I stumbled upon Chester Himes (July 29, 1909 – November 12, 1984) after reading an essay where someone described him as being the “black Raymond Chandler” and “the father of the black crime fiction novel.” His detective novels are now recognized as a significant part of American literature and his work is often linked to other writers whose styles are very similar, namely, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
Himes writing is concise, cinematic and stylistic. I found this story quite compelling. His depiction of urban crime in 1960′s Harlem is raw and in your face, leaving little to the imagination in terms of the everyday poverty,crime, economic hardship, racism and drug use. He doesn’t do too bad with the dialogue either (although a bit of the language is rather dated) and I found myself laughing a little at his sardonic sense of humor.
Upon completing this book, I wanted to read more by this author. His writing is uncompromising and gritty. Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965;160 pages) is apart of his “Harlem domestic novel” series. The first book in the series is A Rage in Harlem (also For Love of Imabelle, 1957;160 pages).
Two black NYPD plainclothes detectives – Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones are investigating a hijacking where 87 families had their money stolen from them during a caper that set off a string of violence and mayhem in Harlem. The story opens with ex-convict and phony preacher, Reverend Deke O’Malley, sponsoring a Back To Africa rally. It’s an idea he got from Marcus Garvey. He cashes in with his emotional spiel about a better life in Africa with no regard for the “starry eyed black people” putting their “chips on hope.” Deke’s plan to pocket the $87,000 he’s collected is thwarted when four white men with guns show up and steal the money right from under him, leaving one volunteer dead. Continue reading