A Rage in Harlem : Grave Digger and Coffin Ed

  • by Chester Himes
  • Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson
  • Series: Grave Digger and Coffin Ed
  • 5 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Audie Award Nominee, Fiction, 2013
Academy Award nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Star Wars films), fresh off the success of his uproarious, Audie-nominated performance of the mock children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep, delivers a swaggering, darkly-humored rendering of Chester Himes’ classic first novel.
Himes, described by The Sunday Times as “the greatest find in American crime fiction since Raymond Chandler”, was no stranger to the world of crime: in his late teens and early 20s, he served 7 years in the Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery, the confession to which was beaten out of him by the police. He delivers the tale of his hopelessly naïve hero suddenly finding himself on the run from a hypocritical and far-from-heroic police force with lurid violence and brutal humor. There is no voice better than Mr. Jackson’s to narrate this hardboiled story of love and crime, set in a richly imagined, mid-20th century Harlem.

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Go the f--k to Audible and get this now!

You don't have to be a connoisseur of noir thrillers to enjoy this fast-paced tale of love and greed in 1950s Harlem. Even though my only exposure to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler is via Humphrey Bogart, I could immediately see the parallels between those stories and this one, albeit “A Rage in Harlem” features an all-black cast of characters. And they are every bit as strange and memorable as the Fat Man or Joel Cairo or Vivien Rutledge. A woman who might be good or might be bad, crooked policemen and a junkie/stoolie who dresses up as a nun are just a few of the unforgettable characters whose crazed and misguided actions contribute to the action.

And just when you think you are reading a really well-done, though lightweight, tale of the dumbest con men ever, something happens that turns the book on its head. The action gets real and the writing gets even better. I was listening to this as an audiobook and found the following passage so compelling I rewound the track multiple times just so I could transcribe it. I can’t set it up completely without giving away one of the biggest plot points, but suffice it to say that at this point in the action, the whistle of a passing elevated train goes off and the sound cuts through to the bone:

Shaking the entire tenement city
Shaking the sleeping Black people in their lice-ridden beds
Shaking the ancient bones and the aching muscles and the TB’d lungs and the uneasy fetuses of unwedded girls
Shaking the plaster from ceilings, mortar from between the bricks of building walls
Shaking the rats between the walls
Shaking the cockroaches crawling over kitchen sinks and leftover food
Shaking the sleeping flies hibernating in lumps like bees behind the casings of the windows
Shaking the fat blood-filled bed bugs crawling over Black skin
Shaking the fleas, making them hop
Shaking the sleeping dogs in their filthy pallets
Shaking the sleeping cats
Shaking the clogged toilets, loosening the filth

This is a very gifted writer who deserves to be better known. There is just enough detail in the descriptions to set the scenes, lots of lines that made me laugh out loud (a taxi driver whose cab has just been commandeered is described as being so alarmed “even the back of his head looked scared”) and plenty of over-the-top, blackly humorous violence to make Quinton Tarantino happy. All of that given a darkly, hysterically fantastic reading by Samuel L. Jackson on the Audible audiobook version adds up to one helluva good listen.
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- Julie W. Capell "The audio books I get tend to be either 1) scifi or 2) things for my husband and me to listen to on long road trips--humor or history"

A Visit to Another Era

An astonishing experience for a suburban white woman, to be transported to Harlem in the 1950s, and Himes (whom I'd heard of, but never read before) made it an unforgettable trip. The story is deliciously convoluted and the characters are perfectly presented, universal figures, yet each utterly one of a kind.

I was a little confused at first, because the lead characters in the series appear more than halfway through the story, and appear as secondary characters. This was Himes's first in the series, so perhaps he didn't realize he would use them again at the time he wrote it.

What set the whole thing sizzling was Samuel L. Jackson's extraordinary, sharp and loving performance, making each character uniquely memorable. I can't say enough about how much his power and enthusiasm got me sucked into the story completely.
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- Kitty "Cranky elderly writer/copy editor"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-08-2012
  • Publisher: Audible Studios