RARA-AVIS: Wherefore Art thou, Chester?

Bill Hagen (billha@ionet.net)
Fri, 13 Mar 1998 00:32:52 -0600 (CST) Noticed someone had difficulty finding Himes on the shelf. My advice is to
try BOTH the mystery AND black or Afro-American authors sections, as I did
in a Borders. Half his novels were in one place; half in another.

No comments on his style, so with all the authority of exactly 60 pages
read, let me rush to judgement...to say that he's got this reader. The
smoothest job of slipping into a main plot that I've seen in some time--the
protagonist so far is so dumb that I expected him to be wasted by the
second chapter, in the course of which the real protagonist would step in.
You keep reading, in part, to see how far he will get. And how the two
exotic cops will enter in.

The other strength that's evident right off is the sense of locale that
Himes develops, street by street--that's places fully peopled. Like the
Braddock Bar scene, especially, done with nice knowing humor. Himes is not
far behind Ellison in the Harlem location descriptions. And Himes
obviously knows more about the con games, the dodges and angles that people

Reading him reminds me of a private theory I've had for awhile: that
mystery or crime fiction, especially hard-boiled fiction, and some thriller
fiction, has picked up an element that early attracted readers to the
novel--the novel was the news, the details, about how people behaved in
interesting locations. A simple pleasure, but one often overlooked by
psychological or experimental novelists. Dunno how accurate he is, but for
now, Himes has created a Harlem for me.

Bill Hagen

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