By Walter Mosley
190 pages. Black Classic.
Walter Mosley began publishing his pungent, witty, tough-souled crime novels featuring Easy Rawlins in 1990 and now has more than 20 books to his credit. His newest, The Tempest Tales (Black Classic), is an odd and pleasing little book featuring a conceit that allows his humor its full range. Tempest Landry is a man who has died and been condemned to hell by Saint Peter (after waiting in a long line) but decides he isn't going to go—irritating authorities both above and below. He is a great creation, and thinks well of himself overall: He has a wife, a steady girlfriend, "and various women on the side." He is only a minor thief and never cursed out the cops even when they rousted him out of bed at night. Satan chases him but to no avail. An angel takes human form and tries to convince him to cooperate, but Tempest doesn't see why he should have to bow to the will of heaven. They all live in Harlem—Satan is a brownstone owner called Bob, with a pinky ring—and one of the delights of the book is its sense of uptown life. Like the humor of Ring Lardner, Mosley's comedy has a social bite, and no little bit of provocative theology as well.