With the creation of his big city black detectives, Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, Chester Himes achieved something singular and grand. Hard boiled genre fiction was nothing new in the 1950’s, but populating a landscape with sharply detailed black characters was new and still reads fresh today half a century later. The detectives work for a police department mostly at odds with the community they serve and serve a community distrustful of the department that they work for. Often this puts them in a vice, but also it frees them to make up their own rules. Adhering to a clear vision of right and wrong, like most hard boiled detectives, their means can swerve wildly from what would seem acceptable. Their creativity in the face of constant adversity propels the novel. The richly created world of Pimps, Madams, hustlers, grifters and work-a-day going to church every Sunday folk gives the novel a pulse and lively step. Himes achieved his stated goal of doing for Harlem what Raymond Chandler did for Los Angeles. I almost felt like I knew where all the alleys were in Harlem by the end of the book. The heist at the center of the novel is a solid mystery that snakes through every corner of Harlem and squeezes out a fresh look at race relations on several social levels. The voices and language of COTTON COMES TO HARLEM still rings in my ears—always colorful but never overdone.