Barbara Neely Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Barbara Neely’s Blanche White mysteries help make a traditionally conservative genre a vehicle for exploring social ills—especially those with racial implications—and for analyzing American cultural attitudes and practices. Each book in this series focuses on a different social problem, beginning in Blanche on the Lam (1992) with the impact of racial stereotypes and class prejudices. Neely’s second book, Blanche Among the Talented Tenth (1994), explores the psychological and social impacts of Western standards of beauty, especially the color hierarchy among African Americans; the plot of her next book, Blanche Cleans Up (1998), concerns political corruption, homophobia, and environmental issues; the fourth, Blanche Passes Go (2000), exposes the frequency and emotional consequences of physical abuse of women. In all her works Neely shows the relatedness of race, class, and gender issues. Neely’s Blanche White was a landmark character when she first hit the scene: Not only was she one of the few female African American protagonists in a mystery series, but she also was one of the few sleuths who reflected a working-class perspective. Blanche’s persona as an outspoken, politically savvy lower-class black woman was an instant success with readers.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bailey, Frankie Y. “Blanche on the Lam, or The Invisible Woman Speaks.” In Diversity and Detective Fiction, edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999. This study of Blanche on the Lam demonstrates how Neely adapts the mystery genre to accommodate her analyses of social problems.

Beaulier, Elizabeth Ann, ed. Writing African American Women: An Encyclopedia of Literature by and About Women of Color. 2 vols. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. This encyclopedia contains entries on Neely and on each of her four Blanche White novels, with an emphasis on the author’s feminist themes.

English, Daylanne K. “The Modern in the Postmodern: Walter Mosley, Barbara Neely and the Politics of Contemporary African-American Detective Fiction.” American Literary History 18 (2006): 772-796. This comparison of Neely’s novels with Mosley’s more “hard-boiled” stories focuses on Mosley’s Easy Rawlins’s successful and Neely’s Blanche White’s unsuccessful search for emotionally sustaining black communities.

Geiger, Shirley Tolliver, and Natalie Hevener Kaufman. “Barbara Neely’s Blanche White Series.” Clues: A Journal of Detective Fiction 22, no. 2 (2001): 95-108. The author analyzes how Neely uses Blanche to challenge stereotypes about African Americans. Geiger focuses largely on Blanche on the Lam.

Plummer, Bonnie. “Subverting the Voice: Barbara Neely’s African American Detective.” Clues: A Journal of Detection 20, no. 1 (1999): 77-88. Plummer demonstrates how well Neely’s novels illustrate the traits that Stephen Soitos argues are common in African American detective fiction and that Kathleen Klein identifies as basic to feminocentric detective literature.

Witt, Doris. “Detecting Bodies: Barbara Neely’s Domestic Sleuth and the Trope of the (In)visible Woman.” In Recovering the Black Female Body: Self-Representations by African American Women, edited by Carla L. Peterson. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001. Looks at the invisibility of African American domestic servants in the greater community and Neely’s portrayal of Blanche.