Most critics agree that Himes is not a deep thinker and that the success of his novels results not from their ideas, but from the intensity of their expression. Like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler, Himes has a terse, laconic style well suited to the description of violent action. Like his characters, obsessed with either committing crimes or catching criminals, Himes also seems obsessed, so that, as his French editor remarks in the preface to Blind Man with a Pistol (1969), the detective novels appear to have been written under intolerable pressure.
Himes relates the adventures of Grave Digger and Coffin Ed through a third-person, omniscient narrator who leaps about in time and space at breathtaking speed, increasing the sense of a world in chaos. He relies mainly on dialogue to advance the plot and keeps his descriptions and commentary to a bare minimum. His descriptions of characters are usually limited to how they look and what they do. Rarely does he pause long enough to reveal a character's inner psychology, yet his descriptions are so vivid that his characters linger in the memory. For example, the two detectives frequent a restaurant owned by Mammie Louise. She is shaped like a weather balloon on two feet, with a pilot balloon for a head, and smells like stewed goat.
Himes places his characters in a physical setting described economically, but with enough detail to convey the texture of daily life in Harlem. He is a...
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