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Himes, Chester

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Ha-Ke)

(US, 1909–84)

Chester Himes was the first important African-American mystery novelist, and his books, in particular those forming the Harlem series, featuring ‘Coffin’ Ed Johnson and ‘Grave Digger’ Jones, occupy a singular place in the history of crime writing. The series begins with A Rage in Harlem (1957), about the violent consequences of a con job gone bad, and contains, among others, Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965) and Blind Man with a Pistol (1969), which ends with a full-blown race riot. First published in French, these detective novels dig deep into the heart of race relations and violence in America and evoke a strong sense of protest against the established social order, and against the disfranchisement of the black community. Violence and dark humour pepper Himes's pages to strong effect and he is not afraid to portray black villains as well as white. Himes, who spent some time in prison for armed robbery in his youth, also wrote many social novels in addition to mysteries, and volumes of memoirs about his own criminal identity.

Walter Mosley, George V. Higgins  MJ

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