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Cotton Comes to Harlem Paperback – November 28, 1988

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Chester Himes is the best writer of mayhem yarns since Raymond Chandler.”
    —San Francisco Chronicle

“One of the most important American writers of the 20th century. . . . A quirky American genius.”
    —Walter Mosley

“Chester Himes is one of the towering figures of the black literary tradition. . . . A master craftsman.”
    —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
 
“Every one of his beyond-cool Harlem novels is cherished by every reader who finds it.”
    —Jonathan Lethem

From the Inside Flap

Black flim-flam man Deke O'Hara is no sooner out of Atlanta's state penitentiary than he's back on the streets working the scam of a lifetime. As sponsor of the Back-to-Africa movement he's counting on the big Harlem rally to produce a big collection--for his own private charity. But the take ($87,000) is hijacked by white gunmen and hidden in a bale of cotton that suddenly everyone wants to get his hands on. With Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones on everyone's trail and piecing together the complexity of the scheme, Cotton Comes to Harlem is one of Himes's hardest-hitting and most entertaining thrillers.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (November 28, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394759990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394759999
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Shardovan on March 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
... The book doesn't concern Bible Flowers. It's about the efforts of two black detectives, "Grave Digger" Jones and "Coffin Ed" Johnson, to recover $87,000 in money stolen from a con-man/storefront preacher in 1960s Harlem. Along the way, Grave Digger and Coffin Ed encounter a few murders, a southern colonel, and a 50-pound bale of cotton.
Raymond Chandler wrote that detectives must walk the mean streets, but they must not themselves be mean. Well, Grave Digger and Coffin Ed walk the mean streets just fine, but the "not being mean" part gives them trouble; they doubt the feasibility of solving a case without, say, slapping around a few witnesses or firing a few shots into a crowd. Despite the detectives' unhesitating brutality, this novel compares well to the best of Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker. This is due not only to the spot-on dialogue and the stark, vivid character depictions, but also the detectives' uncompromising determination to bring justice to Harlem. The plot is better, i.e., less predictable, than any of Parker's, and Himes's depiction of 1960s Harlem is so bizarre, yet compelling, that it invites comparison to Carl Hiassen's Florida rather than Chandler's LA. Add to this Himes's unique, excruciatingly honest depiction of race relations in the 1960s, and you have one of the best detective novels I have read in years.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Steven R. Harbin on May 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
Chester B. Himes wrote a series of "Hard Boiled" detective novels set in Harlem during the the 1950's and 60's. His two main protagonists were "Coffin Ed" Johnson and "Grave Digger" Jones, a couple of black police detectives operating in the seedy underworld of Harlem and New York City. Himes himself had served time for armed robbery in Ohio. While in prison he first read the works of Dashiell Hammet("The Maltese Falcon","The Thin Man",etc.)and decided that he could write similar fiction set in Harlem's vibrant African-American culture. He moved to France after his prison release and then began to write (in French!) his own brand of mysteries set in the New York City section that had become world famous for it's culture, nightlife and intellectual renaissance. The first of these mysteries was "A Rage in Harlem"(first published in French as "For Love of Imabelle" in 1959). Coffin Ed and Grave Digger were only minor characters in this first novel, but by the time of the 5th novel "Cotton Comes to Harlem" they were the stars of the series.
In "Cotton..." a ex con named Deke O'Hara scams $87,000 from a group of families who want to go to Africa to start a new life free from segregation and prejudice. Before O'Hara can abscond with the money a group of white gunmen steal it in the middle of the "Back to Africa" rally O'Hara is hosting and then escape. All this takes place in the first few pages, and the action only steps up the pace from that point on. Cotton Ed and Grave Digger are assigned to the case, and their brand of brutal, violent police work may not be always legal, but they have their own code of honor, which demands that they do all in their power to see to it that the families get their money back, as in most of the cases it amounts to their life savings.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kent Braithwaite on August 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
As a mystery writer with my debut novel in its initial release, I genuinely admire the works of Chester Himes. I consider COTTON COMES TO HARLEM his finest work. Deke O'Hara is a recently freed con man, and his con of a lifetime has gone bad. His take has been highjacked, and our tough urban cops Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones are on his tail (as well as the tail of everyone else involved in the con and the highjacking of the small fortune). Himes writes terrific dialog, and he captures his setting perfectly. His characters are vivdly drawn, and his plot is a fastmoving steameroller taking many unexpected twists and turns. COTTON COMES TO HARLEM is THE BOOK by Chester Himes that every mystery reader ought to read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Donald Padou on April 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
This novel has some of the same characters as Himes' Rage in Harlem. This is not a sequel and it is not imperitve that you read "Rage" first, but I think that you will like this book more if you have read about Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones in the early novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kent Braithwaite on August 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
As a mystery writer with my debut novel in its initial release, I genuinely admire the works of Chester Himes. I consider COTTON COMES TO HARLEM his finest work. Deke O'Hara is a recently freed con man, and his con of a lifetime has gone bad. His take has been highjacked, and our tough urban cops Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones are on his tail (as well as the tail of everyone else involved in the con and the highjacking of the small fortune). Himes writes terrific dialog, and he captures his setting perfectly. His characters are vivdly drawn, and his plot is a fastmoving steameroller taking many unexpected twists and turns. COTTON COMES TO HARLEM is THE BOOK by Chester Himes that every mystery reader ought to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Peter Kenney on December 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones are New York City police detectives assigned to Harlem. Both are highly valued by their boss for their unique skills and much respected by law-abiding Harlem residents who delight in describing their real and imagined exploits. Grave Digger and Coffin Ed make good use of a wide network of stool pigeons personally developed by them. There is very little waste in this book. The dialogue and descriptions are convincing. The writing is loaded with humor. I found it hard to put down from the beginning.
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