The Conjure-Man Dies is a complex mystery story interweaving a number of characters who might normally have little contact with one another. For various reasons, the major suspects have all come to seek advice from N’Gana Frimbo, an African trained at Harvard University who settled in Harlem to practice his conjuring and fortune-telling. In the waiting room of Frimbo’s apartment and in the actual meeting chamber where Frimbo conducts his practice, characters confront the darkness that is Frimbo. Jinx Jenkins, the last of the characters to have an interview with Frimbo, realizes that Frimbo is dead, runs to the waiting room, and calls for his friend Bubber Brown. The doctor and the police detective then enter the story.
Perry Dart, a police detective, and John Archer, a physician, lead the investigation. The novel’s plot is one of ascertaining who murdered Frimbo. Like any mystery story, people and events are not always what they appear to be. Dart is sensitive to this possibility and begins a process of questioning suspects in order to determine the culprit. Dart and Archer know immediately that their task is not only to determine the murderer but also to make some sense of who Frimbo is so that a motive for his murder might be found.
The novel accumulates detail on top of detail. Initial character descriptions become more fully textured, and the actions of characters who apparently are only minor become potential sources of information needed to solve the murder. Both Dart and Archer, as they pull the pieces of the murder together, reveal aspects of their personalities to each other and to the major suspects. In all this detective work, Dart and Archer get to know the suspects in ways they would not have otherwise, and both become fascinated with Frimbo.
The major vehicle Dart and Archer use to acquire information is questioning of each of the suspects in Frimbo’s dark, velvet-draped meeting room. Dart sits at one end of the table, shrouded in darkness,...
(The entire section is 819 words.)