Versatile Mosley tells the story of a black man dead before his time who shakes up the divine order by refusing his condemnation to Hell.
Tempest Landry is walking up Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem, minding his own business, when a police officer takes him for an armed robber he’s pursuing and shoots him dead. According to St. Peter, Tempest deserves eternal damnation not because of the robbery—the heavenly recorder doesn’t make such errors—but because he stabbed a schoolboy who was about to shoot him, stole church funds to buy his sick aunt groceries and told lies that sent an incorrigible rapist and killer to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. When Tempest respectfully dissents, Peter sees no alternative to sending him back to earth, accompanied by a heavenly accountant who takes the name Joshua Angel, until he accepts the divine judgment. Back in Harlem, however, Tempest is no more pliable than he was at the gates of Heaven. In a series of brief chapters, he keeps remonstrating with Angel that although he may not be perfect, he hasn’t done anything all that bad either. Each chapter is launched by a new narrative premise: Tempest finds that his wife has taken up with another man; Tempest attends the funeral of an ancient family friend; Angel finds himself falling for a woman Tempest has introduced him to; the Devil, in the form of someone named Bob, appears and demands Tempest’s soul. But the core of the tale is the anti-catechism that emerges from the dialogues between man and angel. For all the audacity of his imagination, Mosley (Blonde Faith, 2007, etc.) is no theologian. He seems unaware of either the centuries of catechetical literature or the dozens of deal-with-the-devil stories that precede his own entry.
A classic case of overreaching, though one that’s often moving and provoking.