The seventh novel in Himes’s detective series, Cotton Comes to Harlem, is generally considered the best of the set, ranking with the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Like the others in the series—and like the stories of Chandler—this follows a standard pattern. A public scene in Harlem is visited by an act of overt violence, which catalyzes the major characters to restore the status quo and reassert their control. Meanwhile, the official representatives of the law that supposedly governs the streets, black detectives Coffin Ed Jones and Grave Digger Johnson, carry on a formal investigation, which eventually explains the mystery—but only after the principal actors have already worked it out in their own way. Ultimately, Harlem proves to possess its own self-generating and self-protective powers of restoration, which reside in the spirits of the black people who live there.
The opening scene of this novel is explosive. Deke O’Hara, a politician and recent convict, is working the streets with an updated, glitzy version of Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa program. He is supposedly selling shares in a colony to be established in Africa for African Americans discontented with America. Because discontent is endemic in Harlem, he has a ready market—but the profits from his scheme, theoretically invested in the company, are intended for his own pockets. Before he can capitalize on his plan, however, his movement is hijacked by a...
(The entire section is 546 words.)