The Blues Detective: A Study of African American Detective Fiction

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Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1996 - Literary Criticism - 260 pages
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This illuminating book makes the case for a tradition of African American detective fiction--novels written by black Americans about black detectives and incorporating distinctly African American tropes and themes. Beginning with Pauline Hopkins in 1901, black authors consciously altered and subverted the formulas of detective fiction in significant ways. Such writers as J. E. Bruce, Rudolph Fisher, Chester Himes, Ishmael Reed, and Clarence Major created a new genre that responded to the social and political concerns of the black community.

Examining the work of these authors, Stephen Soitos frames his analysis in terms of four uniquely African American tropes: altered detective personas, double-consciousness detection, black vernaculars, and hoodoo. He argues that black writers created sleuths who were in fact "blues detectives," engaged not only in solving crimes, but also in exploring the mysteries of black life and culture.

Soitos grounds his study in African American literary theory, particularly the work of Houston Baker, Bernard Bell, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He offers both a new way of conceiving black detective fiction and a series of insightful readings of books in this genre.


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Early African American Adaptations of Detective Conventions
Detective of the Harlem Renaissance Rudolph Fisher
City within a City The Detective Fiction off Chester Himes
The Black AntiDetective Novel

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Page 33 - sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two
Page 33 - strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (215)
Page 17 - Observing him in these moods, I often dwelt meditatively upon the old philosophy of the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the fancy of a double Dupin—the creative and the resolvent.
Page 21 - not mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man
Page 10 - Black texts employ many of the conventions of literary form that comprise the western tradition -. - but black formal repetition always repeats with a difference, a black difference that manifests itself in specific language use. And the repository that contains the language that is the source and the reflection of black difference is the black English vernacular tradition.
Page 22 - Detective fiction has its norms; to “develop” them is also to disappoint them: to “improve upon” detective fiction is to write ‘literature,” not detective fiction. The whodunit par excellence is not the one which transgresses the rules of the genre, but the one which conforms to them. (43)
Page 6 - Probably never before in history has a people been so nearly completely stripped of its social heritage as the Negroes who were brought to America

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About the author (1996)

Stephen Soitos is coauthor of three mystery novels--Salt Cat Bank, Death in the Colony, and The Dancer Disappears--and has written widely on African American literature and art. He teaches in the English department at Springfield College.

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