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The Real Cool Killers

(Harlem Cycle #2)

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,736 ratings  ·  167 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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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  1,736 ratings  ·  167 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
I think this will be a pass.

Written in 1958, there's much here that will feel a lot like sad, horrible, violent 2020. Some blurbs call it 'action-filled' and 'over-the-top,' but I'd call it scathing social commentary. Dress it up and make it 'funny,' but wow, there's desperation, heartbreak, addiction, violence, cycles, inequity, and enough 'ism to destroy a character. Which is, indeed, the point. How can you even blame Coffin Ed for (view spoiler)
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
Jack Tripper
(Updated 3/4/17)
Here's the (nearly as cool as the original Avon) 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 w
Bill Kerwin

This second novel by the first great African-American writer of mystery stories is a classic, deserving a place in the pantheon, right up there with The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Big Chill.

The story is set in Harlem in the ‘50s, and begins with the shooting of a white man and the arrest of a member of a small local gang called “The Real Cool Moslems.” At first the case seems open-and-shut, for the chase and shooting is witnessed by a score of people on a busy Harlem street. But ther
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
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
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
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
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
Aug 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Not quite as funny or wonderfully weird as the first volume, but still a solid crime noir.
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.
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
Jim Dooley
May 10, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very seriously doubt that THE REAL COOL KILLERS is a book that would be written today. Even maverick filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, might find it to be too stringent for “optioning.” It’s not that it is simply “politically incorrect.” It would be the recipient of enraged criticism, even though it is set in era far removed from protest marches against racial injustice.

I had first heard of the writer, Chester Himes, in a Great Courses Plus series of lectures about the history of the mystery genr
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
Tom Mooney
Oct 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely my favourite of Himes's Harlem cycle, of the ones I've read so far (I have read them in totally random order as I've found them).

It starts with a knife fight, the swing of an axe and a chase down a packed Harlem street, and proceeds through a madcap manhunt to it's violent conclusion.

The writing is so hot in The Real Cool Killers, there are so many awesome passages you just want to share with everyone. He had an amazing ability to nail people or places in just a savage line or two. A
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
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.
Marc Gerstein
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
This book.the second in Chester Himes’ Harlem Cycle (following A Rage In Harlem) is another winner. It’s not as crazy as the first book, but it’s a page turner, especially beyond the halfway point. It all starts when a well-to-do white guy is chased out of a. Harlem bar and eventually killed. What was he chased? Why was he even there? Who killed him? And what’s up with the ever-present street gang known as the Real Cool Moslems? Easy obvious answers come quickly, especially when one black man is ...more
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
Jul 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 50s, mysteries
My friend Andy Seven is right: this novel's violence is cartoonish, sometimes in a Purge way, sometimes in a Who Censored Roger Rabbit? way. But that's how the streets were. The author was writing from experience, harsh, visceral, and sometimes vulgar. It's the vulgarity especially that made this book feel far more realistic than Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series, which are funny, clever, and feel almost like kids' stuff compared to this. I liked this book, since it gave a look at 1950's Harlem a ...more
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. ...more
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. ...more
Newly Wardell
May 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is quality pulp fiction. The mystery is who killed a white man in Harlem and you won't figure it out. Dude was almost stabbed in the club. He leaves the club only to be chased by somebody shooting at him! Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire. Chester Himes writes at a breakneck speed and doesn't let up. It's violent. It's cruel and fantastic ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Himes was definitely a great writer
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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)

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