The Blues Detective, like many a good mystery, evolved out of a coincidence of factors when, as both student and teacher, I concentrated my field of study on twentieth-century art forms. In analyzing African American expressive arts as well as the popular culture field of detective fiction, I saw a number of clues that suggested a connection between the two. The Blues Detective represents a dovetailing of my study of these two important American cultural creations, brought to fruition or, if you will, solution in a satisfying way.
One of my early surprises was realizing how quickly African Americans had adapted detective formulas to their own ends. One of the clues that put me on the trail of the blues detective was a repeated reference to a detective story that had been published early in the twentieth century in an obscure magazine or newspaper. Apparently, this novel not only was written by a black author but also had a black detective as hero. If I could find the story, I thought, it might predate The Conjure Man Dies ( 1932) by Rudolph Fisher and consequently might be the first known black detective novel. With help from Henry Louis Gates's Black Periodical Literature Project and Professor John Gruesser, I was able to locate this mysterious story as well as to uncover some additional interesting clues to the origins of black detective fiction. One of these discoveries was Pauline Hopkins's African American female detective, who appears in a work that predates all known black detective novels.
As the co-author of three mystery novels, as well as a teacher who designed and taught a course entitled Great American Mysteries, I had been fascinated with the detective formula for some time. In particular, I had closely studied the detective story as created by