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Journeys and Journals

Women's Mystery Writing and Migration in the African Diaspora


Carol Allen

Using literary criticism, theory, and sociohistoric data, this book brings into conversation black migrations with mystery novels by African American women, novels which explore fully the psychic, economic, and spiritual impact of mass migratory movements. Diaspora travel has been forced and selected and has extended from the Slave Trade through the contemporary moment, causing the black subject to wrestle with motion, the self in motion, the community in motion, the spirit in motion, culture in motion, and especially the past in motion. Reviewing these major migratory patterns of Africans to and within the United States from slavery to the present and defining the primary tropes and traditions in African American female mystery writing, each subsequent chapter looks intensely at specific figurative locations that could become a repository for reconstituted dense space in the new world. Detectives as penned by African American women writers sound out and deliberate over the viability of integrated institutions, the family, Bohemianism, religion, cities, class consciousness, and finally culture. Courses on African American literature, African American history and culture, detective fiction, urban studies, and women’s studies would find the book instructive.
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In most detective fiction, the crime and its solving are the most crucial elements, followed, perhaps, by an intense criminal profile, an unveiling of the sleuth’s sublime inner machinations that allow him or her to problem-solve, and a detailed description of the landscape in which the detective operates. Such novels by black female writers invert these polarities as criminals are rarely profiled nor are they depicted as more than mundanely interesting. Instead, emphasis is placed on the environment that produces victims and aggressors, theft and survivors. So, we can say that often the transgression and the transgressor are secondary to the detective’s mapping of her turf, the territory which she knows best. I began this project to figure out why this trend holds sway, why there are few mastermind criminals or even memorable ones in black female mystery writing, why this deviation from the world of Holmes, Christie, and Hammett. My first assumption was that the major narrative strains in detective novels by black women would be survivor and mourning stories, lamentations over dead hopes and dreams, or gritty testimonials to the black world’s tenacity in the face of ongoing peril or a little of both, something akin to Stephen Soitos’ theory of the blues detective with a feminist or womanist slant. But, as I read these texts, different patterns began to emerge, and I discovered that this genre’s scope, as I view it, is more deeply rooted historically than the twentieth century when it emerged with...

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