The Blues Detective: A Study of African American Detective Fiction

By Stephen F. Soitos | Go to book overview
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Notes

Introduction
1. The terms "detective" and "mystery" are almost interchangeable when applied to genre works. Generally, the term "detective" connotes a work in which a detective is actually part of the cast of characters. "Mystery" is a more universal term for genre works that use the typical conventions of suspense, action, physical danger, and intrigue; a detective may or may not be part of the plot. I use the term "detective" loosely to describe the whole genre of what is commonly called mystery/suspense fiction. This would include all the aspects of literary works that contain elements of mystery/suspense and detective conventions.
2. It must be noted here that there is one black author who wrote black detective fiction with a series of black detectives that I have chosen not to examine. George Schuyler ( 1895-1977), best known for his novel Black No More ( 1931), wrote six detective short stories for the Pittsburgh Courier during the years 1933-39. These stories were published under his own name as well as under the pseudonyms William Stockton, Samuel I. Brooks, and Rachel Call. After reviewing this detective fiction, I found that Schuyler's work proves the rule of African American detective tropes by way of exception. Schuyler's detective fiction does feature a series of black male detectives, but they hardly break new ground in African American detective personas, as they are usually "tall, powerful and handsome" with no other defining characteristics. The stories themselves are routinely executed in the classical detective mode in the most elementary fashion. Schuyler wrote these stories without a modicum of the satire, comic relief, or insight into black life that make his novel Black No More so interesting. Some of the stories take place in Harlem but add nothing to the depiction of that community or its culture. Most troublesome is Schuyler's negative depiction of aspects of African American and African culture. In "The Beast of Broadhurst Avenue: A Gripping Tale of Adventure in the Heart of Harlem" ( Pittsburgh Courier, Mar. 3, 1934-May 19, 1934), Schuyler, writing as Samuel I. Brooks, describes a hoodoo ceremony as "rigmarole," full of "grotesqueness."

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