Toussaint Moore
Created by Ed Lacy
(pseud. of Leonard S. Zinberg; 1911-1968)

Generally considered the first truly credible African-American eye, TOUSSAINT MARCUS MOORE (now there's a name with more than a few black nationalist overtones) made his debut in the Edgar Award-winning (for Best Novel) Room to Swing in 1957. In that book, a background investigation on behalf of a reality-based TV show called You-Detective! (which wouldn't seem that far out of place in this year's television season) takes Moore from the Big Apple all the way to Bingston, Ohio.

and it's there, in that one-horse town located on the Kentucky border -- not really "a mean town for the colored, just a little old-fashioned," as a local kindly puts it -- Moore is called "boy" (and worse) more times in six hours than he has been during the rest of his life. The juxtaposition of a relatively hip, urban black guy (complete with middle-class aspirations and even some rather twee affectations -- he smokes a pipe and drives a Jag) and the less-than-enlightened rural small-town mindset was a conflict that would reverberate through much subsequent crime fiction, including John Ball's classic In the Heat of the Night (1965).

There's an open-ended liberalism on display in Room to Swing that dares to look without flinching not just upon racism but also upon homosexuality -- a remarkable thing even now, never mind more than 50 years ago. Yet even as he strives to do the right thing, and clear himself of a trumped-up murder rap, Moore contemplates chucking the whole detective business for a safe job at the post office.

That may not be something that Mike Hammer or any of the other he-men eyes of the 1950s would have considered, but then, Hammer wasn't black, and for Toussaint, a good job with steady pay and relatively discrimination-free, was nothing to sneeze at. In fact, Toussaint does subsequently go to work for the post office, but comes out of retirement in 1964's Moment of Untruth, which is almost as good as Room To Swing.

Author Lacy (actually Leonard S. Zinberg, who was white), also created hard-boiled detectives Hal Darling, Barney Harris, Marty Bond, John O'Hara, Matt Ranzino and Billy Wallace.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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