Saturday, April 26, 2014

All Shot Up (Chester Himes, 1959)

Grave Digger came back in a hurry. His face was set.
"Hell's broke loose on the street," he said, poking his arm into the coat Coffin Ed held for him.
"We'd better hop it then," Coffin Ed said.

Just another night in Harlem and another routine assignment for the pair of our favourite badass detectives. Two assignments, to be precise, in two unrelated cases: a hit-and-run accident that leaves the victim flattened into a concrete wall (!!) and the heist of a local black politician.

Chaotic stuff, fucking bloody mayhem racing relentlessly with a blinding pace. Hard to follow at times (especially at the start) but nevertheless delightful to read. The story just sticks together, and at times it seems that glue that keeps everything from falling apart is violence. It's a continuous thread throughout the novel, but it's far from some glorified and over the top cheap shit. Very realistic and believable. The interrogation scene at Paris Bar is simply mind-blowing, and it (almost) makes that famous bar scene from The French Connection look like it's coming from a Disney movie. Crazy stuff, most writers these days would think twice before putting down such politically incorrect police violence, and probably no publisher would touch it.

Enough said. It's beyond great. This is simply a masterpiece. Reminded me again that I need to get that Himes' biography written by James Sallis. So many incredible books to read, so little time...



Coffin Ed and Grave Digger. 

The story was in Harlem that these two black detectives would kill a dead man in his coffin if he so much as moved.

Mammy Louise swooped down on the dog and dragged it off before he did it injury.
"Not dem, Lawd Jim, mah God, dawg," she cried. "You can't stop dem from goin' nowhere. Them is de mens."

Harlem, New York

Body count
8, and I'm grateful to Mr Himes to summarise them at the end because it was nearly impossible to keep count in this madness. Victims changing names and identities (even gender on one occasion!), people surviving stabbings, and even having a knife stuck in their skull (Brain specialists all over the country had been alerted to the case.)

It's definitely a masculine novel, but there are two interesting female characters. A beautiful seductress Mrs Holmes (Her breast stuck out from a turtleneck blue jersey silk pullover as though taking aim at any man in front of her) and simple, but very street-wise, Roman's girlfriend Sassafras (btw what a cool name, isn't it?!).

You kidding? The whole thing happens in two days, so there is no time to pass out for our two bad-asses.

Very appropriate - the whole thing is one big major fucking shoot out!

I like all the covers from the Penguin Himes' reprints, and this one is no exception. Once again, it catches the book's dark and gritty mood. Just not sure who that sinister (or is he scared?) black dude in the front is supposed to be. Casper? Roman? It cannot be the main villain (because he's white).

Cool lines
"One's a white man," Grave Digger said.
"What else?" Coffin Ed replied.
What he meant was what else could keep the black citizens away from the circus provided by killing.

"The rich used to live here," Coffin Ed remarked.
"Still so," Grave Digger said. "Just changed color. Colored rich folks always live in the places abandoned by white rich folks."

They had the feeling that time was rushing past like a maniac with a knife.[The Coolest!]

He ran into a brace of slugs and came reeling back with two sudden eyes in his forehead.[The Coolest!]

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