Thursday, February 03, 2005

Karma by Walter Mosley

"Karma" by Walter Mosley, Dangerous Women Edited by Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95

Leonid McGill makes his living as a PI in New York. While he does things on the far side of what the Licensing Bureau would call ethical, he's not a bad guy. His wife left him for a sugar daddy. When the sugar daddy booted her out he took her back in, and she stayed, though there appears to be little love left. They have three kids, two of which Leo knows aren't his, though no mention is ever made of it. They're his kids whether they share his genetics or not.

One day a beautiful woman named Karmen Brown ("Call me Karma.") tries to walk into his office, but he tells her through the locked door that he's only the janitor and takes her phone number so Mr. McGill can return her call. She wants him to find out if her fiancé is cheating on her. He meets her later and takes the case.

Meanwhile an old girlfriend of Leo's, Gert Longman, that he still cares for is murdered. There's no apparent motive, the only clue is the bullet that killed her, a .22. This haunts Leo through the rest of the story.

Leo runs a scam on the fiancé and gets the proof Karma wanted. He takes the proof to her apartment. She thanks him and pays him, including a couple of pieces of jewelry her fiancé gave her as a bonus. Leo asks her if she wants revenge. She offers to have sex with him saying that would be her revenge. Leo, who's been aching since he found out Gert had been killed, takes her up on her offer. When he leaves he passes a young street skell wearing leather gloves. He wonders why someone would wear leather gloves in the heat.

Leo hurries back up to Karma's apartment. He discovers that Karma wasn't all she represented herself to be. The sex wasn't her revenge against her fiancé, it was vengeance against Leo. She had Gert killed and there are a few other unexpected twists. She doesn't call herself Karma for no reason. Now Leo could be in very hot water. Can he get out of it without getting scalded?

This is a long story, novella length, but it reads very quickly. The length gives Mosley time to make Leo into a living, breathing man, putting both his flaws and virtues on display. Both characterization and convoluted motives make this story something special.

In short, well worth the time to read.