RARA-AVIS: African-American HB, early example: Hughes Allison's "Corollary" (1948)

From: Todd Mason ( Todd.Mason@tvguide.com)
Date: 31 Mar 2004

Randomly, I picked up the July 1948 ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE last night, and read Hughes Allison's first contribution there, a borderline hb procedural called "Corollary," which Dannay in his extensive headnote calls
"the first attempt to project in words a Negro detective who is a character rather than a caricature" (apparently not aware of Chester Himes's work, perhaps). Allison's detective, named in proletarian solidarity Joe Hill, is the sole AA tec in an otherwise Cauc squad; as playwright Allison puts it in the headnote, "Could tough, hardboiled Sam Spade or suave, gentlemanly Ellery Queen enter that dark, costly museum-room [continuing a metaphor for African-American society he'd established] and single out the culprits?
[...answering in the negative:] For neither Sam Spade nor Ellery Queen is equipped to think with his skin." (A neat trick, taken literarlly.)

The story is creditable, a bit stiff, with Hill's bosses sitting around chatting with Hill and each other, echoing each other in a semi-comic manner, as they treat with DAs and such via the telephone (perhaps the result of a playwright tacking prose); Allison wasn't too fond of storefront churchmen such as his villain here, the Prophet Hamid, or at least he had Joe Hill decidedly unsympathetic.

I haven't had a chance to check my copy of Walter Albert's impressive new CD ROM version of DETECTIVE AND MYSTERY FICTION: An International Bibliography of Secondary Sources, to see how much citation of Allison there's been in the critical literature...or, for that matter, I haven't checked to see how much else, if any, Hughes published as CF. TM

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