Friday, March 22, 2013

Review of The Big Gold Dream by Chester Himes (Avon, 1960)

Alberta Wright has found God via Sweet Prophet Brown’s sermon at a street service on 117th Street, Harlem.  At the height of her religious fervour, she seemingly drops dead.  Her partner, Sugar Stonewall, dashes from the scene not wanting to be around when the cops turn up.  He arrives back at their apartment to find that Alberta’s estranged husband has sold all her furniture, having failed to find her secret stash of cash.  But Sugar and her husband are not the only one’s hunting for Alberta’s money and soon the furniture buyer is murdered at his shop.  Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, two black detectives working the Harlem beat, start to investigate, aware that the body count might rise before they manage to administer justice.

The Big Gold Dream is the fourth book in the Coffin Ed and Grave Digger series.  The strongest element of the story is the sense of place and contextualisation as to life and hustles in Harlem in the 1950s.  However, the characterisation is wafer thin, with next to no back story with respect to any of the various characters, and the two lead detectives hardly feature at all.  What keeps the story together is the plot and pace.  Himes keeps the action moving along in a reasonably convoluted tale about finding a supposed small fortune hidden by a somewhat naive woman.  The telling is a little ragged in places, but it’s a reasonably entertaining caper.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you read Cotton Comes to Harlem yet? I enjoyed that one very much. I've only read two of his books and they easy reads for the most part. Thanks for reviewing this one, Rob.