Obituaries

Barbara Neely

Barbara Neely

There’s Boston Blackie and there’s Sam Spade. They were both fictional white guy private detectives.

However, mystery writer Barbara Neely named her black woman private detective Blanche White. Blanche in French means white, so the detective’s name was white white.

Neely’s character’s name is an obvious play on words, but we will never know for certain because Neeley, an award-winning mystery writer who was a black woman, died March 2. She was 78.

Neely was best known for her four-book Blanche White series. White, a domestic worker, uses her invisibility inherent in her job to find the truth.

“I realized the mystery genre was perfect to talk about serious subjects,” she said in 2000 during an interview with Ms. Magazine.

Last year, Neely was named 2020 Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. The organization described Neely as a groundbreaking author who tackled tough social issues.

The Blanche White series includes “Blanche on the Lam,” (1992) “Blanche Among the Talented Tenth,” (1994)

“Blanche Cleans Up”, (1988) and “Blanche Passes Go” (2000)

Her series has been translated into French, Czech, German and Japanese.

Neely was born in 1941 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. She attended the University of Pittsburgh. Her first short story was “Passing the Word,” published in Essence magazine.

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