Tuesday 9 February 2021

Chester Himes - Harlem Detective Series

Chester Himes

Harlem Detective Series

Published by Penguin Modern Classics | 25 March 2021

Paperback £9.99

Himes posed questions that few of his contemporaries dared to raise: What defines an “authentic” black voice?” Hilton Als, The New Yorker

A conman disguised as a nun, a preacher flogging one-way tickets to Africa, a golden Cadillac big enough to cross the ocean. Every one of Chester Himes’ ground-breaking crime novels buzzes with a barely-contained chaotic and darkly witty energy, echoed in vibrant new jackets featuring Harlem collages by Romare Bearden.

 Chester Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri in 1909 and grew up in Cleveland. Aged 19 he was arrested for armed robbery and sentenced to up to 25 years in jail. In jail he began to write short stories, some of which were published in Esquire. Upon release he took a variety of jobs, from working in a California shipyard to journalism to script-writing, while continuing to write fiction. Like many African-American writers of his generation, he later moved to Paris, where he was commissioned by La Série Noire to write the first of his Harlem detective novels, La reine des pommes/A Rage in Harlem, which won the 1957 Grand Prix du Roman Policier. In 1969 Himes moved to Spain, where he died in 1984.

One of crime fiction’s most overlooked writers, Himes’ inimitable stories take the reader through the criminal underbelly of New York alongside hardboiled Harlem detectives ‘Coffin’ Ed Johnson and ‘Grave Digger’ Jones. His brutally comic surrealism combined with his authentic treatment of the Black Harlem underclass, more myth than reality to most white Americans of the period, earn him a unique place among crime writing giants such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Jim Thompson.

 A Rage in Harlem

Jackson's woman has found him a foolproof way to make money - a technique for turning ten dollar bills into hundreds. But when the scheme somehow fails, Jackson is left broke, wanted by the police and desperately racing to get back both his money and his loving Imabelle. The first of Chester Himes's novels to feature the hardboiled Harlem detectives, A Rage in Harlem has swagger, brutal humour, lurid violence, a hearse loaded with gold and a conman dressed as a Sister of Mercy.

 The Real Cool Killers

The night's over for Ulysses Galen. It started going bad for the big Greek when a knife was drawn, then there was an axe, then he was being chased and shot at. Now Galen is lying dead in the middle of a Harlem street. But the night's just beginning for our detectives, because they have a smoking gun but it couldn't have killed Galen, and they had a suspect but a gang called the Real Cool Moslems took him. And as patrol cars and search teams descend on the neighbourhood, their case threatens to take a turn for the personal.

 All Shot Up

A golden Cadillac big enough to cross the ocean has been seen sailing along the streets of Harlem. A hit-and-run victim's been hit so hard she got embedded in the wall of a convent. A shootout with three heistmen dressed as cops has left an important politician in a coma - and a lot of money missing. And Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are the ones who have to piece it all together.

 The Heat’s On

Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones have lost two criminals. Pinky ran off - but it shouldn't be hard to track down a giant albino man in Harlem. Jake the drug dealer, though, isn't coming back - he died after Grave Digger punched him in the stomach. This might cost them both their badges, unless they can track down the cause of all this mayhem - like the African with his throat slit and the dog the size of a lion with an open head wound.

 Cotton Comes to Harlem

A preacher called Deke O'Malley's been selling false hope: the promise of a glorious new life in Africa for just $1,000 a family. But when thieves with machine guns steal the proceeds - and send one man's brain matter flying - the con is up. Now Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed mean to bring the good people of Harlem back their $87,000, however many corpses they have to climb over to get it.



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