ALL SHOT UP
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.