Crime writers had from the nineteenth century explored detection across the borders of gender and class, but to represent the detective as anything but white was most unusual — in The Moonstone Ezra Jennings is a racial hybrid who does not survive, while both Fergus Hume’s Hagar of the Pawnshop, a gypsy and ‘Eastern beauty’ (1898: 9), and Earl Derr Biggers’s Charlie Chan were non-black exotics confirming the normality of detective whiteness. There were some early black detectives in African–American culture: Pauline Hopkins’s Hagar’s Daughter and The Black Sleuth by the slave-born writer and historian John Edward Bruce, which includes scenes set in Africa, appeared in periodicals for black readers as early as 1901–2 and 1907–9 respectively. As Stephen Soitos comments, they ‘used the formulas of detective fiction to contrast this Afrocentric worldview with a racist Euro-American hegemony’ (1996: 221). Less progressive were comic and basically belittling stories by the white southerner Octavius Roy Cohen, serialised in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s and 1903s and collected as Florian Slappey Goes Abroad (1928). A real intervention was The Conjure-Man Dies (1932) by the Harlem renaissance writer Rudolph Fisher. This is a police clue-puzzle in ‘a completely black environment with an all-black cast of characters’ (Soitos, 1996: 93), including four detectives; and as Gosselin comments Fisher ‘infuses the detective formula with his concerns as a black American modernist writer’ (1999: 326).
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