How to spend a small fortune buying black crime fiction novels… and ways to change that

My husband can tell you better than I can that I have spent a small fortune acquiring black crime fiction books. Well, technically that is we have spent a small fortune but it’s all good because this is what I spend my extra money on. Some people like designer handbags. I like first edition signed hardbacks. Life is all about choices is it not?

The reason that so many of my books are purchased at a premium is because they are no longer in print. Long ago are the days in which major publishers had such novels on the bookshelves. It’s disheartening to know that there was more retail space dedicated to black writers then than there is today. More on that in another post.

Back in the 90’s you could easily find Eleanor Taylor Bland novels at places such as Barnes and Noble. Barbara Neely’s books were out of production for quite a long time. And to this day it’s difficult to find a good mass market paperback copy of Mama Solves a Murder by Nora DeLoach. Personally I searched for well over a year to find one.

But what about eBooks?

Granted there are some books that were popular and are now being converted to eBooks. Such works include the Tamra Hayle mystery series by Valerie Wilson Wesley. Even if you prefer physical books these are a good alternative to- ummm- not having a chance to grab the book at all.

I recently was sent a $5 promotional coupon from Amazon toward the purchase of a Valerie Wilson Wesley eBook just for following her on Amazon. Following the authors on Amazon clearly can pay off in the form of discounts. But it’s also encouraging and hopefully publishers can appreciate that the author has a strong following when they consider their manuscripts.

But what about the library?

I would absolutely love to find these novels at my library. I am a huge user of library services but my local library simply does not have many of the titles. I’m actually being generous/flat out lying. They haven’t had a single title I’ve been seeking. I live in a predominantly black area in the Deep South. It’s an absolute disgrace.

I also have been unable to request my library to purchase such books because they are no longer in print. I just find it much easier to buy the book myself.

Ah, before we forget… self-published books are unique

Not just unique; they’re also less likely to be available in print. The same applies to obtaining them from my local library. That is not to say that there are not some self-published books in my library but I will say the only ones I have come across that are by black authors have been those with local ties.

I have a real soft spot in my heart for indie and self-published black crime fiction. I don’t mind paying for them one bit. It is a worthy cause that I fully support. Would you rather a great novel land at the feet of a big 5 publisher only to be stepped over? Or would you rather pay a smaller amount for a self-published novel?

For me it’s an easy answer. Pass the collection plate and I will drop in my coins.

Cherishing the greats

My saddest realization is that I have acquired most of my crime fiction novels secondhand. This means that the author has already been paid and I’m simply paying a reseller. Yes, I understand that it is the way it works. But if these books were still available and in print I would purchase directly from the publisher with an understanding that the author would be paid accordingly.

Therefore I encourage not only the sharing of reviews of these books but the purchase of new releases whenever possible. Or simply request them at your library if they don’t have them or if you can’t afford them.

“But black books don’t sell”

Yes they do! I’m very much sold on them.

You simply cannot buy what is not available. Exposure and discussion from within a community of writers, readers and allies is where it all begins.

The Missing American by Kwei Quartey

The Missing American is an intriguing Private Investigative novel by Kwei Quartey. It was initially released in January of 2020 and is book number one in the Emma Djan Investigation series.

Let me start by saying that Kwei Quartey has an author bio almost as fascinating as this book. While he is now quite an accomplished author he was a surgeon prior to retirement.

Mr. Quartey did not allow the discipline required to become a surgeon (arguably an overachievement even within the medical profession) to go to waste as he embarked on his second career. To date he has had 11 works published- not including a follow up novel for the Emma Djan which is already in the works.

Who is Emma Djan?

The Missing American was the first book that I read by this author. The beginning of the novel is gripping and offered a little taste of gore within the imagery.

While the introduction offered a vivid depiction of some of the worst in life, the main charcter, Emma Djan appears and is immediately endearing. I immediately got a sense that she has a strong moral character and that “not all heroes wear capes” quote could easily be used to describe her.

Emma is not an amateur sleuth but she would most likely be described as a rookie Private Eye. From the beginning we know she really has a heart of gold. The type of person who truly should be in law enforcement because of her honesty and genuine desire to ensure justice. She attends church, volunteers to help with autistic children in her spare time and she very much values her chastity.

That does not mean that everyone she encounters is operating on the same moral compass.

The Plot Thickens…

As an American I can say I felt comfortably transported to a country I have never set foot in. Part of that is due to the excellent manner in which Quartey is able to convey the feel of Ghana. It was as if I was there with the sights and smells and at some point my mouth began to water from the description of foods that I would not recognize if they were all on a menu in front of me.

The other way in which I was comfortable with this was due to the political misdeeds that were very much interconnected. It reminded me of some of the headlines I see on the local and national news everyday. Apparently crooked politicians can be found across any sea.

Speaking of crossing seas, the cast of characters spans International waters. The actual Missing American is a man by the name of Gordon Tillson. Gordon’s son, Dexter, engages the private investigation firm that Emma Djan works for in order to find his father who went missing after pursing a young Ghanaian woman who he met on Facebook.

Gordon was very confident when he set out for Ghana because he had met his wife there many years before while working for the Peace Corps. But as he lands he finds that the land he remembers is no longer what it once was. I loved seeing the “new Ghana” through his eyes.

While we adjust to Gordon being out of his element we are also introduced to some truly nefarious world of organized crime centered upon witchcraft and internet scams. Through the eyes of Emma we see how a white outsider veered off track into waters that are not only murky but, quite frankly, precarious to navigate even for a native.

We also learn much about Emma’s private life which allows us to see how she ends up working for an investigation firm. Her stepbrother was introduced and I absolutely adored his character. Learning that he was not exactly what he seemed to be was a reflection on how stereotypes in society can color the way in which we see one another.

Audiobook Vibes

I was beginning my natural hair journey while reading this book- thank you Coronavirus for forcing me to embrace my hair. While learning to twist my hair I decided to purchase the Audible version using some of the credits I have been hoarding.

It was not until I switched back to the hardback that I realized what a pleasure the audiobook was. Honestly, truly, had I not started with the audio version I would have been super confident of my ability to pronounce many of the Ghanaian words. Joke was on me because apparently I was butchering the beautiful language.

It made me love the audiobook that much more and I leaned heavily upon it because I loved how much more immersive the novel was when I was not fumbling over words in my head. Although I will add that the physical copy offers a glossary which I enjoyed.

Anticipating Book 2- January 12, 2021

Have you ever seen a more beautiful cover? A more stunning color combination? The cover is totally giving me Lupita Nyong’o teas. Can whoever did her makeup do mine?

Sleep Well, My Lady is slated for release on January 12, 2021. I will be the first in line to grab a hardback copy… along with the audiobook version. Lesson learned- if you can’t pronounce it, let it be beautiful and listen to someone else pronounce it for you.

What is Black Crime Fiction?

By definition black crime fiction could be defined as a literary genre that fictionalizes murders and the identification of criminals pertaining to black main characters.

This would include the following:

  • Private detectives
  • Amateur sleuths
  • Police procedurals
  • Legal thrillers

For far too many reasons these types of novels and stories are largely overlooked and the works of black authors within crime fiction go unsung.

Why aren’t there more black crime fiction writers and works?

  • Most publishers do not feel as if black crime fiction will sell
  • Due to lack of exposure and insufficient marketing many black crime writers are simply unknown- you can’t know what you don’t know
  • Self-published crime writers are not often reviewed by major news publications such as the New York Times and other prominent bestseller lists
  • Many believe that white and non-black people of color will not relate to black narrators and characters