Sunday, April 18, 2010

Strange reviews of the recent past

Since the old Fire & Sword website is defunct (well not defunct, just redirecting to the Fire & Sword blog), I've decied to revive a few reviews from there, because they were so good. OK, because I'm to lazy to write new reviews. In perfect candor, I always intended it to be an archive of reviews and commentary on books that I liked. I still like 'em, so why no post them here. Without further ado, here's my review of All shot Up by Chester Himes.

By Chester Himes

So you think Shaft was the baddest cat in Harlem? Well long before Richard Roundtree ever donned a black vinyl driving coat, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson were keeping it cool when things got hot.

Chester Himes was an ex-con who took to writing. He penned some well-regarded but very uncomfortable (for honkies) novels about crime and race. Eventually he moved to France in 1953 (except perhaps for Muslims, it seemed relatively less racist than America) and started writing for the local market for romans noir . The French didn’t know that all detectives were white guys who spoke entirely in snappy comebacks so they went for it.

Himes mixed deadpan absurdity with deadpan brutality. All Shot Up opens with a tire thief watching a solid-gold Cadillac driven by a guy in a coonskin cap run over an old lady. She gets up and is promptly sent flying by a coal-black sedan with three cops in it. The thief drops the tire and it keeps on rolling with the novel.

Himes follows up on that opening. The crime here is a pretty complex one, but that’s perhaps of less importance than Grave Digger and Coffin Ed’s rather ruthless methods of getting to the bottom of things.

This is excellent Harlem hard-boiled fiction, not a classical detective story or a police procedural, but an urban adventure tale. If you like tough-guy tales, you should have some of Chester Himes work in your library.

-Dave Hardy


Steven R. Harbin aka coachhollywood67 said...

Thanks for the great review Dave, I haven't read "All Shot Up" but I have read some of Himes' other works (my favorite so far is "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and I'll search this one out. Himes is one of my favorite hard boiled/noir authors.

Dave Hardy said...

Thanks. This was the first Himes' novel I read. I've gotten to be a fan since.