The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
For October, our monthly crime fiction book discussion group read The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. While I still feel satisfied to list this novel as a work of crime fiction, it is so much more.
Ptolemy Grey is a 91-year-old man living in Los Angeles in squalor, suffering the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease. This portion of the book is so difficult to read because of the way that Ptolemy exists. His conditions are deplorable and a reader could easily decide to not like the character because of it but Mosley prevents that by instantly given Ptolemy a magical appeal.
We discover that he survives through the kindness of his great grandnephew Reggie who helps him shop and do his banking. Perhaps a more important mentor in his life is Ptolemy’s long dead mentor, Coydog McCann. The parables that Ptolemy remembers receiving at the feet of Coy are some of the few memories he can cling to and prove to be still relevant today.
When Reggie stops coming and things deteriorate even further, Ptolemy is rudely given the news that Reggie has been killed in a drive-by. Totally lost, he is pull from the depths of despair by a seventeen-year-old woman named Robyn Small who takes him on as a cause. What helps make the book so discussable are the choices Robyn and Ptolemy make about how he will live out the last few moments of his life, they strike a significant deal that alters everything but leads them to the truth.
Lessons about truth, grief, guilt and justice abound in this work. It is a fertile field for a book discussion leader and I recommend this book to any book discussion group.