(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Crazy Kill was the third novel in the Harlem Domestic (Serie Noir) series. It is typical of the series in beginning with an apparently inexplicable act of violence that triggers a network of reactions in the intricately interrelated underworld of Harlem. Superficially, the incident seems baffling, an act of random violence generated by the sodden meanness and madness of the streets. Yet the linked reactions suggests it results from the interconnections that bind all these passionate lives together. The outcome reveals that these events are more than the random trails of individual lives; they are part of a system with its own internal code of justice and order. In the end, order is reestablished, and justice prevails—but emphatically not the order imposed from without by the official society and its black agents. Beyond that, the novel draws the reader into a world dense with dramatic personalities and alive in the bright edges of concrete details.

The opening of the novel juxtaposes two scenes in Harlem late on a Saturday night: A thief steals a moneybag from the car of a supermarket manager; a preacher at a wake in a neighboring apartment oversees the theft, leans out the window to see better, and falls out, landing in a shopping cart filled with bread. He recovers, returns to the party—where tempers are already flaring because of various sexual tensions—and accuses a guest who has left of having pushed him out of the window....

(The entire section is 550 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Fabre, Michel, et al. “Chester Himes: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography.” MELUS 20, no. 3 (Fall, 1995): 137.

Fabre, Michel, and Robert Skinner, eds. Conversations with Chester Himes. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.

Himes, Chester. The Autobiography of Chester Himes. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972-1976.

Lundquist, James. Chester Himes. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1976.

Margolies, Edward. “Chester Himes’s Black Comedy: The Genre Is the Message.” In Which Way Did He Go? The Private Eye in Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, and Ross Macdonald. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1982.

Margolies, Edward. “Race and Sex: The Novels of Chester Himes.” In Native Sons: A Critical Study of Twentieth-Century Negro American Authors. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1968.

Margolies, Edward, and Michael Fabre. The Several Lives of Chester Himes. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

Milliken, Stephen. Chester Himes: A Critical Appraisal. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1976.

Sallis, James. Chester Himes: A Life. New York: Walker, 2000.

Sallis, James. Difficult Lives: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Chester Himes. New York: Gryphon, 1993.

Soitos, Stephen F. The Blues Detective: A Study of African-American Detective Fiction. Amherst: University Press of Massachusetts, 1996.