A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes
Narrator: Samuel L. Jackson
Series: Harlem Cycle #1
Published by Audible Studios on March 8, 2012
Source: Purchased
Genres: Crime Fiction
Length: 5 hrs 26 mins
Pages: 160
Format: Audiobook
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four-stars

A Rage in Harlem is a ripping introduction to Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, patrolling New York City’s roughest streets in Chester Himes’s groundbreaking Harlem Detectives series.

For love of fine, wily Imabelle, hapless Jackson surrenders his life savings to a con man who knows the secret of turning ten-dollar bills into hundreds—and then he steals from his boss, only to lose the stolen money at a craps table. Luckily for him, he can turn to his savvy twin brother, Goldy, who earns a living—disguised as a Sister of Mercy—by selling tickets to Heaven in Harlem. With Goldy on his side, Jackson is ready for payback.

A Rage in Harlem is full of crime, violence, memorable characters, and a dark sense of humor. The descriptions are vivid and Himes brings to life a Harlem that is both realistic and unbelievable, in that way that places are so different from my own experiences.

The main character is novel is about an undertaker’s assistant, Jackson, a naive church-going man, not too bright, who is in love with a faithless, light-skinned young lady, who borrows (without permission) cash from his boss in order to take advantage of a get-rich-quick scheme. Of course, the scheme blows up in his face and his girlfriend Immabelle, takes off, worried the cops will catch them, at least that’s the reason Jackson attributes to her disappearance. You have to give it to Imabelle, she is probably tougher and more cunning than the rest of them put together. The rest of the book follows Jackson’s adventures trying to get back his money and his girl. Misunderstandings, complications and some really good chases ensue.

Jackson’s brother, Goldy, tries to help him and sees a way to help himself at the same time. Nothing is free in Harlem. Goldy is not a good man, but he is fascinating. Goldy is married, a snitch, and earns money to support himself and his daily drug habit by dressing up as a Sister of Mercy and standing on a street corner, selling tickets to Heaven.

The Harlem Cycle centers on two police, “Coffin” and “Gravedigger,” but they are only minor characters here. They are tough and not averse to using their power to get what they want. They are violent when there is no need to be and are no more to be trusted than their black counterparts.

Harlem and its residents are the real star here. We see the poverty, darkness, desperation, and ugliness, and the toll it takes on the people. Whatever happens to Jackson, Goldy and the gang, everyone in Harlem will be getting up tomorrow and trying to get by and stay alive. Just like the day before and the day after.

“Colored people passed along the dark sidewalks, slinking cautiously past the dark, dangerous doorways, heads bowed, every mother’s child of them looking as though they had trouble. Colored folks and trouble, Jackson thought, like two mules hitched to the same wagon.”

Rage in Harlem is a quick read, brutal and funny and sad.

I should add that I listened to the audio version read by Samuel L. Jackson. I’m sure it’s no surprise, but he did a great job with the narration.

About Chester Himes

Chester Bomar Himes (July 29, 1909 – November 12, 1984) was an African American writer. He began writing in the early 1930s while serving a prison sentence for armed robbery. From there, he produced short stories for periodicals such as Esquire and Abbott’s Monthly. When released, he focussed on semi-autobiographical protest novels.

In 1953, Himes emigrated to France, where he was approached by Marcel Duhamel of Gallimard to write a detective series for Série Noire, which had published works from the likes of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Jim Thompson. Himes would be the first black author included in the series. The resulting Harlem Cycle gained him celebrity when he won France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for La Reine des Pommes (now known in English as A Rage in Harlem) in 1958. Three of these novels have been adapted into movies: Cotton Comes to Harlem, directed by Ossie Davis in 1970; Come Back, Charleston Blue (based on The Heat’s On) in 1972; and A Rage in Harlem, starring Gregory Hines and Danny Glover in 1991.

In 1968, Himes moved to Spain where he made his home until his death.

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