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great mystery novelist Lawrence Block once told me that he could
write a cookbook at that point in his career and it would be
shelved with the mysteries in bookstores. Such is the peril of
being stereotyped as an author.

Walter Mosley could have faced a similar fate. As the author of the
bestselling Easy Rawlins series, he is a “name” mystery
writer. But he has worked hard and prolifically over the years to
branch out into other genres, such as literary novels, science
fiction and nonfiction. Last year he wrote KILLING JOHNNY FRY,
which was sexually frank or, in Mosley’s words, a
“sexistential noir.”

Now Mosley has penned DIABLERIE, which echoes some of the themes of
Johnny Fry to once again paint a devastating portrait of an
ordinary man in extraordinary crisis. DIABLERIE cements
Mosley’s reputation as one of our best writers of modern

On the surface, Ben Dibbuk is an American success story. He is a
47-year-old computer troubleshooter for a huge New York City bank.
Married for 23 years to an upwardly mobile wife, they raised a
daughter now in college. And he created this comfortable life by
overcoming his own personal demons. Once a blackout drinker and
rambler in the years before his marriage, he has been clean and
sober for over two decades.

But if there is one rule of noir, it is this: nothing is what it
appears to be on the surface. Beneath the surface, Ben is
emotionally dead. He describes his feelings when his daughter
smiles at him: “While she beamed at me, the feeling that
lurked in my shoulder blades took over. Not an emotion or something
physical like pain or heat or cold, it was more akin to a void, a
sensual numbness.”

Ben’s relationship with his wife, Mona, is in a freefall. He
says, “We just wrangled, disputed over anything:
Seela’s future, our sex routines, what life had or had not
brought to either or us.” So Ben now pays the rent and bills
of a much younger, Russian college “student” (perhaps
mistress, perhaps hooker). Svetlana is on call 24/7 to have sex
with Ben.

But even wild sex with a woman half his age doesn’t work for
Ben anymore. “‘I don’t hate anybody.’ I
said, thinking, nor do I love or fear or worry about anyone.”
Ben’s entire existence is about keeping control. “The
idea of me, Ben Dibbuk, losing control, even for a moment, was

Then his life of quiet desperation is thrown into chaos when a lady
apparently from his past walks up to him at a business dinner he is
forced to attend by his wife, a magazine editor. The mystery woman
seems to know him, but Ben has no recollection of her. What’s
worse is when she appears again a few days later at his office,
demanding to know why he wants to “hurt” her.

His drinking days are a “shadow,” which
“contained a mountain.” Ben then finds that his wife
not only has taken a lover, but is having him investigated by a
detective. Why? What crime might he have committed with
this mystery woman? Ben says, “I was beginning to feel
fear…What was happening to me? Why was my past, a past that
held nothing but a few drunken benders, coming back?”

Soon, cops from Colorado ask Ben to come in for questioning about a
murder that happened 20 years before, of which he has no knowledge.
Like the Edmond O’Brien character in the great film noir
DOA, Ben has entered the perpetual noir night. He thinks,
“Darkness was up ahead, I knew. Death and demolition were my
destination, if not my destiny --- that is what I felt. But I
didn’t care. The void in my shoulders protected me from the
fear.” He won’t be going into work at the bank anytime
soon. And he starts smoking again. For the first time, Ben is
forced to face the truth, not only about his drinking days, but
about his parents and his brother in prison, and the possibility of
true love and redemption in life.

Mosley has once again written a great book that will keep you
turning pages right until the end. Faulkner once said that
“the problem with the past is that it is never past.”
And that is certainly the theme here. But Mosley’s brilliance
is that he writes about a world in which comfort and security is an
illusion. Any day can bring a wrong turn on the road at the exact
wrong moment, a voice from the buried past on the phone or the spot
on the CAT scan that might throw us into the noir night.

Mosley writes, “Life for all Americans, whether they knew it
or not, was like playing blackjack against the house --- sooner or
later you were going to lose…The winners were my
bosses’ bosses’ bosses. They lived in the Alps or Palm
Springs or somewhere else where the earth is run from…Black
people in prison, Iraqis blown up on job lines in Baghdad or
Vietnamese peasants in their rice paddies becoming target practice
for passing American helicopters --- we were all dealt a losing

And that is why DIABLERIE is even scarier than the mysteries for
which Mosley is famous. Here, he has written a novel about real
people with real weaknesses and vulnerabilities who miscalculate
when everything is on the line. Ben Dibbuk could be any one of us
on a really, really bad day.


Reviewed by Tom Callahan on December 29, 2010

by Walter Mosley

  • Publication Date: December 26, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • ISBN-10: 1596913975
  • ISBN-13: 9781596913974