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The Real Cool Killers

(Harlem Cycle #2)

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,444 ratings  ·  132 reviews
When Harlemites set about each other with knives, it's an everyday kind of happening. But when a white man is shot dead in a Harlem street one steamy evening it means trouble, big trouble.
Plenty of people had motives for killing Galen, a big Greek with too much money and too great a liking for young black girls. But there are complications - like Sonny, high on hash, found
Paperback, 159 pages
Published November 28th 1988 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 1958)
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3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,444 ratings  ·  132 reviews

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Dan Schwent
May 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Ulysses Galen is shot down in the streets of Harlem and Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are on the case. The prime suspect is a member of a gang calling themselves The Real Cool Moslems. After an incident with the Moslems, Coffin Ed is suspended. Good thing, since one of the girls that runs with the Moslems is his teenaged daughter...

It's a crime that Chester Himes isn't more well known than he is. The writing in The Real Cool Killers is gritty and straight to the point. I can see Himes
Jack Tripper
(Updated 3/4/17)
Here's the (nearly as cool as the original) cover of the 1975 Signet mass-market I have, 173 pages.

My first and and still the best of the three Harlem Cycle novels I've read so far, The Real Cool Killers does a great job capturing the atmosphere and attitudes of late-1950s Harlem (or so I imagine), with main characters "Grave Digger" Jones and "Coffin" Ed Johnson as somewhat exaggerated, larger-than-life versions of badass NYC cops. They're great characters, and they -- as well a
If you are intending to read only one of Chester Himes' novels, read A Rage in Harlem. But once you've read that, read this. Candidly, the first 75% of The Real Cool Killers is routine, not special, nothing to mention to a friend. Then -abruptly -it becomes the 5-star read you'd been anticipating. Trenchant social commentary. Abominable, ongoing abuse in which many members of the community are complicit. The intense protectiveness of one cop by other cops who know something bad is going down wit ...more
This is the 2nd book in Chester Himes's Harlem Cycle and it's just as absurd and insane as his previous masterpiece in the series, A Rage in Harlem, which I loved. The plot starts almost immediately and moves at a breakneck pace. Just like in A Rage In Harlem, the story is so crazy, and the writing so sharp, that it's hard to stop reading. Something that sets Chester Himes apart from so many others is his ability to inject a mix of witty comedy and social commentary into his work, as well as ast ...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this Crime Noir better than usual, since I have discovered that Crime Noir is not my favorite genre.

A white man is at a bar in Harlem looking around. Why is he there? This is Harlem in the 1950s and he is the only white man in the bar. A black man approaches him with a switch blade saying that he knows why the man is there and he's not going to "diddle his little gals". He slashes at the man with his knife.

The bartender prevents the man from injuring the white man by seriously injuring
Jun 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like your hard boiled with a healthy dose of historical racism, this is the novel for you. Hardly long enough to be called a novel and tightly plotted. Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are two black NYC police detectives. Harlem is their beat. When a white pedophile sadistic pervert is "murdered" in Harlem all hell breaks loose. Jones and Johnson have got to find the killer even while the black body count goes unmourned. There doesn't seem to be any murder weapon however and too m ...more
Colin Mitchell
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime
The second in Chester Himes Harlem Cycle has the duo of black cops, Coffin Ed and Gravedigger, are up to their eyes in killings in Harlem. A big white Greek is chased from a bar and shot while in the bar the barman is taking an axe to a man with a knife.

Lots of shooting, violence of all kinds and police corruption make this a good fast read for those that enjoy these tales. By a black author but lots of racist comments that are unlikely to pass an editor today.

Almost on a par with the 87th Prec
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was great, and crazy ahead of its time considering it was written in the late 50s.
Jul 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Chester Himes drops his readers right into the mix, Harlem circa 1958. Some books boast colorful characters, these books are unrivaled in characters that know how to survive in one of the toughest environments ever created. As he tells a compelling story, Himes gets across the reality that Harlem of this time was a construct of white America, a deliberate ghetto every bit as much as the historic European ghettos built to contain the Jews.

The Real Cool Killers gets into the world of juveniles an
Robin Friedman
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
A Harlem Novel In Noir

From its beginnings in detective magazines and pulp fiction, American noir developed into literature of varied people and places. Chester Himes (1909 --1984) was one of the first African Americans to write noir. Imprisoned as a young man,Himes spent much of his life in France where he created a series involving two African American detectives, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, with a beat in Harlem. Some of the novels in the series were first published in French as
This gang of "Real Cool Moslem" toughs (young black men in disguises) probably won't appear in any 21st century literature. "Literature," you ask?" You're darn dootin' right: this is a beauty of brutality and mayhem from 1956. And it's a one-sit read.
BOOK 38: Mid-20th Century American Crime Readathon
HOOK=3 stars: A standard knife barfight opens the story.
PACE=5: Blistering. Not a word wasted.
PLOT=4: Pimps rent out their goods for S/M sessions. It's been done, certainly, but seldom this viciou
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another good one from Chester Himes. Everything I said in my review of "A Rage In Harlem" holds true for this one. When reading books from a series there's little point to writing the same review over and over - unless something outstanding occurs. That holds especially true for me because I try not to reveal any plot details for concern of in some way dropping a spoiler. I've even read blurbs that I've thought reveal too much. Suffice it to say Himes is a fine writer and I'll be reading more of ...more
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the second novel in the The Harlem Cycle series and it was just as good to read as the first time...gritty and raw and fantastic, and at the end it left me in silent thought. The humor in these books at times is so twisted I almost felt mocked.

This book is full of violence, but not just in the actual events of the book but also in its portrayal of life in Harlem, racial tension, apathy, rage and a melange of things that is bubbling just beneath the surface waiting to explode. There are
May 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: tex avery - bugs bunny fans
Recommended to Andy by: Coffin Ed & Grave Digger Jones
Shelves: hardboiled-dicks
Probably the closest thing to a crime book written by Tex Avery - the eye popping, wolf howling mess explodes in your face like a cheap joke shop cigar.
It's 1950s Harlem and two afroid Frankenstein detectives try to solve why a white man died from a prop pistol gunshot. Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones scare even the toughest Dutch-Irish Eisenhower flatfoot cops and no stone is unturned.
Chester Himes has written the most insane crime novel ever written with his matinee idol looks and you shoul
Carla Remy
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this because it's in the Library of the Americas
Crime Novels of the 50s. And I'd read the other four books in that collection. So I bought this. I adore their Crime Novels of the 30s and 40s so much. Then I find out that this is the middle book of a trilogy. What the hell? Anyway it was super fast, which was cool. Different, fun, fly by speed.
This was Chester Himes's second novel to feature his two tougher-than-leather Harlem police detectives, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. Actually, "tougher than leather" doesn't quite do this duo justice. Coffin Ed and Grave Digger are tougher than a leather bag full of nails, frozen in a block of ice, wrapped in another leather bag, and studded full of nails. If that sounds over-the-top, well, Himes meant these characters to be just that. His Harlem detective novels were written while ...more
Sarah Zama
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
The opening of the novel is one of the most puzzling and challenging I've ever read. Things happen and they seem absurd. People shout at each other, wound each other terribly, a man is shot to death, and there seems to be no reason for this.
But as the novel unfolds, reasons start to surface. By the end, we know there was nothing absurd in the opening scene, but everything happened for a reason. Reasons tightly entwined with human passions and twists.
For me, this is the most fascinating aspect of
Alexander Veee
"Cut that Aunt Jemima routine and get up off your ass," he said thickly, "or I'll take my pistol and break off your teeth."

The two white men stared at him as though at a dangerous animal escaped from the zoo.

"You mean that?" the woman said.
"I mean it, he said.

She scrunched out of the stool and said, "Gimme my coat, Jule."

The chocolate dandy took a coat from the top of the jukebox behind them.

"That's putting it on rather thick," the blond white man protested in a reasonable voice.

"I'm just a cop,
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Definitely my favorite novel so far that I've read for my Detective Fiction class. First off, I really enjoyed just the mechanics of it--the way it was written, with character dialogue, etc.; the dual narrative; all the twists Himes puts on the genre and how he's often saying two things at once; the characterization (especially how Himes creates an interesting dichotomy by using police as the protagonists in a novel that is also critiquing police).

It's also still incredibly relevant, dealing wi
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it
I didn't care for this. The revealing cityscapes and the Pynchonian lists of objects were the sole appeal. The violence was feral and the characters cold and opaque. The Real Cool Killers is more procedural than noir. The motivations are cynical. One could surmise that the procedural template is upended. I just wanted more. There was likely more context in A Rage in Harlem, but I didn't have access to that one.
Dec 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Nice twist at the end.
Barry Hammond
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
As usual, Chester Himes delivers a gritty, bare-knuckle, double-barrel blast from the streets of 1959 Harlem that takes no prisoners and doesn't leave much standing. Full of atmosphere, character and period slang it's a world only Himes could create. A white man is dead and everyone (including his black detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones) are out to get to the bottom of it before the night is done. Vicious and fast-paced as a speeding squad car. - BH.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Himes was definitely a great writer
Wilde Sky
The police investigate a murder.

I found the dialogue, writing style and characters a bit confusing.

Reading time around three hours.
Srinivas Veeraraghavan
Dec 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read a lot of books & they encompass various genres except for the soppy,batty romances that the likes of Mills & Boons churn out. So it may be prudent to say that I have a pretty wide perspective although I do have pretty marked tastes.

In my all time of reading and enjoying books, James Hadley Chase stood out & the reasons are manifold. I have liked & admired the work of quite a few Authors but after the Great Man, there has been only one who has had that kind of a galvanic ef
Tom Stamper
Nov 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These mid-century crime novels are a favorite genre of mine, but I didn't know much about Chester Himes before picking this one up. The mystery itself is interesting but secondary in importance to the setting of Harlem and the many characters that live there. Himes has a great style and he uses dialect just enough to give us a sense of setting.

Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Johnson have names that sound like a couple of cops that don't mind putting the occasional criminal under the grass -- and th
Matthew Budman
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
Hard to get beyond the fever-dream tone, in which every character, major or minor, speaks and behaves as though in the middle of a three-day cocaine jag, wild-eyed, brandishing knives and firing pistols. Chandler suggests seedy goings-on are happening behind innocuous storefronts and suburban hedges; Himes puts them in the middle of 125th Street. The effect is distancing rather than engaging: No one seems to be acting entirely rationally, and the milieu is almost unrecognizable, so we have very ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
A little more claustrophobic than "A Rage in Harlem", but just as fun. In his crime books, Himes proves to be the master of controlled chaos. In both books, Himes manages to start multiple storylines and just when you think there are too many threads to make it all come together, he does just that.

Great dialogue, characters, and sense of place. The terse writing keeps the momentum moving at a breakneck pace.

Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson remain some of the best characters in crime ficti
Maria Altiki
Oct 30, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
3,5 βασικά! Πολύ πιο καλό απο το "Χαμός στο Χάρλεμ" και "Μπαμπάκι στο Χάρλεμ" που έχω διαβάσει. Με περισσότερη δράση κ πλοκή, μαχαιρώματα, πιστολίδια, η διαμάχη κ το μίσος των μαύρων για τους λευκούς, η εκμετάλλευση των λευκών στους μαύρους. Με ξένισε λίγο που εδώ τον Μακάβριο Εντ, τον μεταφράζει ως ο Φερετράκιας. Κατά τα άλλα διαβάζεται εύκολα, ευχάριστα και διασκεδάζεις ακόμα μια φορά με τις περιπέτειες των δύο αστυνομικών αλλά κ με την αφέλεια μερικών μαυρούληδων που περιγράφει.
Aug 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any and All
If I could make films, I might start with this joint. It is just so brilliant and so radical on so many different levels.
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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,

Other books in the series

Harlem Cycle (9 books)
  • A Rage in Harlem (Harlem Cycle, #1)
  • 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)