The Harlem crime novels of Chester Himes:




fgm for love of imabelle 717Himes, Chester. For Love of Imabelle. New York. 1957. Fawcett Gold Medal. 159 pages. paperback. Cover by M. Hooks.




For her lovely, dusky body, murder was a cheap price to pay. “Don’t make me do it. Please don’t make me do it.” He knelt on the floor and clutched her about the knees. He’s like all the rest of them, she thought. She shook him free, pointed to the door and sent him out into the dawn and certain death. 







real cool killersHimes, Chester. The Real Cool Killers. New York. 1959. Avon Books. Paperback Original. 160 pages. paperback. T-328.




A gun blast rocks the Harlem night. . . A big white man plows through the crowd, a drug-crazed hoodlum on his heels. . . Screams surround them and the crowds begin to follow. . . A teen-age gang wearing bright green turbans joins the chase, yelling encouragement to the fleeing man and his pursuer. . . Another shot echoes down the neon streets, and the white man pitches forward with a bullet in his head. . . His pursuer stands over him with a smoking gun, laughing fit to kill. . . Two detectives, Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones, arrive to wrap it up – and discover that the killer’s gun is loaded with blanks!. . . Thus begins another wild, lightning-fast, free-wheeling manhunt through the city that never sleeps – with the toughest pair of cops in fiction hot on the violence trail.





crazy killHimes, Chester. The Crazy Kill. New York. 1959. Avon Books. Paperback Original. 160 pages. paperback. T-357.




This murder was a toughie to figure out. There were too many players, too many deals, too many cards missing. . . There was JOHNNY – he was king of a big Harlem gambling syndicate. He was away from home a lot and he worried about losing his queen. Her name was DULCY. She was true to Johnny, but even a queen gets lonesome, playing solitaire every night. . . CHINK CHARLIE was a fast moving knave. He figured a shuffle was due and maybe he’d land on top of the deck. . . DOLL BABY – a low little number, but well stacked. She didn’t care whose partner, she played with as long as she stayed in the game. . . ALAMENA – Johnny’s ex-wife. A discard who lay around hoping to get picked up again. . . And sitting on top of the whole deal were those two wild cards from Harlem homicide, Detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. They weren’t playing any game. They were hot after the joker who had dealt the dead man’s hand.





all shot upHimes, Chester. All Shot Up. New York. 1960. Avon Books. Paperback Original. 160 pages. paperback. T-434.




IT WAS HAILING BULLETS IN HARLEM. . . and cold enough to embalm a corpse. Eight-count ‘em, eight-corpses, in fact. A gold Cadillac mowed down an old lady who was neither old nor a lady. Three guys kissed concrete outside an exotic bar while heisting fifty grand from a politician. Then Detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones tore into the caper, well-oiled with bourbon and ready to roll down a crazy, brutal trail of violence, perversion and murder. Through the long, bloody weekend, skidding on ice and breathing fire, the freewheeling pair from Harlem Homicide dodged falling bodies as they closed the gap between them and sudden death.







big gold dreamHimes, Chester. The Big Gold Dream. New York. 1960. Avon Books. Paperback Original. 160 pages. paperback. Y-384.




IT BEGAN WITH A DREAM. . . A dream about pies exploding with 100 dollar bills. The dreamer had faith . . . she believed it was a message from the Lord himself. So the dreamer went and played all she had on money row in the three biggest houses in Harlem. The number popped out like it was sent for. It was a hit for $36,000. Trouble was she tried to keep a secret. She hid the money. But nobody can keep money like that a secret. Not in Harlem. Before the loot even had time to settle in its hiding place every con artist, punk and pusher in the neighborhood was making plans to get it. When someone did find it, he was dead before he could count it. The killer had no luck either. Someone with a knife was waiting for him. But the money had disappeared. The hunt was on again, and the smell of fresh violence filled the air. Detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson know they had to move fast — before murder became an epidemic.




heats onHimes, Chester. The Heat's On. New York. 1966. Putnam. 220 pages. hardcover.




The uproar started that hot night in Harlem when $3,000,000 worth of heroin went astray and Pinky, the giant albino, turned in a false fire alarm. Fire engines rolled. Tempers flared. Cops blew their tops. And Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger got suspended. For brutality, it was alleged. The heat rose a beat. Then an African got his throat cut. And Grave Digger got shot. The heat really was turned on. And before the chips are down, Coffin Ed swings into action, moving from joint to joint, brothel to brothel, revealing a monstrous downtown racket that put the heat on the whole of the melting pot.





cotton comes to harlemHimes, Chester. Cotton Comes To Harlem. New York. 1965. Putnam. 223 pages. hardcover. 




Commenting on the series of which this is the latest work, the noted critic Anthony Boucher said: ‘Genuine gallows humor: grotesque, outrageous, sometimes shocking, and generally pretty wonderful.’ And you will agree when you meet Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, Negro detectives in Harlem, the scarred, tough heroes of this roller coaster tale of crime and violence. They are assigned to cover the Rev. Deke O’Malley (late of Atlanta’s pen) now pastor of Ham church, and sponsor of a ‘Back-to-Africa’ movement. Having collected $87,000 from his congregation, the money is promptly hijacked by masked white gunmen, with murder as one of the fringe effects, followed by an incredible chase in which, surprising to many Harlemites — and the reader — a bale of cotton becomes a prime consideration. In the course of this adventure we meet the ever patient Lieutenant Anderson; the Southern white Colonel Calhoun of Alabama; Deke’s girlfriend Iris, who might be said to possess some of the cobra’s less attractive features; and the irrepressible exotic night club dancer, Billie. In and out of the streets, byways, bars and dives of Harlem our two detectives wend their way, with their hard-shooting .38 revolvers on the alert as they search for the hijackers and the elusive Deke. Stoolies, hoods, junkies, winos and others are encountered along the way, but none proves quite so interesting a character as the old junk man, Uncle Bud, who happened to find a bale of cotton in the street. COTTON COMES TO HARLEM is rich in lively dialogue and robust humor—and breathtaking action. It is superbly plotted, and the idiom and sense of place are accurately captured. This novel was published in France last year, under the title, Retour en Afrique, and was hailed as entertainment in the best tradition of Hammett and Chandler.




blind man with a pistolHimes, Chester. Blind Man With a Pistol. New York. 1969. Morrow. 240 pages. hardcover. Jacket design by Lawrence Ratzkin.



‘A friend of mine, Phil Lomax, told me this story about a blind man with a pistol shooting at a man who had slapped him on a subway train and killing an innocent bystander peacefully reading his newspaper across the aisle and I thought, damn right, sounds just like today’s news, riots in the ghettos, war in Vietnam, masochistic doings in the Middle East. And then I thought of some of our loudmouthed leaders urging our vulnerable soul brothers on to getting themselves killed, and thought further that all unorganized violence is like a blind man with a pistol.’ Chester Himes speaking. Chester Himes, perhaps the most widely read Negro novelist in the world today and certainly the most original and visionary commentator on America’s racial turbulence. BLIND MAN WITH A PISTOL, his latest novel, is considered by Chester Himes and by his publisher to be his most important work to date. In it, he tells the incredible story of a night and day (Nat Turner’s Day) in Harlem, while at the same time he fashions of the Negro plight in the United States a parable so timely as to be prophetic. His world-famous detectives, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, find themselves looking for the elusive murderer of a white homosexual film producer, and in the process they move through a mad world of Brotherhood marches, Black Muslims, a family slaughter, Black Power riots, and terrible violence everywhere. Chester Himes has not only seen things-he has also seen into them, and he has come out not blind, as would most people, but with a vision. BLIND MAN WITH A PISTOL, written with great wit and honesty, crowns a distinguished body of work.





0878056459Himes, Chester. Plan B. Jackson. 1993. University Of Mississippi Press. 0878056459. 1st American Appearance Of Chester Himes' Unfinished Novel . 204 pages. hardcover. Jacket design by John A. Langston.  




Tomsson Black, political visionary, business genius, and underground revolutionary, plots to avenge injustice by instigating racial turmoil. The roots of racism extend far back into his ancestry, and persecution and suffering have affected many generations of his family. Tomsson’s own misfortunes are the impetus for him to found a criminal underworld whose ultimate purpose is the overflow of white society. This novel, the history of Tomsson Black and an indictment of racism in America, ends in apocalypse. It is Chester Himes’s ultimate statement about the destructive power of racism and his own personal fantasy of how the American Negro, through calculated acts of violence and martyrdom, could destroy the unequal system pervading American life. However, after reaching an ideological impasse, Himes, one of the angriest writers in the black protest movement, left this novel unfinished. After his death in Spain in 1984, a rumor persisted that he had left a final, unfinished Harlem story, in which he literally destroys both his Harlem backdrop and his heroes in a violent racial cataclysm. The manuscript, entitled PLAN B, is that novel. It was edited and published in France, where it was widely hailed as an unfinished masterpiece by readers and critics alike. This new edition, appearing for the first time in the United States, includes an introduction by Michel Fabre (The Sorbonne) and Robert E. Skinner (Xavier University), who have prepared PLAN B for publication.



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Himes ChesterChester Bomar Himes (July 29, 1909 - November 12, 1984) was an American writer. His works include If He Hollers Let Him Go and a series of Harlem Detective novels. In 1958 he won France's Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. Chester Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, on July 29, 1909. He grew up in a middle-class home in Missouri. When Himes was about 12 years old, his father took a teaching job at Branch Normal College (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), and soon a tragedy took place that would profoundly shape Himes's view of race relations. He had misbehaved and his mother made him sit out a gunpowder demonstration that he and his brother, Joseph Jr., were supposed to conduct during a school assembly. Working alone, Joseph mixed the chemicals; they exploded in his face. Rushed to the nearest hospital, the blinded boy was refused treatment. ‘That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together,’ Himes wrote in The Quality of Hurt. ‘I loved my brother. I had never been separated from him and that moment was shocking, shattering, and terrifying....We pulled into the emergency entrance of a white people's hospital. White clad doctors and attendants appeared. I remember sitting in the back seat with Joe watching the pantomime being enacted in the car's bright lights. A white man was refusing; my father was pleading. Dejectedly my father turned away; he was crying like a baby. My mother was fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief; I hoped it was for a pistol.’ Chester's parents were Joseph Sandy Himes and Estelle Bomar Himes; his father was a peripatetic black college professor of industrial trades and his mother was a teacher at Scotia Seminary prior to marriage; the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents' marriage was unhappy and eventually ended in divorce. Himes attended East High School in Cleveland, Ohio. While he was a freshman at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, he was expelled for playing a prank. In late 1928 he was arrested and sentenced to jail and hard labor for 20 to 25 years for armed robbery and sent to Ohio Penitentiary. In prison, he wrote short stories and had them published in national magazines. Himes stated that writing in prison and being published was a way to earn respect from guards and fellow inmates, as well as to avoid violence. His first stories appeared in 1931 in The Bronzeman and, starting in 1934, in Esquire. His story ‘To What Red Hell’ (published in Esquire in 1934) as well as to his novel Cast the First Stone - only much later republished unabridged as Yesterday Will Make You Cry (1998) - dealt with the catastrophic 1930 prison fire Himes witnessed at Ohio Penitentiary in 1930. In 1934 Himes was transferred to London Prison Farm and in April 1936 he was released on parole into his mother's custody. Following his release he worked at part-time jobs and at the same time continued to write. During this period he came in touch with Langston Hughes, who facilitated Himes's contacts with the world of literature and publishing. In 1936 Himes married Jean Johnson. In the 1940s Himes spent time in Los Angeles, working as a screenwriter but also producing two novels, If He Hollers Let Him Go and The Lonely Crusade that charted the experiences of the wave of black in-migrants, drawn by the city's defense industries, and their dealings with the established black community, fellow workers, unions and management. He also provided an analysis of the Zoot Suit Riots for The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP. By the 1950s Himes had decided to settle in France permanently, a country he liked in part due to his popularity in literary circles. In Paris, Himes' was the contemporary of the political cartoonist Oliver Harrington and fellow expatriate writers Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and William Gardner Smith. It was in Paris in the late 1950s that Chester met his second wife Lesley Himes, née Packard, when she went to interview him. She was a journalist at the Herald Tribune, where she wrote her own fashion column, ‘Monica’. He described her as ‘Irish-English with blue-gray eyes and very good looking’, he also saw her courage and resilience, Chester said to Lesley, ‘You’re the only true color-blind person I’ve ever met in my life.’ After he suffered a stroke, in 1959, Lesley quit her job and nursed him back to health. She cared for him for the rest of his life, and worked with him as his informal editor, proofreader, confidante and, as the director, Van Peebles dubbed her, ‘his watchdog’. After a long engagement, they were married in 1978. Lesley and Chester faced adversities as a mixed race couple but they prevailed. Theirs was a life lived with an unparallelled passion and great humor. Their circle of political colleagues and creative friends included not only such towering figures as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright; it also included figures such as Malcolm X, Carl Van Vechten, Picasso, Jean Miotte, Ollie Harrington, Nikki Giovanni and Ishmael Reed. Bohemian life in Paris would in turn lead them to the South of France and finally on to Spain, where they lived until Chester’s death in 1984. In 1969 Himes moved to Moraira, Spain, where he died in 1984 from Parkinson's Disease. He is buried at Benissa cemetery.





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