Chester Himes books in order
Chester Bomar Himes, popularly known as Chester Himes, was an African-American author of mystery and non-fiction novels, whose works predominantly reflected on his experience with racism.
Born in Moraira, Spain, his childhood was disrupted numerously due to his family’s relocations, while early exposure to racism also shaped his racial overview.
He attended Ohio State University, and was infamously incarcerated at the Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery between 1929 and 1936.
It was during his time there that Chester began writing fiction, with several of his stories appearing in Esquire and other magazines in the US.
Upon regaining his freedom, Chester went on to do several menial jobs before joining the Works Progress Administration.
He ultimately became a writer with the Ohio Writers’ Project, debuting his career as a novelist with the book If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945).
Chester went on to publish numerous standalone novels, the Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones Series, as well as two volumes of his autobiography: The Quality of Hurt (1972) and My Life As Absurdity (1976).
He died on November 12, 1984 at the age of 75.
Genres: Autobiography, Mystery, Non-fiction
- If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945)
- Lonely Crusade (1947)
- Yesterday Will Make You Cry (1952)
- The Third Generation (1954)
- The End of a Primitive (1956)
- Run Man Run (1960)
- Pinktoes (1961)
- A Case of Rape (1963)
- Black on black: Baby Sister and selected writings (1973)
- The Harlem Cycle: Cotton Comes to Harlem; Blind Man with a Pistol; Plan B (1993)
Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones
- A Rage in Harlem (1957)
- The Real Cool Killers (1958)
- The Crazy Kill (1959)
- The Big Gold Dream (1959)
- All Shot Up (1960)
- Cotton Comes to Harlem (1964)
- The Heat's On (1966)
- Blind Man with a Pistol (1969)
- The Collected Stories of Chester Himes (1991)
- Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950 (1997)
- The Quality of Hurt: The Early Years : The Autobiography of Chester Himes (1972)
- My Life of Absurdity: The Autobiography of Chester Himes (1976)
Detailed book overview
This story of a man living every day in fear of his life for simply being black is as powerful today as it was when it was first published in 1947. The novel takes place in the space of four days in the life of Bob Jones, a black man who is constantly plagued by the effects of racism. Living in a society that is drenched in race consciousness has no doubt taken a toll on the way Jones behaves, thinks, and feels, especially when, at the end of his story, he is accused of a brutal crime he did not commit.
A classic restored-the complete and unexpurgated text of a great African-American writer's brutal and lyrical novel of prison life. First published in reduced and bowdlerized form in 1952 as Cast the First Stone, Yesterday Will Make You Cry was Chester Himes's first, most powerful, and autobiographical novel.
This Old School Books edition presents it for the first time precisely as Himes wrote it, a sardonic masterpiece of debasement and transfiguration in an American penitentiary and one of his most enduring literary achievements.
NB: This book is also called Cast the First Stone.
Jesse Robinson wakes from his nightmare to dirty, fitful real life in a Harlem slum.
Kriss wakes up alone divorced, disillusioned, in her plush Manhattan apartment. They have nothing in common. Just one amazing, passionate weekend in Chicago and a desire to meet again.
A white undercover cop vents his rage and starts a cycle of violence from which there is no escape. Walker, one of New York's embittered policemen, is vicious when drunk. Staggering into a restaurant on a freezing day, he kills two black workers "because they were there," and pursues a third who witnessed the murders in one of the most suspenseful chases ever put on paper.
Pinktoes, Chester Himes said, is a term of indulgent affection applied to white women by Negro men, and sometimes conversely by Negro women to white men, but never adversely by either.
In this rowdy work of fiction that debunks self-satisfied do-gooders, Himes satirizes social missionaries who preach uplift and promote specious causes. With Rabelaisian zest he portrays Mamie Mason, Harlem's most influential society matron, hosting desegregated sexual orgies, all for the advancement of harmony between the races.
Just as eager as Mamie to bask in the favorable light of social justice are liberal whites who wish to be seen amid the right people. Printed in Paris in 1962 because it was perhaps too confrontational for U. S. publishers, this sex farce is regarded as Himes's most daring work of fiction.
Chester Himes' most disturbing and controversial novel, A Case of Rape has never been widely available to his readers in the United States. That is - until now. Himes, the author of many popular mystery novels and creator of the memorable black detectives, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, wrote A Case of Rape in 1956-57. This thought-provoking, jarring thriller examines the social and sexual relationships between the races. A white woman is raped and killed by four black American men in Paris. Or is she?
These collected pieces include seventeen short stories, five essays and a film scenario by one of the most important black writers of our time. They span four decades, and through them all run the common threads of Himes's work - the power and vividness of a master writer, and the grim desperation and gallows humor of the black man in America.
Tomsson Black, political visionary, business genius, and underground revolutionary, plots to avenge injustice by instigating racial turmoil. The roots of racism extend far back into his ancestry, and persecution and suffering have affected many generations of his family. Tomsson's own misfortunes are the impetus for him to found a criminal underworld whose ultimate purpose is the overflow of white society.
This novel, the history of Tomsson Black and an indictment of racism in America, ends in apocalypse. It is Chester Himes's ultimate statement about the destructive power of racism and his own personal fantasy of how the American Negro, through calculated acts of violence and martyrdom, could destroy the unequal system pervading American life. However, after reaching an ideological impasse, Himes, one of the angriest writers in the black protest movement, left this novel unfinished.
After his death in Spain in 1984, a rumor persisted that he had left a final, unfinished Harlem story, in which he literally destroys both his Harlem backdrop and his heroes in a violent racial cataclysm. The manuscript, entitled Plan B, is that novel. It was edited and published in France, where it was widely hailed as an unfinished masterpiece by readers and critics alike.
Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones
For the love of fine, wily Imabelle, hapless Jackson surrenders his life savings to a con man who knows the secret of turning ten-dollar bills into hundreds—and then he steals from his boss, only to lose the stolen money at a craps table. Luckily for him, he can turn to his savvy twin brother, Goldy, who earns a living—disguised as a Sister of Mercy—by selling tickets to Heaven in Harlem. With Goldy on his side, Jackson is ready for payback.
NB: This book is also called For Love of Imabelle.
Many people had reasons for killing Ulysses Galen, a big Greek with too much money and too great a liking for young black girls. But there are complications—like Sonny, found standing over the body, high on hash, with a gun in his hand that fires only blanks; a gang called the Moslems; a disappearing suspect; and the fact that Coffin Ed’s daughter is up to her pretty little neck in the whole explosive business.
One early morning, Reverend Short is watching from his bedroom window as the A&P across the street is robbed. As he tries to see the thief get away, the opium-addicted preacher leans too far and falls out--but he is unscathed, thanks to an enormous bread basket outside the bakery downstairs. As the crowd gathers to see what happened, a shocking discovery is made: There is another body in the bread basket, and Valentine Haines is dead, really dead. It's up to Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson ti find out who murdered Val.
After arriving on the American literary scene with novels of scathing social protest like If He Hollers Let Him Go and The Lonely Crusade, Chester Himes created a pioneering pair of dangerously effective African-American sleuths, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, Harlem’s toughest detective duo, who must carry the day against an absurdist world of racism and class warfare.
The Big Gold Dream is the explosive and shocking hardboiled classic that explores the shadowy underbelly of New York as an urban civil war erupts on the side streets of Harlem, pitting murderers and prostitutes against corrupt politicians and racist white detectives. Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson attempt to maintain some kind of order―in the neighborhood they have sworn to protect―in a world gone mad around them.
A golden Cadillac big enough to cross the ocean has been seen sailing along the streets of Harlem. A hit-and-run victim's been hit so hard she got embedded in the wall of a convent. A shootout with three heist-men dressed as cops has left an important politician in a coma - and a lot of money missing. And Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are the ones who have to piece it all together.
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 a big Harlem rally to produce a massive collection—for his own private charity.
But the take is hijacked by white gunmen and hidden in a bale of cotton that suddenly everyone wants to get his hands on. As NYPD detectives “Coffin Ed” Johnson and “Grave Digger” Jones piece together the complexity of the scheme, we are treated to Himes’s brand of hard-boiled crime fiction at its very best.
Detectives Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones are in the hot seat in one of the most chaotic, brutally funny novels in Chester Himes’s groundbreaking Harlem Detectives series.
From the start, nothing goes right for Coffin Ed and Grave Digger. They are disciplined for use of excessive force. Grave Digger is shot and his death announced in a hoax radio bulletin. Bodies pile up faster than Coffin Ed and Grave Digger can run.
Yet, try as they might, they always seem to be one hot step behind the cause of all the mayhem—three million dollars’ worth of heroin and a giant albino called Pinky.
NB: This book is also called Come Back Charleston Blue.
New York is sweltering in the summer heat, and Harlem is close to the boiling point. To Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, at times it seems as if the whole world has gone mad.
Trying, as always, to keep some kind of peace—their legendary nickel-plated Colts very much in evidence—Coffin Ed and Grave Digger find themselves pursuing two completely different cases through a maze of knifings, beatings, and riots that threaten to tear Harlem apart.
NB: This book is also called Hot Day, Hot Night.
Spanning 40 years and including Himes's first work, written during his imprisonment in the 1940s, this collection uncovers the internal struggles of black individuals caught between resignation and rage, probing the heart of the African-American experience with wit, indignation, and ruthless honesty.
This adventurous two-volume collection presents a rich vein of modern American writing too often neglected in mainstream literary histories.
Evolving out of the terse and violent hardboiled style of the pulp magazines, noir fiction expanded over the decades into a varied and innovative body of writing. Tapping deep roots in the American literary imagination, the novels in this volume explore themes of crime, guilt, deception, obsessive passion, murder, and the disintegrating psyche.
With visionary and often subversive force they create a dark and violent mythology out of the most commonplace elements of modern life. The raw power of their vernacular style has profoundly influenced contemporary American culture and writing.
In The Quality of Hurt, Chester Himes writes of black ghetto life and of his personal struggle with repressive American ways. The pain of his rejection of and by America is tempered by his own vitality and humor as an artist, making this important work not only a look at Chester Himes, but a sharp and often painful look at America itself.
In this the second volume of his autobiography, Chester Himes deals with moving to Paris in the early 1950s, where he developed from an eloquent, influential "black writer" into a writer who was internationally known.
Himes takes us to the heart of Paris expatriate cafe society and through the writing of his eighteen books and novels. He also paints fascinating glimpses of lowers, three continents, and friends such as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin.
My Life of Absurdity is the story of a life only Himes could have lived -- just on the edge of reality, about three steps short of fantasy, and three generations out of slavery.