The conflation of African American literature and the detective fiction genre demands explication on a number of different levels.1 For example, on the surface African American sensibilities and the hardboiled school of detective fiction would seem to have little in common. However, it is my contention that black detective writers use African American detective tropes on both classical and hardboiled detective conventions to create a new type of detective fiction. Through the use of black detective personas, double- consciousness detection, black vernaculars, and hoodoo creations, African American detective writers signify on elements of the detective genre to their own ends.
The primary issue is how African American authors create what I see as new variations of the detective form through the use of the tropes of black detection. In approaching the specific issues of African American literature and detective conventions, it is important to reconsider some root questions pertinent to my analysis. It is hoped that The Blues Detective will contribute to the ongoing debate about African American culture by suggesting that the shared use of detective fiction tropes by black writers supports the argument that African Americans do have a distinct culture.
The overall assessment of black detective fiction suggests socially, politically, and culturally affirmative ends as black writers expanded the scope of a popular culture form in the areas of race, gender, and class. In what follows I shall attempt to show how African American authors such as Pauline Hopkins, J. E. Bruce, Rudolph Fisher, Chester Himes, Ishmael Reed, and Clarence Major have altered the formulas of detective fiction in significant ways.2 Their adaptation of detective conventions forms a matrix of four tropes whose implementation