This ambitious study examines the works of modern African American mystery writers within the social and historical contexts of African American literature on crime and justice. It begins with a historical overview that describes the movement by African American authors from slave narratives and antebellum newspapers into fiction writing, the work of early genre writers, such as Pauline Hopkins and Rudolph Fisher, the protest writers of the 1940s and 1950s, and the authors who followed in the 1960s. The historical section concludes with a discussion of works by late twentieth-century writers such as Toni Morrison and Ernest Gaines and the expansion of the audience for works by African American writers.
The heart of the book is an analysis of works by modern African American mystery writers, focusing on sleuths, the social locations of crime, victims and offenders, the notion of “doing justice,” and the role of African American cultural vernacular in mystery fiction. A final section focuses on readers and reading, examining African American mystery writers access to the marketplace and the issue of the “double audience” raised by earlier writers. It includes the results of an online survey of mystery readers and presents interviews with a cross-section of African American mystery writers and academic scholars.