Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Conjure-Man Dies

The Conjure-Man Dies
is a 1932 mystery novel by Rudolph Fisher. Fisher was an African-American author, musician, physician, and radiologist, and was involved in the Harlem Renaissance. He died on December 26 in 1934 at age 37 from intestinal cancer, leaving a wife and three children. Short biographies here, here, here, and here fill out his life and accomplishments.

This book was the first novel with a black detective and the first detective novel with only black characters. It's a fascinating look at an earlier time and a different culture. It's not a curiosity, though, but a good story in its own right, with appealing characters and an intriguing plot.

from the back of the book:
Originally published in 1932, The Conjure-Man Dies is the first known mystery novel written by an African-American. Rudolph Fisher, one of the principal writers on the Harlem Renaissance, weaves an intricate story of a native African king, who, after receiving a degree from Harvard University, settles into Harlem in the 1930s. He becomes a "conjure-man," a fortune teller, a mysterious figure who remains shrouded in darkness while his clients sit directly across from him, singly bathed in light. It is this configuration that one of these seekers of the revelation of fate discovers he is speaking to a dead man. Thus a complex mystery begins, involving suspects and characters who are vividly and richly portrayed, and who dramatically illuminate for the reader a time, a place, and a people that have been sadly neglected in American literature.


  1. What a fascinating story. I am impressed that it was the first black detective novel. Yes, a very, very different time and culture, and one that deserves recognition. I'm THRILLED you share it and the review today.

    1. I happened across it in a used book store. I find such fun stuff that way!