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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You May Cotton to This. . .

Cotton Comes to Harlem
By Chester Himes
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition November 28, 1988
ISBN-10: 0394759990
ISBN-13: 978-0394759999

This is a slick entry in Chester Himes' Harlem cycle. Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones investigate the theft of $87,000 from a "Back-to-Africa" organization and discover white racists, black hustlers, a murderous gun moll and her lesbian squeeze, and all the other types of high-living lowlifes we've come to expect from this master of noir in the darkest shade of black.

Himes' characters hop off the page (and into your lap in a couple of cases) and his dialog is tough, believable and laced with larcenous humor. No doubt Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones are by-the-book detectives -- how else would they have become the aces of the Harlem precinct? -- but the book they go by has some pretty loose rules. But forget the book they go by and go buy this one: it has a surprise ending that will leave you grinning.

My recommendation? If you like tough detectives, murderous punks and even tougher women, grab a copy of Cotton Comes to Harlem, sit back, "straighten up and count off." I give this book a whopping five out of five nooses!

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