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) m..Show More »ade 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.
How to describe this nutty plot? During a wake in the small hours of the morning, a preacher falls out the window from the third floor apartment and m..Show More »iraculously falls into a basket filled with bread sitting on the sidewalk, a shipment bound for the convenience store it sits in front of. The unharmed preacher makes his way back up to the apartment where the drunken guests are surprised to see him appear at the front door and refuse to believe his story. He invites them to see the bread basket for themselves, but when they all crowd at the window, they find another man laying in the bread, stabbed dead. A police investigation follows, during which all the attendants of the wake are questioned in turn. Of course, all the guests are connected to one another in some way, and most of them have secrets to hide which are revealed in due course, but which one killed Val? Detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are out to find out.
Another fun romp into the 60s Harlem of Chester Himes, where gambling, booze, women, and strange characters are mingled in unique ways. There's plenty of violence in this hardboiled series, but plenty of humour too. I didn't expect this book to be as good as the first one, A Rage in Harlem, especially as read by Samuel L. Jackson, but Dion Graham is a great narrator and the story and narration held their own and definitely made me want to discover the next instalment of the Harlem Cycle.
A big white man is murdered in cold blood in the streets of Harlem in front of countless bystanders. But who is the killer? The drunken crazed man who..Show More »'s chased him from a bar, or a member the Real Cool Muslims, a gang of kids dressed up as arab sheikhs? Why was he killed? Out of anger, just for kicks, or did he have it coming? Detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed are on hand to apprehend the culprits, but one of the kids is killed when Grave Digger thinks one of the Real Cool Muslims is throwing acid into his already burned face, a prank gone very wrong: it was only perfume. Then his young daughter turns out to be embroiled in this mess, ensuring that the Harlem detective duo will do what needs to be done to save her and resolve what turns out to be a truly sordid case. This third instalment of the Harlem Cycle was entertaining, but I felt, not as strong as the two previous books in the series. However, I know that there are more great reads further ahead, so I'll carry on and go wherever Chester Himes takes me; the journey is sure to be filled with unique individuals and plenty of surprises.
"Faith Is Like a Gold Dream" in Hard Boiled Harlem
In the comically grotesque opening to Chester Himes' The Big Gold Dream (1960), Alberta Wright, a buxom, simple-minded, stubborn "kitchen slave" for w..Show More »hite folks, has just got religion. With her lay-about lover Sugar Stonewall, she attends a Harlem revival meeting presided over by Sweet Prophet Brown (who possesses "the nimble wits of a confidence man and the nerve of a bank robber"). There she is baptized by the fire hoses of Sweet Prophet's deacons and testifies about her wonderful dream in which three apple pies burst open to fill the kitchen with 100 dollar bills. When Sugar tells her to get a bottle of drinking water blessed by Sweet Prophet and she drinks the liquid, she collapses, to all appearances dead. Sugar takes off running on "his flat feet like beef filets over the streets as if they were paved with broken glass." Has he poisoned her? Or are they working some scam? Or has God put her in a trance?
From that grabbing opening, Himes introduces a sordid panoply of Harlem denizens, among them, a deaf and dumb ex-fighter pimp, a pair of weary detectives, assorted stool pigeons, a gullible janitor, a ruthless racketeer, and his blind addict lover, who get involved in a quest for an elusive fortune. But how much money is there? Where did it come from? Who has murdered two men for it? And where is the money now?
Himes writes vivid descriptions ("his acid-scarred face, the memento of an acid-throwing rumpus one night in a shanty on the Harlem River further uptown, looked like the mask of an African witch doctor"), cool lines ("People will recrucify Jesus Christ for thirty-six grand"), and memorable set pieces (as in the opening revival meeting).
Reader Dion Graham brings Himes' characters to life in all their varied, self-serving, scheming, and greedy glory, and he reads the base narration of the novel with a catchy staccato hardboiled delivery.
At the same time that Himes is writing a page turning and darkly humorous mystery, he's vividly depicting circa 1950s Harlem and the black experience there. People are people, subject to all the human weaknesses (greed, prevarication, gullibility, violence, etc.), but black people in that era in that place were especially vulnerable to poverty and lack of legal economic opportunities and fulfilling jobs: "Born like a fool, and worked like a mule," as Sweet Prophet sums up Alberta to detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed.
If you like the Easy Rawlins stories of Walter Mosely (like Devil in a Blue Dress) and are interested in mid-20th century Harlem and enjoy unpredictable mysteries with plenty of black humor, flawed humanity, and ineffective police, you should give The Big Gold Dream a listen.
First off, there could not be a better narrator for these Chester Himes books. Dion Graham brings them to life more than if you were reading the book ..Show More »yourself. This was my very first introduction to Himes, and I am glad I started here although someone who likes a traditional story might dislike this one. This book is very wild and disjointed. Many of the chapters do not fit with each other to make a coherent picture. I've laughed out loud while reading this book, but also its sad in many ways. I was reading this book simultaneously while reading a book about soldiers in WWII. So, I had this book which is about all the hustlers and dregs of society and all of America's racism boiling over, then the other book about what heroes in this country look and act like. You should not read this book if you want to feel good about the country. If you want to see seething black rage towards whites, rampant prostitution, and violence... then this is good. With that said, I think one could miss the theme of this book. It's overall message. Without top notch writing and narration, it would have been worthless trash.