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The Man in My Basement

The Man in My Basement

3.7 15
by Walter Mosley

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The man at Charles Blakey's door has a proposition almost too strange for words. He wants 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


The man at Charles Blakey's door has a proposition almost too strange for words. He wants 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 by the opportunity to understand the secret ways of white folks. Tempted to understand a set of codes that has always eluded him. 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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
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
USA Today
Despite the heavy themes, the book never bogs down, and Mosley keeps the action flowing with his direct, colloquial writing. — Edward Nawotka
Publishers Weekly
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. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This is a standalone 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. Mosley's well-written prose and dialog are given an adequate if uninspired reading by actor Ernie Hudson. 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 Coll. Lib., Dubuque, IA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 parableis Mosley's most provocative and impassioned novel yet. Agent: Gloria Loomis/Watkins Loomis

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The Man in My Basement

By Walter Mosley

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2004 Walter Mosley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-57082-6

Chapter One

"Mr. Blakey?" the small white man asked.

I had answered the door expecting big Clarance Mayhew and his cousin Ricky. The three of us had a standing date to play cards on Thursday nights. I was surprised even to hear the doorbell because it was too early for my friends to have made it home from work and neither one of them would have rung the bell anyway. Wed been friends since childhood, since my grandparents owned the house.

"My house is your house," I always said to Clarance and Ricky. I never locked the door because we lived in a secluded colored neighborhood way back from the highway. Everybody knows everybody in my neighborhood, so strangers don't go unnoticed. If somebody stole something from me, Id have known who it was, what kind of car he drove, and the numbers on his license plate before he was halfway to Southampton.

"Yes," I said to the small, bald-headed white man in the dark-green suit. "I'm Blakey."

"You have a stand-up basement, Mr. Blakey," the white man told me.

"Say what?"

"Teddy Odett down at Odett Realty said that you had a basement where a man could stand fully erect, one that has electricity and running water."

"This house isnt for sale, mister."

"Bennet. Anniston Bennet. I'm from Greenwich, Connecticut."

"Well this house isn't for sale, Mr. Bennet." I thought the small man would hunch his shoulders, or maybe give me a mean frown if he was used to getting his way. Either way I expected him to leave.

"Oh yes," he said instead. "I know that. Your family has owned this beautiful home for seven generations or more. Mr. Odett told me that. I know it isn't for sale. I'm interested in renting."

"Renting? Like an apartment?"

The man made a face that might have been a smile, or an apology. He let his head loll over his right shoulder and blinked while showing his teeth for a moment.

"Well, not exactly," he said. "I mean yes but not in the conventional way."

His body moved restlessly but his feet stayed planted as if he were a child who was just learning how to speak to adults.

"Well it's not for rent. It's just an old basement. More spiders down there than dust and theres plentya dust."

Mr. Bennet's discomfort increased with my refusal. His small hands clenched as if he were holding on to a railing against high winds.

I didn't care. That white man was a fool. We didnt take in white boarders in my part of the Sag Harbor. I was trying to understand why the real-estate agent Teddy Odett would even refer a white man to my neighborhood.

"I want to rent your basement for a couple of months this summer, Mr. Blakey."

"I just told you -"

"I can make it very much worth your while."

It was his tone that cut me off. Suddenly he was one of those no-nonsense-white-men-in-charge. What he seemed to be saying was "I know something that you had better listen to, fool. Here you think you know what's going on when really you dont have a clue."

I knew that there were white people in the Hamptons that rented their homes for four and five thousand dollars a month over the summer. I owned a home like that. It was three stories high and about two hundred years old. It was in excellent shape too. My father had worked at keeping it up to code, as he'd say, for most of his life.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Bennet," I said again.

"I'm willing to pay quite a bit for what I want, Mr. Blakey," the white man said, no longer fidgeting or wagging his head. He was looking straight at me with eyes as blue as you please.

"No," I said, a little more certain.

"Maybe this is a bad time. Will you call me when youve had a chance to think about it? Maybe discuss it with your wife?" He handed me a small white business card as he spoke.

"No wife, no roommate, Mr. Bennet. I live alone and I like it like that."

"Sometimes," he said and then hesitated, "sometimes an opportunity can show up just at the right moment. Sometimes that opportunity might be looking you in the face and you dont quite recognize it."

It was almost as if he were threatening me. But he was mild and unassuming. Maybe it was a sales technique he was working out-that's what I thought at the time.

"Can I call you later to see if you've changed your mind?" he asked.

"You can call all you want," I said, regretting the words as they came out of my mouth. "But I'm not renting anything to anybody."

"Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Blakey." The white man smiled and shook my hand just as if I had said yes to him. "Thats my office number in Manhattan on the card. Id give you my home phone, but I work more than anything else. I hope I'll be hearing from you. If not I will certainly call again."

Before I could say anything else, the little man turned away and walked down to a Volkswagen, the new Bug, parked at the curb. It was a turquoise car that reminded me of an iridescent seven-year beetle.

He made a U-turn and sped away.

Across the street Irene Littleneck was watching from her porch.

"Everything okay, Mr. Blakey?" she called.

"Just a salesman, Miss Littleneck."

"What's he sellin?"

"I didnt even get to that," I lied. "You dont buy if youre unemployed."

Irene Littleneck, eighty years old and black as tar, flashed her eyes at me. All the way across the road those yellow eyes called me a liar. So I turned my back on them and went into the house.


Excerpted from The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley Copyright © 2004 by Walter Mosley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Walter Mosley (b.1952) is an American author of crime fiction best known for his Easy Rawlins detective series. Mosley began the series in 1990 with his book Devil in the Blue Dress, which was later adapted into a 1995 movie of the same name starring Denzel Washington. Some of the latest titles in the series include Little Green, Rose Gold, and Charcoal Joe. In 2016 Mosley was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
January 12, 1952
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A., Johnson State College

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Man in My Basement 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I finished it, but did not enjoy it
Guest More than 1 year ago
Man in my Basement is yet another rabbit that Walter Mosley has pulled out of his bottomless, myriad of a hat. He is the Pied Piper of Escapism. Please never, never, never stop writing, Walter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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poprejectdream More than 1 year ago
Walter Mosley is one of my favorite writers and I very much liked this book. Futureland is still my favorite book of his though, and it seems it always will be. Perhaps it is because that was the first work of his that I read. Or perhaps I just like his short stories better than his novels. I will continue reading his works for the rest of my life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Miss_J More than 1 year ago
The only reason I finished the book is because I made myself due to my curiosity. In the end, not pleased at all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Walter Mosley's books, and especially love his Easy Rawlins series,this was the first book by Mr. Mosley that I found disappointing. The first few chapters were good,the writing flowed,and I read the book in one sitting. However, as the story progressed, it just became wierd and unrealistic. I couldn't wait to get to the end,I kept thinking that there was some big mystery that was about to be revealed, but the ending was abrupt and VERY anticlimatic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What people won't do for money! The theme of this book was very strange but the writing was superb as you would come to expect from Walter Mosley. It wasn't a hard read but I tended to drift away and then have to come back. Not my favorite for sure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Man In My Basement is a fast paced and interesting read. I am a Walter Mosely fan especially the Easy Rawlings series, but this book made you think and wonder about what people would do for money. If you are an avid reader, then this is one book that you need to read and add to your collection. Great job, Walter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book voraciously in just a few hours. For some reason I was unable to put it down. Although it kept me intrigued, I am unable to put my finger on the source of the intrigue. The ending lacked what I had expected to be a strong twist or surprise. It felt empty as though someone removed the last 50 pages that were intended to complete the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first book I have read by Mosley so I am not familiar with his other books or how he writes. I can say this is NOT what I expected. Saying this it's hard to explain what I had trouble with. I suppose I assumed a more mysterious or evil reasoning for the cage. I just waited for there to be more. There wasn't. I don't think this was a bad book, for the most part I enjoyed it. I just had some other ideas about it and it dissappointed me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Walter Mosley has done it again with writing a novel filled with themes and thoughts of the mind that other writers have yet to achieve. Mr. Mosely has written with the intrigue and insight which takes the reader on ride that twists just enough to keep the pages turning. Mr.Mosely deserves a hats off on this one and a big thank you for writing this great novel that I will be telling my friends to buy and is worth the read! I see this maybe becoming a movie.,Lights Camera Action Denzel Washington!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Charles Blakey can claim American descendents back to the seventeenth century that would make many DAR members envious except that his ancestors were free blacks. He lives in the same house as seven generations of Blakeys have in Sag Harbor, New York, but feels more like an aimless wastrel when he looks back at his ancestor¿s accomplishments. Currently, he needs money or soon he will be displaced from his family home. Wealthy white male Anniston Bennet offers Charles 50,000 dollars for two months if he stays locked in the basement of the Blakey home. Reluctantly, Blakely accepts though he cannot understand his renter¿s motive. As he cleans out his basement, Charles learns from dealer Narciss Gully that he can make more money selling valuable family antiques. Still he proceeds with the deal somewhat fascinated by his cellar dweller¿s apparent need for redemption through punishment for a transgression involving his deceased uncle. However these sixty days lead the two men to strangely bond as both try to flee from their respective pasts, but are learning you cannot truly rewrite history only reinterpret haunting events.

THE MAN IN MY BASEMENT is a different type of tale than the Easy Rawlins or Fearless Jones mysteries. Walter Mosley provides a deep parable that makes the reader consider abstract concepts: responsibility and accountability of the individual to society, family and self; personal guilt over one¿s actions and how to attain salvation in a winking society that typically spins wallpaper of wealthy indiscretion. The lead couple is a fascinating duo whose relationship constantly changes, but foremost this terrific tale is a philosopher¿s stone of ideas coaxing the reader to introspective pondering.

Harriet Klausner