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The Real Cool Killers Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 28, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679720391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679720393
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #411,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

To detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, it looked like an open and shut case. After all, Sonny Pickens was still standing over the body of Ulysses Galen, smoking gun hanging from his hand. Only one problem: Sonny's gun was loaded with blanks. There were plenty of people who wanted Galen dead, but who was responsible? Sonny? A jealous husband? Or one of the street toughs from a gang calling themselves the Real Cool Moslems? Coffin Ed and Grave Digger pound the mean streets of 1950s Harlem in search of the Real Cool Killer.

Review

“The action is slapstick, preposterously violent—Hieronymus Bosch meets Miles Davis.”
    —Walter Kirn, The New York Times

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

 
“For sheer toughness it’s hard to beat the black detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. Himes never received the recognition he deserved for his books—they combine elements of George V. Higgins, Elmore Leonard, and Richard Stark, with a bleak vision all their own.”
    —The Washington Post
 
“Himes’s Harlem detective series . . . are remarkable for their macabre comic sense and wicked and nasty wit.”
    —Ishmael Reed, Los Angeles Times

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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See all 16 customer reviews
Great characters and good story lines, easy to follow from beginning to end!
W. Core
Himes' novel portrays a place and shows the effect of prejudice and poverty as well as telling a gripping story.
Robin Friedman
I love his visceral, powerful way to handle his characters, the way he drills reasons and passions inside them.
JazzFeathers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. D Suggs on September 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Chester Himes stands a bit apart- and perhaps a bit above- most of the mid-century crime and suspense novelists that this re-issue series collects. The action and the energy level are the equal of any writer in the genre, and for pure readability he's one of the most entertaining. But there is clearly some valid literary intent here as well, and as a result bookstores have never been quite sure where to place the few novels he wrote about Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones.
Himes' background as a black ex-convict (and eventual expatriate) add to his interesting perspective as he tries to capture- or, more accurately, caricature- the violence and the "comic chaos" (his phrase) of the Harlem Renaissance. Coffin Ed and Gravedigger are two ruthless detectives caught between their own people and the white law that employs them; they really don't fit into any group other than themselves. They are outsiders who believe strongly in order and in the guns they carry, but are often conflicted, and occasionally even divided.
This is probably the best and the tightest of Himes' stories with these characters; it is a fabulous read and one I will return to often over the years. The world Himes conjures is savage and disturbing, and the characters are eccentric to the point of being circus freaks, but are always believable and compelling. This is the kind of book that will leave you trying to describe scenes to your friends.
Coffin Ed and Gravedigger may be the greatest individual creations of a very rich genre. I'd say start here.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on July 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
These mid-century crime novels are a favorite genre of mine, but I didn't know much about Chester Himes before picking this one up. The mystery itself is interesting but secondary in importance to the setting of Harlem and the many characters that live there. Himes has a great style and he uses dialect just enough to give us a sense of setting.
Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Johnson have names that sound like a couple of cops that don't mind putting the occasional criminal under the grass -- and they do. They're introduced shortly after the opening murder and they prove themselves immediately tough and competent.
Gravedigger and Coffin learn that the mystery goes deeper than one shooting. (It usually does in these kinds of novels). What's interesting is the way the people of Harlem respects these black cops, but still don't trust them. Their ability is even respected by the white cops that don't mind uttering the frequent racial slur towards the casual citizenry. Gravedigger and Coffin are in a world between the white establishment and the everyday people of Harlem. The conflict creates the same kind of tension that Marlowe and Spade have with the regular police.
You can also give Himes credit for not stereotyping any of the characters black or white. The white cops aren't all corrupt and the blacks aren't all angels. The book made for a quick and interesting getaway.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Douglas J. Bassett on March 28, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
All of the Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson books are worth reading. This might be a good place to start, as you'll learn more here about the protagonists' personal lives than you will in other novels. Himes was a great stylist, and one of the most important post-WW 2 American writers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By JazzFeathers on February 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
The opening of the novel is one of the most puzzling and challenging I've ever read. Things happen and they seem absurd. People shout at each other, wound each other terribly, a man is shot to death, and there seems to be no reason for this.
But as the novel unfolds, reasons start to surface. By the end, we know there was nothing absurd in the opening scene, but everything happened for a reason. Reasons tightly entwined with human passions and twists.
For me, this is the most fascinating aspect of the novel.

I love Chester Himes. I love his visceral, powerful way to handle his characters, the way he drills reasons and passions inside them. The way they talk, the way they act. His characters always seem so real, they always act in response to inner desires and outside pushes, so that they seem real even when they act absurd - or seem to.

Still, this second novel set in Harlem it's not as powerful as the first one (`Rage in Harlem'). The action only spans a few hours, but while the investigation (lead by Grave Digger Jones) is tight, with a strong logic leading it, and with strong characters populating it, the parallel thread regarding the kids' gang is not as strong. The two threads meet at the end, but in the apartment where the kids hide nothing relevant seems to happen. The action meanders a little, there seems to be no real purpose but to take time while the investigation has its course. I didn't get bored because of Himes' incredible ability to create situations and his mastery in creating dialogue, but I did enjoyed the investigation more, and I did look forward to go back to Grave Digger when I was reading the kids.

In spite of this, I enjoyed it. A lot.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 29, 2012
Format: Paperback
From its beginnings in detective magazines and pulp fiction, American noir developed into literature of varied people and places. Chester Himes (1909 --1984) was one of the first African Americans to write noir. Imprisoned as a young man,Himes spent much of his life in France where he created a series involving two African American detectives, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, with a beat in Harlem. Some of the novels in the series were first published in French as Himes remained relatively unknown in his native land.

Published in 1959, "The Real Cool Killers" was the third of the series. Unlike some noir, the book is in part a who-done-it, as Jones and Johnson try to find the killer of one Ulysses Galen, a white salesman of a brand of soft drink, on a busy Harlem street. The plot becomes contrived with a number of surprising twists. The interest in the book lies much less in the plot than in the creation of atmosphere at the heart of noir writing. Himes understands and portrays Harlem and its people. The book frequently is sharply penetrating, descriptive, tragic, or bitingly funny. He is perceptive in developing his characters beyond sterotypes. And his writing is full of memorable passages and one-liners.

A good deal of the novel is set in a Harlem bar, the Dew Drop Inn, where Galen is a rare white patron. The bartender, Big Smiley, sets the tone of the establishment. The story opens with a large fight scene at the Dew Drop in involving Galen, Big Smiley, and a third individual who displays enormous and unexplained anger towards Galen. When Galen flees the establishment he is mysteriously gunned down on the street. The two detective heroes search for the killer.
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