March 15, 2008


If I were a spiritualist, I would tell you that Nora DeLoach, an African American novelist, channeled the Golden Age detectives Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Perry Mason, and, of course, C. Auguste Dupin in creating her sophisticated amateur detective “Mama.”

Born in Orlando, Florida, in 1940 Nora DeLoach died too soon in Decatur, Georgia on June 19, 2001. She was married and had two sons and a daughter. She worked for a time in Hampton, South Carolina, as a social worker. Before her death, she wrote nine novels featuring “Mama.” Because I believe devotees of the classical mysteries of the Golden Age of Mystery fiction will enjoy them, in the following months, I’ll be posting my analytic reviews of the nine novels. But first, let me introduce Mama.

Mama’s daughter Simone, the narrator of their sleuthing adventures, works as a paralegal and lives in Atlanta. She reports the following facts about Mama in the first novel, Mama Solves A Murder.

Mama is 53-year-old Grace Covington, a social worker whom her husband James and friends call “Candi because of a golden-brown complexion the color of candied sweet potato….” After James retired from the Air Force, they moved to his hometown, a small town in South Carolina. Mama is “shrewd and cunning. She has uncanny perception and self control. Her mind is formidable, her beauty enticing, but I’ve seen her use either to get in and out of places.” She is “a self-styled private investigator who sees herself as a romantic loner.” Mama is also a great cook.

DeLoach tells her stories in the classical or formal tradition. She leaves no doubt that her detective writer ancestors are Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Erle Stanley Gardner. Simone tells us, “Perry Mason is Mama’s favorite television program. Whenever Mama finds something that she thinks is worth sleuthing she calls on me, and I’m obliged to join her in the hunt. To be perfectly honest, Mama is my Sherlock Holmes and I’m her Watson.” Mama “had spoon-fed” Simone “on Agatha Christie from birth….” Mama often uses “the methods of Hercule Poirot.”

The classic sleuth Mama most resembles is Christie’s Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple lives in a small English village, is a spinster, and her family consists several nephews. She solves murder cases by mulling over the facts and calling on her experience and observations of the people in the village. She and Mama resemble each other only in that they are both women, both live in small communities, and both use intuition because, as Miss Marple says in Murder At The Vicarage it “is a very sound way of arriving at the truth.” Mama is an American Black woman and has a family—husband James, daughter Simone, and two boys, Will and Rodney.

Mama Solves a Murder (1994)
Mama Traps a Killer (1995)
Mama Saves a Victim (1997)
Mama Stands Accused (1997)
Mama Stalks the Past (1997)
Mama Rocks the Empty Cradle (1998)
Mama Pursues Murderous Shadows (2000)
Mama Cracks a Mask of Innocence (2001)