When I reviewed Walter Mosley’s Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore, I wrote at length about how his late period works take on this sort of mumble-noir tone with an atmosphere that feels ethereal. Much like Mosley’s Leonid McGill series, these all seem to take place on a parallel plane of human existence. Mosley seems more interested in using these stories to explore the existential rather than tell a simple gangster or noir tale, like say the Easy Rawlins series. For the most part, in his other books with this tone, he seems to do well managing the story. But I’m not sure he fully grasps what he’s trying to say in The Man in My Basement.
A large part of my issue with it rests around the two characters. For a short book, Mosley takes his sweet time setting the stage between Charles, the homeowner and an uninspiring gadfly, and Anniston, a man with a mysterious past. I don’t want to say the reason why the latter wants to rent from the former, that was a genuinely inspired idea I don’t want to spoil. But it’s the only one the book really has.
The book spends a long time diving into Charles’ character and aside from his back story, I didn’t find him to be interesting. He inherited a house from his family, who is of African descent but not victims of the transatlantic slave trade. They are, as Anniston says, “blue blooded.” But Charles doesn’t want to do much besides get drunk and have sex. He’s not a compelling character for a story such as this.
His clashes the man in his basement are interesting when they happen but they’re too brief and unsatisfying. Mosley uses these to, as is his won’t, explore the existential. But having two underdeveloped characters going at it doesn’t allow for the book to hit its high notes. The notes are great, Mosley is a great writer. Yet I just didn’t care as much as I should.
I’ve heard this might be turned into a movie and I think it can be a good one. The story could play out in a visually arresting way that gives it a life it doesn’t have here.