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Chester Himes Biography

(1909–84), La Reine des pommes, For Love of Imabelle, A Rage in Harlem

detectives black french wrote

African-American crime writer, born in Jefferson City, Missouri, educated at Ohio State University. Convicted of armed robbery in 1926, he served seven years in Ohio State Penitentiary. In 1953 he moved to Europe and, on the suggestion of a French publisher, wrote a detective story set in Harlem. La Reine des pommes (1958; published in the USA as For Love of Imabelle, 1959; also as A Rage in Harlem) won the Grand Prix Policier in that year, and was followed by nine more ‘Harlem domestic detective stories’, as Himes termed them. All but one appeared originally in French, and all except two have as heroes the two black police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones. Written with great verve and panache, they are both exceedingly violent and exhilaratingly comic, full of grotesque characters and surreal incidents. As the series progresses, the novels, and the detectives themselves, become ever more bitter and cynical about the future of black urban life in America; in the last novel—which Himes did not write—the detectives were to have been killed trying to prevent a black revolution. Himes also wrote novels, including If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945), and two volumes of autobiography: The Quality of Hurt (1972) and My Life of Absurdity (1976).

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