Mosley's new thriller benefits from gritty characters

DEBBIE DOESN'T DO IT ANYMORE. By Walter Mosley. Doubleday. 265 pages. $25.95.

How good is Walter Mosley? Listen to this:

" 'No, Mrs. Pinkney,' I said. 'No. A lot of people love their hate. They live to hate the people wronged them. You caint just have one gang. That don't even make sense. If you took away the white man's black man or the black man's white man, most of 'em wouldn't know how to walk down the street straight.' "

Now consider the speaker here is Debbie Dare, a renowned porn star whose trademarks are a blond wig (on an African-American woman), deep blue contact lenses and a curious circular tattoo under her eye. "Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore" is about her trying to ditch the sex scene career after the juxtaposed occurrences of an overwhelming and unwanted orgasm with another actor while filming and her husband's death with another porn actress.

This is Walter Mosley, taking your preconceptions about his characters' lives and rolling them through so many cartwheels you can barely keep up. Technically suspense thrillers, his stories more accurately are terse, tongue-in-cheek portraits of gritty people on the street trying to parse out right and wrong in situations where making the distinction doesn't seem to make much difference.

"Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore" has the usual thriller coterie of thugs and cold-eyed killers, some of whom the debt-saddled Dare is trying to evade. The story sure isn't for the prudish: Dare doesn't excuse her trade or spare details. But it's really a coming-to-terms tale. Dare is as earnest as the love she feels for the child she had to give up to a doting relative. The child understands what mom does - to the best of his years - but just wants her back. She decides she wants that, too.

Go, girl.

Mosley is the author of 42 books, maybe best known for the Easy Rollins series. If you haven't read him yet, this one could make 42 not seem like enough.

Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.