Mumbo Jumbo is the third novel by Ishmael Reed and is considered by many to be his best. Ostensibly a mystery set in 1920’s New Orleans and New York City, Mumbo Jumbo is representative of Reed’s distinctly creative literary process. The protagonist, private detective Papa LaBas, is on the trail of far more than a mere killer, thief or blackmailer. The mystery that makes up the narrative of Mumbo Jumbo is really more appropriately termed a quest and a distinctly spiritual and religious one at that.
Reed’s detective crosses trails with Knights Templar, art thieves in museums and secretive religious orders who are most assuredly not above spilling blood. At the heart of the quest to uncover this mystery is an ancient religious artifact known as the Book of Thoth. This text contains a secret history that threatens to change the understanding of everything related to black history and the systemic way it has been appropriated for the benefit of white society.
The complex plot and rich historical narrative portrayed full-bodied in Mumbo Jumbo grew out of just a minor digressive element of Reed’s previous novel, Yellow Black Radio Broke-Down. From that historical overview of what he termed Neo-HooDooism came a much more expansive and full-throated reinterpretation of Western civilization that is recorded in the sacred texts at the heart of the modern mystery novel to which Mumbo Jumbo is often categorized.