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Barbara Neely Books In Order

Publication Order of Blanche White Books

Blanche on the Lam (1992) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Blanche Among the Talented Tenth (1994) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Blanche Cleans Up (1998) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Blanche Passes Go (2000) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Barbara Neely is an African-American author of mystery and thrillers books. Her Blanche Series debut novel, Blanche on the Lam (1992) introduces us to her heroine Blanche White, a mid-aged mom working as a domestic worker and an amateur sleuth. She has received several awards for her notable works of literature. Notable awards include Anthony Award in 1993 and Agatha Award (1992) for her series debut novel Blanche on the Lam. She also won the Go on Girl Award for the best debut novel, and in 1993 she was awarded a Macavity Award. Several books in Barbara Neely’s Blanche White series have been taught in courses at different institutions including Boston College, Howard University, Guttenberg University, and Washington State University.

The author’s several short stories have been featured in magazines, journals, university texts, and anthologies. Neely has also had a successful public sector career, and besides writing, she’s also a host of a radio interview program known as the Commonwealth Journal.

Blanche on the Lam

From the beginning of time and throughout history as we know it, both the upper class and the upper middle class had an attitude of neglecting their servants until they needed them for labor. These servants were expected to shut up and hence had little or no opportunity to report any criminal activities within their line of work or their home environment.

The American slavery framework, even years after it was abolished took the expectations of powerlessness and invisibility of servants to the extreme. The Africans found themselves all alone without the support of society or the law. Therefore due to lack of basic necessities, servants would often resolve to crime. After the blacks were liberated, they tried the best they could to move beyond manual labor and domestic work. But the shocking reality was that the only work they could get was either manual labor or domestic job which pays very little. It’s from these struggles and experiences that the author, Barbara Neely compares this societal oppression in her series debut novel Blanche on the Lam.

Blanche’s employers never pay her on time; she becomes bad on checks. She had no slightest idea that her bouncing checks would soon land her into a 30-day jail term. After the sentence, she gets a temporary job to help a family on vacation in the countryside. But things never become simple for her as she anticipated and soon she suspects that one of the family members is a killer.

Barbara Neely has done a fantastic job in creating her characters, creating a character-driven plot and touching on some important themes our modern world faces. The characterization is a strong point of this mystery. Some of the major characters in the story include Bianche White, Grace, Mumsfield, Everett and Nate. Blanche White is the lead character. She’s a woman of African origin, working as a cook and a housekeeper and on the run from a jail sentence from a minor crime. To evade the authority, she disguises herself as a domestic worker for an unstable white family. According to the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Blanche is a very human, honest, compassionate and yet tricky heroine. She understands that as a black woman she is invisible to the whites and uses her invisibility to hide from the authority and conduct investigations.

The author has also touched on some major themes of invisibility and stereotypes on the blacks. The issues of deception, perception, and truths have long thrived in gender and racial conflicts. Barbara exposes these issues through a complex web of cheating and murders that surrounds the characters. There is also the theme of fear rooted between the servants and their employers. The heroine utilizes three aspects that enable her to attain her invisibility. She relies on aspect of being a domestic servant, being black and a female.

Blanche among the Talented Tenth

After dealing with a retrogressive condition of interracial in the first book in the series, Barbara Neely turns her investigative eye of the state of affairs with the blacks in Blanche and the Talented Tenth.

The books’ title refers to W.E.B Dubois prophecy that one-tenth of the African-American population would rise, through good character and education to be leaders who would be the beacon for the rest of the Negro race. This term became concrete with the light-skinned African Americans, those with skin no darker and straight hair as if industry, intelligence, and leadership were something relying on having Caucasian blood traces.

At the core of the Blanche and the Talented Tenth are well-bred, well-connected, light-skinned African American who regularly vacation at Amber Cove, a place for the rich African-American. And when Blanche, a servant who is more at peace with her natural hair, dark skin, and a job position makes an entry in Amber Cove, she finds that the old prejudice where the light-skinned blacks turn against their darker brothers and sisters, a prejudice so strong as any other racial conflict.

Blanche will spend a few more days at the “high yellow” quarters for a few days with her sisters’ children and as a guest of two prominent African-American doctors, Christine Crowley and Drs. David. But before her arrival, a man of the darker skin dies under very mysterious circumstances. And Blanche instinctively discovers that more unsavory goings amongst the talented few of Amber Cove, despite their Ivy League educations, money and privilege. Barbara Neely weaves a fast-paced and intriguing mystery touching on the most contemporary racial issues that exist within the black community. What makes this story quite interesting is a detailed glimpse at the black elite class and the self-deception that help the elites of any race to keep staring at their reflection in the mirror. The author detailed examines social issues of racism within the black community and the class hatred. We also see Blanche’s personal struggles to raise her bad-tempered teenagers and her efforts to find true love. The detective element of the story is stronger than the series debut novel.

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