by Chester Himes
While it took me a good couple of years to finally get around to reading my second Himes title, it only took me about two minutes to lose myself in the pages of this frantic, violently funny crime caper. The first in a series of novels featuring badass Harlem detective duo Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, A Rage in Harlem (originally titled For Love of Imabelle) actually spends far more time following the scams and counter scams swirling in the wake of gullible sucker Jackson after he's swindled out of his life savings by a team of con men who convince him that they can chemically transform his ten dollar bills into hundred dollar bills in his apartment oven. Himes doesn't take his foot off the gas pedal long enough to flesh out the high-octane plot all that much, but in a novel where pace and atmosphere and a delight in the double cross are everything ("Crime doesn't pay," lectures a fake marshal at the tail end of an early shakedown ), there's plenty of descriptive glee to be found in the depiction of faces "glistening like an eight ball" (5), cross-dressing Sisters of Mercy imitators selling tickets to heaven to Harlem residents to feed their dope habits, and irreverent preachers who mutter "Lord save us from squares" when some of the more naive members of the congregation come to throw themselves on the Lord's mercy (137). A fun goof all in all--but one in which a graphic throat-cutting scene and a complex take on race relations as viewed from a late-1950s "Negro" underworld perspective ratchet up the pre-Tarantino intensity levels unpredictably. (www.weeklylizard.com)
A Rage in Harlem is my "mystery" selection for R.I.P. VI. While I'm not sure how much it has in common with other R.I.P. mystery picks this year, I'm guessing that it's probably the only one with as fine a readers imbibing peril line as the one on page 54 in which Himes tells us that "the cold snowy February night was already getting liquored up." Top that, cozy mystery bloggers!