Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


The Tempest Tales by Walter Mosley








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Walter Mosley presents a humorous and philosophical novel with his latest offering, The Tempest Tales. Protagonist Tempest Landry meets Saint Peter after being shot dead by a police officer when he was minding his own business. Tempest refuses to accept Saint Peter’s direction to hell for what Tempest considers minor and explainable offenses, and ends up being sent back to Harlem along with an angel whose job it is to get Tempest to accept his judgment and go to hell. Instead, Tempest and the angel engage on all sorts of philosophical issues, and Tempest engages Satan in his efforts to promote his own cause with heaven. Here’s an excerpt, from the end of the chapter titled, “Charity,” pp. 20-22:


"How much money they give you?" Tempest asked, cut­ting me off.

I don't know," I said. "A hundred dollars."

"So they took my money and give it to you in order for you to keep an eye out for when I slip up and have to do what your boss say and go to hell."

"That's not what happened. You're the one that's being tested. I'm not on trial."

"But what's that got to do with my money?"

"Nothing," I said, confused by Tempest's angry claim. "But you're an angel right?"

"Yes "

"And angel's don't have money up in heaven?"

"We don't need money."

"But we come down here and you get a hundred dollars while I get a hundred taken away. And now that I think of it you had to have more'n a hundred dollars 'cause the rent, even on the poorest crib, is more'n that."

"Go on," I said. I saw no reason to tell him that I also found a credit card and a checkbook in my wallet.

"All I'm tryin' to say is how can you judge me when you got it so easy that you cain't know how I feel?"

"I am not a judge," I said. "I am merely here to talk to you, to counsel you until you understand that you are not deserving of the kingdom of heaven."

"But how can you understand me if you can't understand what it feels like to be broke, homeless, and unknown even to your own mother?"

"I have aeons of experience with human suffering, Mr. Landry. I saw Moses rise up against the pharaohs, Attila the Hun rage across Europe. I've been in the gas chambers of Treblinka and I've witnessed African women sink in the cold Atlantic with their babies in their arms." I had raised my voice to express the drama of these experiences and found that there were people around the bar area staring at me.

"But," Tempest asked pointedly, "have you ever been hungry?"

"Excuse me?"

"Have you ever bled, hurt, or went without?"

I wanted to speak but there were no words to say.

"Have you ever even lost a friend?" Tempest asked.

I hunched my shoulders. I had never lost anything. No angel ever had.

"So you see when I tell you that I was hungry or achin' I don't think that you could understand. I went to my mother's house and she answered the door and looked at me with the same suspicious look that she has for bill collectors. How would you know how it felt? You couldn't. You never could."

"We aren't here to question my understanding. It is you who has to understand."

"And I think it's you," Tempest said. "Bartender! Give me a sour mash double shot and put it on his tab."

"I have to go soon," I said when the drinks came. I put a twenty dollar bill down on the table. "I'm tired."

"Angels get tired?"

"I've been working hard. And as long as I'm here I am as mortal as you."

"I doubt that."

"Would you like to have money for the rent, Mr. Landry?" I realized that he was right, that I should at least let him get his feet on the ground before trying to convince him that he is a sinner.

"No. I got a place."

"How did you manage that with no job?"

"I lifted a United Charities Fund contribution box that they got in Hildebrandt's department store. Then I took the forty-seven bucks I got from there and paid it to a guy I knew when I was alive, a guy who supplies street vendors with fancy watch knockoffs to sell to the rubes that think there's somethin' for nuthin' somewhere in the world."

"You stole?"

"Not from the way I look at it. That contribution box is for charity, charity is for the poor, and I was just about as poor as you can get. I figured that the money, if it got collected, would have to go through about a dozen hands before it got to somebody like me. That forty-seven twenty-nine I got prob'ly wouldn't be no more than twenty bucks by then. I just cut out the middleman and went into business on my own.

"But you stole—"

"And that was wrong. But I give the money back and I used it for what it was meant for. Now I got a place and I'm startin' a real job at a restaurant downtown."

"You admit that you were wrong?"

"Not so wrong that I deserve hell."

I wanted to argue but I was too tired.

"Let's get together in the reading room of the public library on Forty-second Street on Sunday afternoon," I sug­gested. "We can talk about it more then."

Tempest and I left together. He walked me to the subway and shook my hand at the stair.

"See you Sunday, Angel," he said.

His attitude surprised me. There was no more ire or con­demnation. He'd expressed his anger and let it go.

I dozed all the way to South Ferry wondering who was being tested after all.


Tempest Landry is a worthy adversary for Saint Peter, Satan, the angel and anyone else. The Tempest Tales will bring laughs and nods of affirmation for most readers who like Tempest’s style.


Steve Hopkins, September 20, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the October 2008 issue of Executive Times


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