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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Blind Man With A Pistol (1969) by Chester Himes


Blind Mand With A Pistol by Chester Himes, original cover art.
Book Review
Blind Man With A Pistol (1969)
 by Chester Himes

  The 1989 Vintage Crime edition of Chester Himes' noir classic Blind Man With A Pistol carries a quote from Newsweek hailing the fact that Blind Man With A Pistol is "back in print."  That would seem to indicate that it was out of print at some point between 1969 and 1988/89, only twenty years after publication.  The time line coincidences with the artistic re-appraisal that artists receive after their death, with Himes dying in 1984, or roughly five years before the Vintage Crime edition of Blind Man With A Pistol was published.  

 The late 80's and early 90's are also the time when detective and "pulp" fiction was making a serious entry into the halls of literature departments in the American university system.  Chester Himes was a productive author between the end of World War II and the end of the 1960's.  He wrote both fiction and non-fiction, but Blind Man With A Pistol is an example of his "Harlem Cycle" about African-American police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Differ Jones.  Blind Man With A Pistol was presumably selected from the multiple possibilities due to the late 1960's Harlem milieu.

  It was a fertile time in Harlem, with a heady mix of homosexual prostitutes, black panthers and religious freaks of all persuasions, from gleefully multi-racial hippie love cults to "Mormon" style prophets living in abandoned funeral homes with 12 wives and 26 children.   As Johnson and Jones investigate what appears to be the murder of a white john, they encounter all these outfits and more.  Blind Man With A Pistol isn't exactly neo-noir or neo-detective fiction, but it is at the end of the that period, and it coincides with the rise of "high" literature that was beginning to adopt some of the techniques of pulp fiction.

  Also Blind Man With A Pistol is very much a book "about the 60's" in a way that very many of the other books published first during this period are not.  If you exclude the fiction of the American Beats and the early long form prose of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, you are left with the very distant relation of mid career Doris Lessing and Edna O'Brien. 

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