Talking about African-American mystery writers, editor Bland says, "In my opinion, the most significant contribution we have made, collectively, to mystery fiction is the development of the extended family; the permanence of spouses and significant others, most of whom don't die in the first three chapters or by the end of the novel; children who are complex, wanted, and loved; and even pets." And while some of the 22 stories in this excellent anthology are as hard as nails and as noir as a night in Thompsonville (such as Gary Phillips's "Beginner's Luck," which stars Chainey, his no-nonsense former Las Vegas stripper, and Walter Mosley's short, pungent "Bombardier"), most of them do have a strong sense of family. Bland's own "Murder on the Southwest Chief," written with her 15-year-old son, Anthony, has her suburban Chicago cop Marti MacAlister using her sons' journals to solve a crime. Frankie Y. Bailey's "Since You Went Away" is another corking railroad yarn, featuring Lizzie Stuart's grandfather, a Pullman porter, in a tale of jealousy and sexual repression in 1946. The feeling of extended family includes a tribute to the late Hugh Holton, a Chicago police captain and prolific mystery writer, by historian Lerone Bennett Jr., even though Holton's own entry, "The Werewolf File," is a dark and rather bloody tale. Some of the other contributors' names may be new to casual mystery readers, but part of the pleasure of this wide-ranging volume is welcoming them to the family.
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For a collection touted as "the first anthology of African-American mystery writers," one would have hoped for tougher editorial oversight. It's mystifying why Bland (who includes a decidedly bland Marti MacAlister mystery written with her 15-year-old son) would feature the elliptical Walter Mosley story "Bombardier," for instance, rather than any number of more noteworthy Mosley efforts. Readers also might be puzzled to find what appears to be an open-ended snippet of a novel--with no further explanation--from the talented Grace F. Edwards as well as a few stories clearly not ready for print. Thankfully, there's enough top-notch stuff here to recommend this groundbreaking collection anyway. Gems include Chris Benson's "Double Dealing," a crackling tale of an undercover reporter's investigation into the inner-city drug trade; a grisly supernatural mystery from the late Hugh Holton; Tracy P. Clark's whimsically fun PI character study, "For Services Rendered"; and a compelling tale of murder at a women's shelter by Dicey Scroggins Jackson. Frank Sennett
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