#MarchMystery Madness has been in full swing since March 1st and I decided to participate for the first time. I’m also doing #ReadingBlackout this month for the second time. January was a #ReadingBlackout month and February was of course #ReadSoulLit, specifically in honor of African-American writers.
March Mystery Madness is giving me the opportunity to explore mystery crime novels specifically written by African-American writers. I started 2018 discovering the Easy Rawlins series written by Walter Mosley. In January I read Devil in a Blue Dress, February I read A Red Death, and I’m currently reading White Butterfly. The series starts in the late 1940s and each novel moves on in time. So, once you get to White Butterfly the series will have already moved to 1956. There’s a lot to say about this addictive series, which has a strong group of recurring characters, set in Los Angeles, and an ambience that will draw you in and won’t let you go. The additional bonus is that the Easy Rawlins series gives you the authentic historical background while you’re trying to figure out whodunnit. Reading this series so far has been like meeting up with an old friend.
The first book I read this month was Icognegro – a graphic mystery written by Mat Johnson and artwork by Warren Pleece. Johnson examines the idea of “passing” (=the ability for a fair-skinned black person to move in society as a white person because of his/her light skin color) through the storyline involving a journalist from the New Holland Herald newspaper. Zane Pinchback, alias icognegro, travels south as a “white” man from New York to report on lynchings. However, his last incognegro story almost goes wrong and he barely escapes when he is recognized as being black. He makes it back to New York to the unfortunate news that his brother has been arrested in Mississippi for brutally murdering a white woman. And the story unfolds……
Incognegro is a good mix of mystery and history. Johnson gives you the facts about the horrors of lynching and the troubled race relations between whites and blacks. The story takes place in the early twentieth century so the setting and ambience drag the reader into a very dark place. I was on edge from page one and it got worse and worse as the story moved on. I couldn’t put it down. Beautifully executed and there was even some humor in there believe it or not. The artwork complemented the story perfectly and the black and white images help accentuate the brutality of the time period. Check out the video below where you can hear Mat Johnson talking about how he got the idea for this ingenious graphic novel.
The second book I picked up this month for March Mystery Madness was called Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. This is the first book in the Blanche White cosy mystery series. It contains three other books, Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Blanche Cleans Up, and finally Blanche Passes Go. This one was a big surprise to me because it is definitely an atypical mystery novel. Blanche on the Lam begins with Blanche standing in front of a judge for writing bad checks for the second time. The judge decided to condemn her to spend some time in jail and that’s when Blanche’s bladder starts to nag her. You’ll just have to read the book for the rest of the details. Anyway, this novel will appear to be slow-moving but Neely is giving you the clues and information with her detailed storytelling, which may appear to be off the subject. It’s not. The reader follows the story through Blanche’s eyes and through her thoughts. She is hysterical but mostly she’s very intelligent and intuitive to people’s behavior. Neely uses the story to astutely talk about racism, sexism, and classicism. It’s brilliant! I can’t wait to pick up book 2 Blanche Among the Talented Tenth. You can already see from its title that it will be as vivid if not more than Blanche on the Lam. You can check out the video below where Barbara Neely talks about using her writing as a way to talk about her activism. There’s one thing I’d like to know and that’s where is Barbara Neely these days. Why hasn’t Neely hasn’t Neely written anything else since the Blanche White series? Her writing is a breath of fresh air in this genre. The Blanche White series is a must read.
Incognegro – Mat Johnson, hardcover, 136 pages (Berger Books)
Blanche on the Lam – Barbara Neely, Kindle edition, 304
White Butterfly – Walter Mosley, paperback, 309 pages (Washington Square Press)
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