Shades of Black
Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories By African-American Writers features seasoned writers like Walter Mosley and Hugh Holton, along with lesser-known writers, some publishing for the first time. The literary quality of these stories varies widely. Several writers make amateurish blunders—intrusive exposition, too many characters or subplots, and a general air of confusion. At their best, however, these stories are a creative contribution to a genre that has been the nearly exclusive territory of white writers.
Is an anthology of black crime stories justified? Yes—black mystery writers inhabit a different world that goes beyond film and television stereotypes. When drug dealers, ladies of the night, and pimps appear, it is usually with a twist. Although several stories are color-blind, most have a distinctly black sensibility that separates black folks’ and white folks’ business. If ordinary black citizens must solve a crime, it’s often because the white world isn’t much interested when the murder victim is African American.
Several stories stand out. Frankie Y. Bailey’s “Since You Went Away, “ set in 1946, features a murder on a train that is solved by an alert sleeping car porter, who gives a neat historical peek at the realities of his world. “For Services Rendered,” a wonderfully funny story by Tracy P. Clark, stars a female private eye. Challenged by her grandfather (an African American figure demanding serious respect) she must locate a missing dog.
In Robert Greer’s “A Matter of Policy,” a reluctant Vietnam veteran gets himself in a mess of trouble and is rescued by his street-wise elderly uncle. Walter Mosley’s “Bombardier,” reminds readers of Langston Hughes’s Simple stories.
This collection never fails to entertain and instruct, although never obtrusively. These are American stories that just happen to have been written by African Americans.