A Rage in Harlem
BY Chester Himes
"Himes undertook to do for Harlem what Raymond Chandler did for Los Angeles," says a quote on the cover of Chester Himes' crime novel, A Rage in Harlem.
The story is a blend between a hard-boiled crime novel and a Mel Brooks film. Himes writing may very well be compared to authors as Raymond Chandler and Dashielle Hammet. The descriptions are detlailed metaphors and similes, but there's a comic tendancy in Himes' novel differing from both Chandler and Hammet dissapointing in the search of the raw, hard-boiled. Because in fact the protagonist is a pretty soft-boiled one.
The characters are rather caricatures than characters. Jackson, the main personage a gullible, black, fat man and his sly twin brother, Goldy who disguised as a Sister of Mercy ( i.e. a nun ) makes his living selling tickets to Heaven. ( and his not the only Harlemit playing the drag ), are no dangerous criminals or dirty detectives.
Himes is at his best in his verbal lines. The people talk black, fresh American, placing one in a site as Harlem somewhere during the 50's. The common rage is against the white society ( white cops especially ), and the Harlemits are both an angry, proud and scared folk. But the Harlem police is full of rage as well, and that's where Himes' metaphoric story telling is.
"He didn't care if it was a man, woman or child he was kicking. He was riding a lightningbolt of maniacal violence and all he could see was a red ball of murder."Taken away the absurd elements in the novel it's really a story about the Afro-Americans in Harlem, the police brutality, they peoples commitment towards one another, and against the authority. It's a love story between the blue-eyed Jackson, and the cunning Imabelle. No crime novel without a crime, so naturally Jackson gets involved with a conman, who can turn ten-dollar bills into hundred-dollar bills, leading Jackson into the path of crime as well. And who's there to ask for help, than Goldy, the con himself.
If you're looking for detective/crime fiction of hard caliber, perhaps this isn't just your pick. But if you don't mind the story having influences of softer, somewhat absurd fiction, you ain't gotta search no more.