Audie Award Nominee, Fiction, 2013
Academy Award nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Star Wars films), fresh off the success of his uproarious, Audie-nominated performance of the mock children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep, delivers a swaggering, darkly-humored rendering of Chester Himes’ classic first novel.
Himes, described by The Sunday Times as “the greatest find in American crime fiction since Raymond Chandler”, was no stranger to the world of crime: in his late teens and early 20s, he served 7 years in the Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery, the confession to which was beaten out of him by the police. He delivers the tale of his hopelessly naïve hero suddenly finding himself on the run from a hypocritical and far-from-heroic police force with lurid violence and brutal humor. There is no voice better than Mr. Jackson’s to narrate this hardboiled story of love and crime, set in a richly imagined, mid-20th century Harlem.
A Rage in Harlem is part of Audible’s A-List Collection, featuring the world’s most celebrated actors narrating distinguished works of literature that each star had a hand in selecting. For more great books performed by Hollywood’s finest, click here.
©1957 Chester Himes (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Cranky elderly writer/copy editor
An astonishing experience for a suburban white woman, to be transported to Harlem in the 1950s, and Himes (whom I'd heard of, but never read before) made it an unforgettable trip. The story is deliciously convoluted and the characters are perfectly presented, universal figures, yet each utterly one of a kind.
I was a little confused at first, because the lead characters in the series appear more than halfway through the story, and appear as secondary characters. This was Himes's first in the series, so perhaps he didn't realize he would use them again at the time he wrote it.
What set the whole thing sizzling was Samuel L. Jackson's extraordinary, sharp and loving performance, making each character uniquely memorable. I can't say enough about how much his power and enthusiasm got me sucked into the story completely.
You don't have to be a connoisseur of noir thrillers to enjoy this fast-paced tale of love and greed in 1950s Harlem. Even though my only exposure to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler is via Humphrey Bogart, I could immediately see the parallels between those stories and this one, albeit “A Rage in Harlem” features an all-black cast of characters. And they are every bit as strange and memorable as the Fat Man or Joel Cairo or Vivien Rutledge. A woman who might be good or might be bad, crooked policemen and a junkie/stoolie who dresses up as a nun are just a few of the unforgettable characters whose crazed and misguided actions contribute to the action.
And just when you think you are reading a really well-done, though lightweight, tale of the dumbest con men ever, something happens that turns the book on its head. The action gets real and the writing gets even better. I was listening to this as an audiobook and found the following passage so compelling I rewound the track multiple times just so I could transcribe it. I can’t set it up completely without giving away one of the biggest plot points, but suffice it to say that at this point in the action, the whistle of a passing elevated train goes off and the sound cuts through to the bone:
Shaking the entire tenement city
Shaking the sleeping Black people in their lice-ridden beds
Shaking the ancient bones and the aching muscles and the TB’d lungs and the uneasy fetuses of unwedded girls
Shaking the plaster from ceilings, mortar from between the bricks of building walls
Shaking the rats between the walls
Shaking the cockroaches crawling over kitchen sinks and leftover food
Shaking the sleeping flies hibernating in lumps like bees behind the casings of the windows
Shaking the fat blood-filled bed bugs crawling over Black skin
Shaking the fleas, making them hop
Shaking the sleeping dogs in their filthy pallets
Shaking the sleeping cats
Shaking the clogged toilets, loosening the filth
This is a very gifted writer who deserves to be better known. There is just enough detail in the descriptions to set the scenes, lots of lines that made me laugh out loud (a taxi driver whose cab has just been commandeered is described as being so alarmed “even the back of his head looked scared”) and plenty of over-the-top, blackly humorous violence to make Quinton Tarantino happy. All of that given a darkly, hysterically fantastic reading by Samuel L. Jackson on the Audible audiobook version adds up to one helluva good listen.
Samuel L. Jackson brings the characters alive with the many voices he affects for the different characters. My favorite voice was the character of Goldie. The reading really painted the story in my mind as I listened to it.
The story itself is full of crazy action, from start to finish. Some of the action just gets ridiculous in places, although for the time period the story was set in perhaps the action is all appropriate. It is not possible to be more specific without handing out spoilers. Hence only giving the story a 4 stars, since some of the "ridiculous" bordered on "unbeleiveable". Samuel L. Jackson lent an authenticity to the narration, in both voicing and accent, that brought the text and characters to life.
This was a great book. The story was attention-grabbing and enjoyable. Samuel L. Jackson was great. He brought life to the characters and that kept me wanting more.
I started this series on a whim and because I wanted to see if Samuel L. Jackson was a good narrator. Well........he's great! I enjoyed the story line as well. Looking forward to the next book with another one of my favorite narrators, Dion Graham.
Dion, you've got some big shoes to fill!
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
I'd heard of Chester Himes's Harlem Cycle before, but if it hadn't been for this new "A-List" collection and Samuel L. Jackson's narration, it might have been a while yet before I'd gotten around to this series. Taking place in Harlem, the story revolves around a naive man called Jackson who, when we first meet him, gets taken in by a team of fraudsters who convince him they can "raise" denominations of 10 dollars into 100 dollar bills. There's plenty of humour there, which combines well with the otherwise hardboiled world of gangsterism, drugs and violence. Not for the faint of heart, but deeply satisfying if you like your mysteries served up on the tough side.
I loved the way the book made me feel like I was in the story. I felt as if I could interrupt any of the characters to ask them a question. I felt like I was in the car chases as well as needing to duck when Grave Digger starts shooting in the dark. The book has so much energy that I would feel exhausted for Jackson playing all of these emotionally charged characters.
The most memorable moment of the story was when Jackson finds his brother's body and can't let on who he is.
I loved the way he could change from one character to another in the many heated conversations. It made you feel like you were actually listening to three, four or five different people and not just the one voice of Samuel Jackson.
It made me both laugh and cry. Jackson sister as Sister Gabrielle was both funny and sad as the brother cons people for money to support a drug habit. It was emotional when he/she is killed so violently. The book brought the reality of living in a city such as Harlem and how people have to husle to survive.
I don't think I could read this book myself and get half as much out of it as I did listening to the dynamic voices of characters that Samuel Jackson brings to life!! BRAVO!!! Hope to find more book by him in this format.
Samuel L Jackson's performance.
The story is mostly about confidence games, the old con and greed. Quite entertaining.
I love hearing SLJ swear. Made me laugh a few times. Reminds me of Snakes on a Plane.
Jackson brings the characters to life with his narration. Combined with an excellent story, it makes a first rate listen.
Interesting characters and plot line keep the story interesting and hurtling forward.
Chester Himes is an unappreciated master of noir fiction. His writing sings and Samuel L. Jackson gets the tune exactly right. The story is entertaining, characters are exceptionally well drawn and the violence is as brutal as it is unexpected. Give it a try.
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