly empathetic.

Carolyn See
The plot, the pure sweetness and believability of this story, comes from the romance that springs up between the 17-year-old girl and the 91-year-old man, as together they create a world where nothing can be stolen, only given, with the limitless generosity of love.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
Mosley's ( latest work is a significant departure from his classic Easy Rawlins series (Devil in a Blue Dress). Ptolemy Grey, 91, lost in his memories and with every thought a terrible struggle, lives as a recluse in his filthy apartment. When a 17-year-old family friend moves in to help out, the pair find a doctor who will treat Grey's memory with an experimental drug, but it will hasten his demise, a cost that is acceptable to Grey. Actor/narrator Dominic Hoffman ( perfectly presents Grey's last days. A provocative, thoughtful novel that will leave listeners debating how they would behave under similar circumstances, this is sure to do well among Mosley's fans and would make a terrific book club listen. [The Riverhead hc was recommended for "Mosley's dedicated fans as well as comprehensive, contemporary American fiction collections," LJ 10/1/10.—Ed.]—Donna Bachowski, Orange Cty. Lib. Syst., Orlando, FL

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
Ronrose More than 1 year ago
If you have ever had a loved one touched by the cruel hand of dementia, you need to read this book. It will help you understand some of the torment and struggle that are endured by those afflicted by this disease. If you haven't witnessed the suffering, you may well ask if a person would bargain their time that is left them for a few days or weeks of clarity and sound judgment. I know I would. So did Mr Ptolemy Grey,a ninety-one year old, black man, whose life and dignity are being sucked out of him by dementia. He continues to live by himself in squalid surroundings since the death of his wife many years ago. He has a vague idea that he needs to leave a legacy; to make a difference for some of his remaining family and to Robyn, a beautiful, caring, eighteen year old girl, who has brought a freshness and new life to Mr. Ptolemy Grey. He must decide whether to live a life in which he is afraid to go out on the street or to open his door to relatives or neighbors, lest they beat and rob him or take the devil's medicine that may give him a last chance to fulfill his dream. The book is full of good characterizations and is very insightful in how we treat ourselves and others.
px4 More than 1 year ago
This is a Walter Mosley I've never known. I was touched with the plight of old age and cheered by the salvation of youth. I'm looking forward to a second reading. The first time was for the fun of finding out what happens. The second is to revisit the wisdom of the characters.
BernardJames More than 1 year ago
I have ALWAYS been a huge Walter Mosley fan, pouring through all the Easy, Fearless and Socrates novels - and more recently, those featuring NYC Private Investigator, Leonid McGill. Mosley has an extraordinary capacity to breathe life into his characters. Whenever I'm engaged with one of his books, it's as if the principals leap right of the page into a state of animation that continues to inhabit my imagination.long after I've put away the book or turned off my nook. This was no less true in the case of Ptolemy Grey and his young companion, Robyn. In Mosley's novel, the Old Man and Young Girl are thrust into each other's lives in the midst of a trying and difficult situation, and through their various interactions the author skillfully takes us along for the ride, representing their journey of redemption and well as the pure and unmitigated love they develop for each another. Under different circumstances or in a different time and place, we're led to believe that their affection would most certainly have been expressed in a more intimate way: "If I was 20 years older, and you were 50 years younger..?" is a question that Robyn initially poses and both characters return to several times. But in spite of the chasm that defines their generational divide, Ptolemy and Robyn are still able to find a true and legitimate expression for how they feel about each other. In time, old fears are conquered and new potential is harnessed and put to effective use. This book is Powerful. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey was an absolute treat.
awaywego More than 1 year ago
Mr. Mosley does a superb job of capturing the frustration and confusion of an elderly man suffering from dementia and the explosive effect a mind altering "alternative" drug has on his life and relationships. Excellent read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book drew me in on the first page. I read it in a day- reading at traffic lights, in the car wash, lunch breaks.... It brings back a humanity missing on so many books written today....and I loved how the author ended the book. So many books have left me with an anti-climactic feeling, not so with this piece....I simply shut the back cover and smiled.
bookworm6460 More than 1 year ago
JABJr More than 1 year ago
A great book.  I really enjoy his writing.  It is so compact yet conveys so much.  I’m always surprised at how few pages his stories are but how much I get out of the books.  Very glad I took the suggestion to read this book for Black History Month.
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Great Read
gutdoc More than 1 year ago
We get into the mind of an aging person with a remarkable twist at the end. It combines aging, racial tensions and love in a unique way. Very enjoyable!
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thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
This is a story about a touching relationship between an old man and the young girl whose kindness and true concern for him reawakens his heart and mind. Her tenderness brings him back to life again so that he can spend his last days "alive" once more, with the memory of his youth, if not the body, so he could settle old scores and protect the ones who were closest to him when he takes his final leave. This sensitive tale of love and loss, humiliation and pride, violence and gentleness, devotion and betrayal, courage and fear, strength and weakness, will stay with you long after you turn the final page. If I had known Ptolemy Grey, he would have enriched my life. Ironically, Ptolemy is a gentle soul, but toward the end of his life, he hopes he has not sold it to the devil. He has a simple but common sense approach to life. He has suffered many tragedies over the years and witnessed the brutality and abuse his race has been subjected to historically. His memories were the "stuff of nightmares." At 91, with his memory and mind beginning to fray around the edges as dementia steals more and more of his thought processes, and with the weakness of age depriving him of his vitality, he easily became prey for those who were stronger and meaner. Not formally educated, he was still wiser than many of those who were more scholarly. He lived by simple truths and wished only to be surrounded by those that seemed sincere and wanted to give back more than they wished to take. He understood how the cruelty of some experiences could color a person's decisions and he forgave them when they chose to do wrong, if they had good reasons for that behavior and really were good inside. The book begins and ends with a tender love letter of sorts, and it sets the mood. The author illuminates the loneliness and frustration endured by the elderly as they lose their independence and must rely on others whom they cannot always trust. He presents his story with a prose using the dialect of the poor black community which at first may be hard to follow and may seem confused, but since the main character is confused, it is probably the author's purpose and is deliberate. A rhythm soon develops and it is no longer a problem to follow the dialogue. Words are spelled phonetically to make it more effective, and it enhances the interaction of the characters as you can hear their conversations in your own mind because of it. He has depicted the black culture perfectly. The descriptions are so vivid that you are sitting in the apartment with Ptolemy as he struggles with his thoughts and as he entertains visitors, as he walks down the street with the fear of being attacked by assailants, and as he feels the strong emotional pull and impact of his love for those dear to him and those in his memories of love long gone. As he travels through his past through his dreams and thoughts, we learn about the highlights of his life. With brief anecdotes, we learn how he perceives the world and we witness the injustices and decline of morality coupled with the decay of societies infrastructure and principles. His apartment, like his mind, is cluttered and unkempt,until 17 year old Robyn enters his life and genuinely cares for him. The book is a gift with a message that will remain with you.
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