A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes starts out with the stupidest scam I’ve every heard of. They put $10 bills in some cardboard and put it in an oven and change it to $100 bills. Our protagonist Jackson falls for this con, he gets all his money together, some not even his and has our con men try to change it for him. I thought how stupid is our main character to fall for this? Then I see how his girlfriend, our classic femme fatale, Imabelle is the driving force behind him being involved. The first part of this book I found funny but found our criminal characters not intelligent enough to be entertaining. Then I got to thinking, most criminals in real life are not that intelligent are they? I was not liking this book at first, but then it was like a snowball getting bigger and bigger as it rolled downhill and I started liking it more and more.
Jackson’s twin brother, Goldy, who most people think is a nun, is a slightly smarter criminal then Jackson and an interesting character. Our trio of bad guys/con men are not characters we get to know very well, but it’s their history that we learn and drives the story towards the end.
The characters of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones are introduced, but play secondary characters in this book. Not sure if they play this secondary part in the rest of the Harlem Cycle, but they do appear in all the books.
Himes’ descriptions of Harlem in the 1950’s are amazing. His humor is great through out. The situations our characters get into are sometimes a bit over the top. As the book went on, I found the story only getting better and enjoyed it all the way to the last page.
Here is a cool cover of the book, under its original name, For Love of Imabelle.
Himes was a criminal himself and went to prison for armed robbery. When in prison he began to write crime stories. This gave him respect from other prisoners and the guards, as well as a new career when he got out. His story might be better than any of his books. He moved to Europe where he eventually died in 1984. This is a classic of the noir genre and I look forward to reading more in the Harlem Cycle. I read this book, because it was the group read of the month for the Pulp Fiction Group over on Goodreads, here is a link to see what other noir fans thought of the book:
A classic must read for noir fans, give it a chance and you will enjoy the ride.