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A Rage in Harlem (Harlem Cycle #1)

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,806 Ratings  ·  195 Reviews
A Rage inHarlem is aripping introduction to Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, patrolling New York City’s roughest streets in Chester Himes’s groundbreaking Harlem Detectives series.

For love of fine, wily Imabelle, hapless Jackson surrenders his life savings to a con man who knows the secret of turning ten-dollar bills into hundreds—and then he steals from his boss,
ebook, 160 pages
Published July 20th 2011 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 1957)
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Bill  Kerwin
May 02, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Speaking of surprises me that Himes wasn't consumed with rage against America even sooner. Not as a little boy in Arkansas, when he watched his injured older brother refused admittance to an all-white hospital. Not in Cleveland, when he fell down an elevator shaft and was refused by a white hospital too. Not in Columbus, when—in spite of his high I.Q.—he was expelled from Ohio State for one stupid, harmless prank. Not even when, at the age of nineteen, the police suspended him in chain
Jeffrey Keeten
May 04, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeffrey by: Tfitoby
Shelves: hardboiled
”Looking eastward from the towers of Riverside Church, perched among the university buildings on the high banks of the Hudson River, in a valley far below, waves of gray rooftops distort the perspective like the surface of a sea. Below the surface, in the murky waters of fetid tenements, a city of black people who are convulsed in desperate living, like the voracious churning of millions of hungry cannibal fish. Blind mouths eating their own guts. Stick in a hand and draw back a nub.
That is Harl
Mar 18, 2012 Kemper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-mystery, scams, 2012
I’ve been wanting to read Chester Himes for a while so when I saw this available as an audio book and that Samuel L. Jackson narrated it, I downloaded it so fast that smoke was coming out of my laptop.

Set in Harlem in the 1950s, it features a hard-working church-going man Jackson whose girlfriend Imabelle has hooked him up with shady characters who can ‘raise’ money by taking ten dollar bills and turning them into hundreds. Jackson gathers all the cash he can for the conversion, but when a cop s
A Rage in Harlem

Chester Himes

Major Characters:

Jackson - patsy
Imabelle – Jackson’s woman
Hank - Crook
Jodie -Crook
Billy - Crook
Goldy – Jackson’s brother (Sister Gabriel)
H. Exodus Clay – Funeral Director (Jackson’s boss)
Coffin Ed Johnson - Detective
Grave Digger Jones – Detective

Himes did a great job in describing Harlem and the characters in the book. For example, Jackson is described as “a short, black, fat man with purple-red gums and pearly white teeth…” Imabelle is “a cushioned-lipped, hot-bodi
Preface: It's taking me a couple of weeks since I finished A Rage in Harlem to decide the tone to take in writing my review. To frame it in a way that calmly, invitingly, properly, in a scholarly fashion, metaphorically, smacks every reader upside the head and, once I've gotten his/her attention, communicate persuasively that this is one of the best, most overlooked, most mis-read American novels. Ever. And it's a masterpiece. And you need to read it. So much for calm, persuasive invitation.

I a
Richard Vialet
This was the first book I read by Chester Himes and I loved it! It was exciting, well-written, darkly comic, and unexpectedly absurd while still being noir to its core. Because of his love for his sexy lady-friend: the loose, conniving, high-yellow Imabelle ( “She smelled of burnt hair-grease, hot-bodied woman, and dime-store perfume.” ), simple and square working man Jackson loses all of his money to some con men, setting off a chain reaction that leads to a funeral home robbery, acid throwing, ...more
Dec 25, 2015 Algernon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015

Looking eastward from the towers of Riverside Church, perched among the university buildings on the high banks of the Hudson River, in a valley far bellow, waves of gray rooftops distort the perspective like the surface of the sea. Below the surface, in the murky waters of fetid tenements, a city of black people who are convulsed in desperate living, like the voracious churning of millions of hungry cannibal fish. Blind mouths eating their own guts. Stick in a hand and draw back a nub.
Sep 26, 2012 Tfitoby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-as-night
Read on the plane from Budapest to London

After finishing both of my books for this trip to Budapest on the flight out thanks to terrible service from Easyjet it became imperitive that I find the English language bookshop. A room with two bookcases it was actually the best collection of secondhand fiction I've ever found. The kind of place that speaks of broken promises and facing up to the stark realism of what a holidaying person is prepared to actually read. Row upon row of highbrow literature
Nancy Oakes
A Rage in Harlem is a novel that should NOT be read just for plot. Let's face it -- the plot in this story is kind of a comical farce that combines humor with violence, a scam that backfires and leads to all sorts of mayhem (complete with requisite crazy chase scene throughout Harlem), a naive central character named Jackson and his brother who tries to protect him from some very bad people who are completely out of his league. Sadly, I'm discovering that few people who read this book care about ...more
Nov 02, 2013 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Written two years ago:

By this passage, I knew that I was holding the good stuff:

"There was a billiard table in the center of the room, and a rack holding billiard balls and cue sticks on one wall. The shooters were jammed about the table beneath a glare of light from a green-shaded lamp. The stick man stood on one side of the table, handling dice and bets. Across from him sat the rack man on a high stool, changing greenbacks into silver dollars and banking the cuts. He cut a quarter on all bets
Jul 30, 2011 Marvin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
This is the first book of Chester B. Himes' Harlem cycle and I will soon be scavenging the used book stores to find the rest. Himes is often called the Raymond Chandler of Harlem but I think he is more like a godfather to the gritty crime noir now populated by Joe R. Lansdale, Charlie Huston and others. Himes' writing can be funny but he often comes off a bit cynical and mean. There are no "good" characters except for the sweet and dumb Jackson. Yet, this was the Harlem of the 50s that the autho ...more
May 27, 2009 Johnny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fast, funny and always one step from being completely out of control. Anyone that enjoys the current spate of "high-octane" thrillers should take a look at one of the masters of the crime genre.

The writing is both terse and descriptive. No fat, only meat. Himes succeeds in accomplishing one of the most difficult feats for any artist or writer: He makes it look easy.

A real pleasure. I'm going to run out and get all the "Grave Digger" Jones/"Coffin Ed" Johnson books. I didn't know what I had been
I’ll chalk up this one as pure escapism, as it explores the seediness of Harlem as the protagonist, luckless Jackson, and his no-good brother try to track down Jackson’s money in 1950s Harlem after Jackson is scammed by his woman, Imabelle.

The biggest problem I had with A Rage in Harlem is that it is not very character driven, but rather plot and action driven, and this ruined many other aspects of the book. The characters are flimsily developed and are easily forgettable, often coming across a
Mar 06, 2015 Still rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Raymond Chandler enthusiasts
Recommended to Still by: Goodreads Friends

Just finished reading it.
I'm too awed to write more right now.
If you haven't read it, read it.


A must-read for Chandler enthusiasts.

In certain passages this novel played towards a kind of stereotypical depiction of black people as portrayed in B-movies by beloved character actors but there was an undeniable poignancy to it all ...and Himes' prose reads like poetry in places.

Chester Himes' descriptions of 1950s Harlem rings in perfect rhyme with Chandler's 1940s Los Angeles.
Same coin
Mar 08, 2015 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Raymond Chandler, Noir, Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction
Shelves: noir, serie-noir
A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

This was my first experience of Chester Himes. So what better place to start than the first book in the 'Harlem Cycle'?

What a wild, surreal & at times, grimly hilarious story:

Jackson is the 'hero' of this story. Imabelle, Jackson's voluptuous 'high yella' amore, is BIG TROUBLE.

"Imabelle was Jackson's woman. She was a cushion-lipped, hot-bodied, banana-skin chick with speckled-brown eyes of a teaser & the high-arched, ball-bearing hips of a natural-born a
Paul  Perry
I've been meaning to read Himes' books since hearing Cotton comes to Harlem on the radio some time ago. I'm not sure if the difference is the way that was dramatised or that A Rage in Harlem is an earlier work, but the style took me a little time to get in to. The novel is written with the breathless intensity of a pulp author writing to a deadline and wordcount - which Himes did - a ferociousness of pace further compounded by the fact that the action takes place over no more than a day or two.

Dec 02, 2009 Terence rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Chester Himes fans, hard-crime buffs
Shelves: mysteries-noir
Chester Himes is not a hack writer, which makes this novel (as well as his other hard-crime books, including the recently read Cotton Comes to Harlem) better than average.

Beyond my endorsement, the only other comment I'd make is that I watched the Forest Whitaker/Gregory Hines adaptation of this novel a few months ago. It follows the book quite closely except the book is "meaner." With the exception of the Jackson character, who's a sweet-natured, trusting nebbish in both, the movie goes out of
Originally published as For Love of Imabelle, Chester Himes's A Rage in Harlem is a fantastic, Rabelaisian crime novel, and the best book I've read so far in 2008. The plot is the very definition of controlled chaos, with at least one either hilarious or shocking event occurring on each page. The characters all verge on caricatures, and the action is wildly over-the-top, but Himes manages to ground everything just enough so that it never feels too unrealistic.
Jul 20, 2014 RandomAnthony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I never heard of Chester Himes until my friend Kirk, in a discussion of Missouri, mentioned Mr. Himes was from J. City. I looked up the author, snagged A Rage in Harlem, and whoo, thanks, Kirk, and thanks, J. City.

The novel purports to focus on two detectives (Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones) but, really, although they're cool, they’re not in the book all that much. Jackson, an overweight funeral home employee, and his junky brother Goldy, who impersonates a nun for money (!!!), take th
David Haws
May 17, 2016 David Haws rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Himes can craft an image: “Snow was falling on the ice-locked piles of garbage stretching like levees along the gutters as far as the eye could see,” but the satire sometimes becomes too broad to support the cutting realism, which (IMHO) is his strength. Jackson’s copping to “The Blow” seems like Amos ‘n’ Andy, which would run for three more years after the Himes novella was first published. Coffin Ed and Grave Digger’s wanton discharge of their firearms (along a cue at the Savoy, or into the pr ...more
Apr 13, 2016 Deepti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fabulous, dark, funny, unexpected roller coaster ride! You never know what's gonna happen one page to the next!
Nov 04, 2009 MentorPublicLibrary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, sarah-o
A Rage in Harlem is the first book in Chester Hime's Coffin Ed Johnson & Grave Digger Jones series. Surprisingly, the 2 detectives are minor characters, but their "stage presence," so to speak, is immediate and impressionable. They are the only black detectives working 1960's Harlem and their reputations precede them wherever they go. Even the toughest hoodlums & con men shrink and shiver in their midst.

This book focuses on simple, honest, hard-working man, Jackson, who is conned out of
Gabriel C.
Dec 27, 2012 Gabriel C. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: julie, 2012
I'm not sure what this book is supposed to do. The friend who recommended it to me suggested that Himes was trying to do for Harlem what Chandler had done for LA, with a particular emphasis on showing some slice of the real underbelly of black life. I don't know if that's true. It seems ludicrous to suppose that this depiction is or is intended to be an accurate naturalistic depiction; instead it's some sort of dramatization. So we have to judge it by literary standards. There, it doesn't hold u ...more
VaLinda Miller
Apr 12, 2012 VaLinda Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For the love of Imabelle, Jackson loses his life savings to a con man, steals from his boss, and loses the stolen money at the crap table. A true classic black murder mystery by the best.

Hines knew crime from the inside. He spent seven years in prison for armed robbery and when in jail that he started to write. Most of his novels are crime/comedy with very offbeat elements and larger than life characters, or maybe life itself was actually larger in his world than in ours. Who knows, I just like
Oct 26, 2012 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones are two of the most memorable detectives in the pulp realm. It would be wrong to call this a police procedural, though. Procedure is a matter of formality, the following of steps in a fixed manner. The only thing fixed about these two detectives is the gunsights on their nickel-plated pistols and the way one shouts out "count off" when the other one bellows "line up!"

"Rage in Harlem" is not nearly as marvelous as "Cotton Comes to Harlem," but that doesn't keep it
Fenia Vazaka
Αν και δεν με συγκλόνισε, οφείλω να παραδεχτώ ότι αναπαριστά ωραία την ατμόσφαιρα του Χάρλεμ - από περιγραφές, αλλά κυρίως από την χρήση της γλώσσας.
Ο ρόλος των 2 ντετέκτιβ είναι πολύ περιορισμένος και ο κεντρικός πρωταγωνιστής είναι τελικά ο άτυχος Τζάκσον.
Apr 14, 2015 Downward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book in the Harlem Cycle, and the first to feature Coffin Ed and Gravedigger, two Harlem detectives that rely on brutal tactics to enforce the rules in what Himes presents as being basically the wild west that is Harlem in the 50s. It features Himes' characteristic style: labyrinthine plotting that hinges on moral grey areas, while indulging in simultaneous street level documentary and looney tunes violence. There's an environmental aspect of this book that allows Harlem itself ...more
Sarah Zama
A tough story? Sure. Packed with callous characters acting brutally most of the time? Certainly. Still, I never found the story to be really disturbing, maybe because there's such a perfect balance between the brutality of the life in the black ghetto and the dark humour people still live with, together with a sort of strong positivity coming from Jackson, the naïve main character. It's a perfect balance, hard to achieve.

The plot may be a bit unlikely, as some reviewers pointed out, but Jackson'
Himes is something of a lost gem, but the visceral strength of his work shines through. He's exploring social underbellies in the vein of Hammett or Chandler, but putting his own unique perspective on the tone and circumstances. A series that I'm looking forward to for much enjoyment to come.
Dec 07, 2014 Lynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exciting, funny, crude and odd. I'd have enjoyed it more with a stronger focus on Grave Digger and Coffin Ed instead of the hopeless Jackson.....maybe next book.
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Chester Bomar Himes began writing in the early 1930s while serving a prison sentence for armed robbery. From there, he produced short stories for periodicals such as Esquire and Abbott's Monthly. When released, he focussed on semi-autobiographical protest novels.

In 1953, Himes emigrated to France, where he was approached by Marcel Duhamel of Gallimard to write a detective series for Série Noire,
More about Chester Himes...

Other Books in the Series

Harlem Cycle (9 books)
  • The Real Cool Killers (Harlem Cycle, #2)
  • The Crazy Kill (Harlem Cycle, #3)
  • The Big Gold Dream (Harlem Cycle, #4)
  • All Shot Up (Harlem Cycle, #5)
  • The Heat's On (Harlem Cycle, #6)
  • Cotton Comes to Harlem (Harlem Cycle, #7)
  • Blind Man with a Pistol (Harlem Cycle, #8)
  • Plan B (Harlem Cycle, #9)

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“She held him at arms’ length, looked at the pipe still gripped inn his hand, then looked at his face and read him like a book. She ran the tip of her red tongue slowly across her full cushiony, sensuous lips, making them wet-red and looked him straight in the eyes with her own glassy, speckled bedroom eyes.

The man drowned.

When he came up, he stared back, passion cocked, his whole black being on a live-wire edge. Ready! Solid ready to cut throats, crack skulls, dodge police, steal hearses, drink muddy water, live in a hollow log, and take any rape-fiend chance to be once more in the arms of his high-yellow heart.”
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