Tue
Aug 8 2017 2:00pm

Amateur Night: Black Women in Amateur Detective Fiction

From Walter Mosley’s private investigator Easy Rawlins to James Patterson’s police detective Alex Cross, the professional black detective has a great history on the page and bestseller lists. There’s no question these guys know how to get the job done. But they’re not the only ones. 

Though they might not be as well-known or celebrated as some of their professional male counterparts, the black woman amateur detective has her own storied history comprising of everyone from maids to college professors to classical musicians to writers. The novels are as diverse as the women themselves, with something for every mystery fan. Whether these women are found in a relaxing cozy or a more hard-hitting historical novel, nothing about these characters is amateur. Here’s a look at five of them.

Blanche White Series 

by Barbara Neely

Main Character: A middle-aged, dark-skinned, full-figured maid turned amateur detective.

Number of books in the series: 4

  • Blanche on the Lam
  • Blanche Among the Talented Tenth
  • Blanche Cleans Up
  • Blanche on the Go

Barbara Neely won the Agatha, the Macavity, and the Anthony awards for the first book in the series, Blanche on the Lam. It’s a very untraditional mystery, but Blanche is a very untraditional main character—a housekeeper who handles the “dirtiest” subjects (race, class, sexual abuse) in both the black community and in general.

Ivy League Mysteries 

by Pamela Thomas-Graham

Main Character: Veronica “Nikki” Chase, a female economics professor at Harvard University.

Number of books in the series: 3

  • A Darker Shade of Crimson
  • Blue Blood
  • Orange Crushed

The uber-educated Nikki Chase is about as opposite from Blanche White as you can get. And while Blanche’s investigations tend to be more on the domestic side, Nikki keeps running into bodies and trouble on Ivy League campuses. Yet, Pamela Thomas-Graham also isn’t afraid to use her setting to deal with hot-button issues like race and politics. 

*Unfortunately, this is the only series listed that’s not available in digital format. You can find older hard copies online.*

Jazz Age Murder Mysteries 

by Persia Walker

Main Character: Lanie Price, a 1920s-era society columnist covering the major players in the Harlem Renaissance.

Number of books in the series: 2

  • Black Orchid Blues
  • Darkness and the Devil Behind Me

Persia Walker’s ode to Harlem’s hey-day transports readers to a time of fabulous music and parties when many black artists were coming into their own on the streets of upper Manhattan. But Persia Walker doesn’t shy away from the unique struggles of being young, gifted, and black at a time where that wasn’t fully appreciated. Lanie’s investigations are both glamorous and disturbing at the same time, which is what makes them all the more memorable. 

Sophie Katz Series 

by Kyra Davis

Main Character: A biracial, half-Jewish, San Francisco-based mystery novelist turned recreational sleuth.

Number of books in the series: 6

  • Sex, Murder and a Double Latte
  • Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights
  • Obsession, Deceit and Really Dark Chocolate
  • Lust, Loathing and a Little Lip Gloss
  • Vows, Vendettas and a Little Black Dress
  • Vanity, Vengeance and a Weekend in Vegas

At six books and counting, Kyra Davis’s series is the longest running of the group. After a hiatus where Davis found her way onto the New York Times Bestseller list with a trilogy of erotic novellas, a new Sophie Katz book should be out this year. As the titles hint, the stories are perfect beach reads that seamlessly blend the best elements of traditional mystery and humorous women’s fiction thanks to Sophie’s ongoing, sometimes frustrating relationship with a Russian private investigator.

Gethsemane Brown Mysteries 

by Alexia Gordon

Main Character: An American classical musician dealing with locals, ghosts, and murder in small-town Ireland.

Number of books in the series: 2 (and counting)

  • Murder in G Major
  • Death in D Minor

Murder in G Major was recently nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel and won the Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel, for good reason. As the newest series in the group, it’s also the most traditional cozy—checking off many cozy boxes including clever title, great hook, colorful locals, and an amusing sidekick in the form of a ghost. But Alexia Gordon turns the tropes on its head. Like many cozy main characters, Gethsemane escapes the big city with her personal life in shambles—except she doesn’t run home. She runs all the way to Ireland. In another refreshing take, Gethsemane’s race is no big deal for the locals or the book itself. 

Do you have your own favorite amateur detective novels featuring black protagonists? Drop a note in the comments!

 

To learn more or order a copy of Hollywood Homicide, visit:

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon

 

 


Kellye Garrett spent 8 years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the CBS drama Cold Case. People were always surprised to learn what she did for a living—probably because she seemed way too happy to be brainstorming ways to murder people. A former magazine editor, Kellye holds a B.S. in magazine writing from Florida A&M and an MFA in screenwriting from USC’s famed film school. Having moved back to her native New Jersey, she spends her mornings commuting to Manhattan for her job at a leading media company—while still happily brainstorming ways to commit murder. Her first novel, Hollywood Homicide, was Library Journal’s August 2017 Debut of the Month and was described as a “winning first novel and series launch” in a starred review by Publishers Weekly.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1 comment
Post a comment