The Conjure-Man Dies

“The Conjure-Man Dies” is a product of the Harlem Renaissance and the most important work of long-overlooked writer Rudolph Fisher. First published in 1932, the book was the first full-length mystery novel to feature an all-Black cast of characters, including detectives, suspects and victims. “Conjure-Man” is a great choice for re-issue by the Crime Classics series of the United States Library of Congress. Launched in 2020, the series features some of the finest American crime writing from the 1860s to the 1960s. Drawn from the Library’s collections, each volume includes the original text, an introduction, author bio, notes, recommendations for further reading and suggested discussion questions from mystery expert Leslie S. Klinger. The titles are each published by the LOC in conjunction with Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sorce Books.

In the book’s plot N’Gana Frimbo, the titular “conjure-man” from Africa, is discovered bludgeoned in his consultation room. Perry Dart, one of Harlem’s few Black police detectives, arrives to investigate. Together with Dr. Archer, a physician from across the street, Dart is determined to solve the mystery, while Bubber Brown and Jinx Jenkins, local hustlers keen to clear themselves of suspicion of murder, undertake their own investigations. The book is full of local slang, what Fisher called “Harlemese,” adding a distinct authenticity to this groundbreaking novel.

The author Rudolph Fisher was a writer, musician, public speaker, physician and radiologist. Hughes, a close friend of Fisher, noted in his autobiography that Fisher “frightened me a little, because he could think of the most incisively clever things to say—and I could never think of anything to answer.” Sadly, Fisher died from cancer at the age of 37 in 1934.

The Library of Congress Crime Classics series features some of the best American crime writing from the 1860s to the 1960s. Drawn from the Library’s collections, series editor and mystery expert Leslie S. Klinger has selected scarce and lesser known titles that represent a range of genres, from “cozies” to police procedurals. Priced and formatted for wide readership and classrooms, each volume includes the original text, as well as a contextual introduction, brief biography of the author, notes, recommendations for further reading, and suggested discussion questions. 

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