Ed Lacy Essay - Critical Essays

Leonard S. Zinberg


Ed Lacy began his career of mystery writing in 1951 with the satiric The Woman Aroused, succeeded by Sin in Their Blood (1952) and Strip for Violence (1953). The titles suggest that the books have no literary merit whatsoever, and Lacy himself expressed wonder at the titles his editors and publishers created and approved. Yet these books mark a strong beginning to Lacy’s contribution to the mystery and detective genre.

That contribution may be judged credible, consistent, and often creative. During the mid-1950’s, before the Civil Rights movement had begun, Lacy was featuring black investigators, both private and police, who possessed the requisite invincibility of the detective hero. Each is literate, intelligent, ethical, physically powerful, and sensitive, often to a greater degree than his white counterparts. Lacy believed that stories were given new depth if the characters were Mexican, Puerto Rican, or black.

Toussaint Moore, the hero of the Edgar-winning Room to Swing, is originally selected to solve the case on which the plot hinges because he is black. Lacy gives his character compelling internal struggles: struggles between security and possible wealth, between the pain of racial discrimination in the South and the pleasure of success in solving his case. Minor characters who are black, such as Ollie Jackson in Be Careful How You Live (1958), are similarly presented as being intelligent and capable people. It is to his credit that Lacy writes of black characters without a trace of stereotyping—and without the self-righteousness sometimes found in works of the 1960’s.

Lacy does at times, however, commit the sorts of technical mistakes that are common in novels in which first-person narration is employed. For example, he fails to explain why the narrator is bothering to tell this story at all and how a narrator such as this would ever consider writing such a work. Most important, Lacy sometimes forces the narrator to record the events surrounding his own death, a neat trick indeed. Still, though Lacy is guilty of all these mistakes, they are more than compensated for by the psychological insights presented and the skillful and somewhat sophisticated manipulation of time through multiple flashbacks. These shifts in chronology flow naturally, and the revelations they contain are well placed. Such...

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