Real Cool Killers

Himes, Chester. The Real Cool Killers. Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s. New York: Library of America, 1999.

Ulysses Galen is shot dead for no apparent reason. Detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones need to figure out how a supposedly important white man wound up dead in Harlem. This story was a jumbled mess of contradictions. While there is over the top violence the cops are bumbling and almost slapstick. Coffin is suspended for killing a boy after being “perfumed.” He thought the boy was throwing acid in his face and overreacted. Digger’s main suspect in the shooting is a man they managed to handcuff before he was rescued by a gang of teenagers dressed as Arabs. You would think the police would watch for someone wearing cuffs when they search the neighborhood but they don’t think of it when they interview a man wearing huge gloves and a heavy overcoat. It gets even funnier when they don’t notice a man tied up in a sack in plain sight. They question it but accept its a bag of coal on a bed. As for the story itself, I enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot. No one is really as they seem.

The names in this story are pretty funny: Inky, Choo-Choo, Sheik, Camel Mouth and Bones are all members of the Real Cool Muslim gang.

Disclaimer – this story is loaded with violence. In the very first chapter a knife yielding man gets his arm chopped off and two people are shot dead. At one point two detectives are rolling around, wrestling & arguing. Their scuffle takes place over the body of one of the dead men. It seems almost slapstick.

Line I liked, “I marked this one down as D.O.E. That means dead on arrival – my arrival, not his” (p 763). A medical examiner with a sense of humor.

Reason read: October is National Crime Prevention month.

Author fact: Chester Grimes was familiar with crime. He was arrested twice for armed robbery when he was 19. Convicted of the crimes he was spent eight years in prison (paroled in 1936).

Book trivia: Real Cool Killers is part of a series featuring Detectives Gravedigger and Coffin.

BookLust Twist: The Real Cool Killers is in a True Crime compilation I am reading for the challenge. From Book Lust in the chapter called “Les Crimes Noir” (p 65).



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