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Harlem Detective books in order: the complete series

Looking for Chester Himes’ Harlem Detective books in order? Look no further!

One of the most prolific Black crime writers of the twentieth century, Chester Himes published his first Harlem Detective novel in 1957 – a book that went on to win the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious award for crime and detective fiction.

Himes followed this with seven more books starring NYPD detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, as well as one unfinished novel, all of which put the perspective of both Black law enforcement and Black criminals front and centre.

Characterised by brutal comic surrealism and grisly violence, each brilliant novel makes for a gut-punchingly great read.

Here are the Harlem Detective books in order.

Chester Himes’ Harlem Detective books in order:

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

1. A Rage in Harlem (1957)

Jackson’s woman has found him a foolproof way to make money – a technique for turning ten dollar bills into hundreds. But when the scheme somehow fails, Jackson is left broke, wanted by the police and desperately racing to get back both his money and his loving Imabelle.

The first of Chester Himes’s novels featuring the hardboiled Harlem detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, A Rage in Harlem has swagger, brutal humour, lurid violence, a hearse loaded with gold and a conman dressed as a Sister of Mercy.

The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes

2. The Real Cool Killers (1958)

The night’s over for Ulysses Galen. It started going bad for the big Greek when a knife was drawn, then there was an axe, then he was being chased and shot at. Now Galen is lying dead in the middle of a Harlem street. But the night’s just beginning for detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. Because they have a smoking gun but it couldn’t have killed Galen, and they had a suspect but a gang called the Real Cool Moslems took him. And as patrol cars and search teams descend on the neighbourhood, their case threatens to take a turn for the personal.

The Crazy Kill by Chester Himes

3. The Crazy Kill (1959)

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 to find out who murdered Val.

The Big Gold Dream by Chester Himes

4. The Big Gold Dream (1959)

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 neighbourhood they have sworn to protect – in a world gone mad around them.

All Shot Up by Chester Himes

5. All Shot Up (1960)

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 heistmen 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.

Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes

6. Cotton Comes to Harlem (1964)

A preacher called Deke O’Malley’s been selling false hope: the promise of a glorious new life in Africa for just $1,000 a family. But when thieves with machine guns steal the proceeds – and send one man to the morgue – the con is up. Now Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed mean to bring the good people of Harlem back their $87,000, however many corpses they have to climb over to get it.

The Heat's On by Chester Himes

7. The Heat’s On (1966)

Detectives Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones have lost two criminals. Pinky ran off – but it shouldn’t be hard to track down a giant albino in Harlem. Jake the drug dealer, though, isn’t coming back – he died after Grave Digger punched him in the stomach. And his death might cost them both their badges. Unless they can track down the cause of all this mayhem – like the African with his throat slit and the dog the size of a lion with an open head wound.

Blind Man With a Pistol by Chester Himes

8. Blind Man With a Pistol (1969)

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.

There you have it – all Chester Himes’ Harlem Detective books in order! How many have you read? Let us know in the comments below…

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