City within a City: The Detective Fiction of Chester Himes
With the publication of his first detective novel, For Love of Imabelle ( 1957), Chester Himes initiated a unique contribution to the African American detective tradition. Originally published in France as La Reine des Pommes (or The Five-Cornered Square), the novel won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for 1958 and was followed by nine other novels in what is generally called Himes's Harlem domestic series. The critical and public reception of his detective novels was much more positive in France, where they were published first, than in Himes's own country.
Perhaps some critics in America would consider Himes's Harlem detective novels, published in France and in the United States between 1957-1969, as minor works of questionable value, especially in view of his early fame in this country as a traditional writer of serious novels. Apparently it is not so in France. ( Smith18)
These ten novels substantiate an achievement in detective fiction unmatched by any other African American writer. Himes took the hardboiled detective novel and transformed it with African American sensibilities, extending the use of detective personas, double-conscious detection, black vernaculars, and hoodoo as previously presented in the works of Hopkins, Bruce, and Fisher.
Himes also elevated the depiction of violence, one of the primary tropes of detective fiction, to a new plane of expression. The evolution of the use of violence in Himes's detective novels reflects both an increased aesthetic awareness of this common hardboiled trope and a thematic statement. Of all the black detective writers studied so far, Himes's work is foremost in presenting a social critique that unequivocally demonstrates the effects of racism and poverty in Har