Published originally in 1932, and said to be the first detective novel by an African-American author, this witty, shrewdly plotted whodunit (recently reissued) was penned by Rudolph Fisher, a New York City radiographer, short-story writer, and musician, active in the Harlem Renaissance. It tosses us onto the hectic scene of a nighttime slaying, the victim being N’Gana Frimbo, an African immigrant and Harvard-educated fortune teller who was mysteriously clobbered with a human femur and gagged while giving a psychic reading at his Harlem apartment. The prospective clients waiting outside his parlor—among them a comically garrulous gumshoe—are all suspects. Investigative responsibilities here fall to police detective Perry Dart and the more erudite Dr. John Archer, a physician neighbor of the deceased. The pair employ perspicacity and science to unmask the killer… only to find their neat theories challenged, and this tale’s puzzle deepened, by Frimbo’s evident resurrection halfway through the book. Through his quirky characters and their slangy, jibing dialogue, Fisher creates a colorful portrait of Depression-era Harlem. Fisher wrote just two novels, Conjure-Man being his sole work of crime fiction. He’d planned a sequel, but died in 1934 at age 37, before it could be written. This edition does, however, include “John Archer’s Nose,” a short story once more featuring Dart and Archer.
—Jeff, Madison Books, Seattle, WA