Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson

Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson1

The Museum of UnCut Funk is actively looking to acquire the 1st edition copies of the Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson Harlem Detectives series of books from famed author Chester Himes for our archives. We love a good read but the art on the cover of these books that were printed during the 50s and 60s is a lost art form and needs to be persevered.

Harlem Detectives: a series of novels created by Chester Himes were a series of novels set in the 1950s and early 1960s. These two black cats…NYPD detectives Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson who turned a blinded eye and tolerated a lot of the underground crimes that inflicted the Harlem community. Form numbers operators, madames, whores, and gamblers to violent criminals, drug dealers, confidence tricksters and pimps in the end Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson always get their man.

For Love of Imabelle aka A Rage in Harlem…circa 1957.

The protagonist, Jackson, steals money from his employer, the famed undertaker, H. Exodous Clay. Jackson also is in love with Imabelle, who has stolen a trunk of fool’s gold from her husband, a con artist who is a member of a vicious three-man gang that has been selling false gold stock to black people across America. Jackson has a twin brother, Goldy, who impersonates a nun named Sister Gabriel and lives with two other female impersonators. Later Jackson drives the hearse, a runaway through the stalls of a Harlem market with his brother’s corpse and the trunk of ore toppling out. Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones are almot peripheral. With the exception of an acid attack on Coffin, and Grave Digger’s resultant agony, all is righted in the end – Jackson gets his job and Imabelle back.

The Crazy Kill…circa 1959.

The Crazy Kill begins with a bizarre crime and progresses through images of chaos and an astounding gallery of low-life characters toward a resolution that does not materialize until the last few pages. Outside the apartment where a wake is going on for the notorious gambler, Big Joe Pullen, a bag of money belonging to the manager of the grocery across the street is stolen by a young thief. Reverend Short, Pullen’s wife Mamie’s minister, addicted to drugs sees it all from a window, but due to incapacity, he falls out, down into a basket of bread. Back at the wake, Short says he sees a dead man stabbed in the hert. Mamie then looks out of the window and sees Val Haines in the breadbasket. Coffin and Grave Digger set out to find Val’s murderer.

The Real Cool Killers aka If Trouble was Money…circa 1959.

A wizened aging black man at Harlem’s Dew Drop Inn accosts a white soda salesman, Ulysses Galen, with a knife, forcing the bartender to lop off the black man’s arm with an axe: “The severed arm in its coat sleeve, still clutching the knife, sailed through the air, sprinkling the nearby spectators with drops of blood, landed on the linoleum floor, and skidded beneath a table of a booth.” The elderly assailant, who has accused big greek Galen of buying teenaged black girls, faints; Galen, however, is murdered sometime after he is chased by dozen’s of Harlem’s citizenry while Coffin Ed and Grave Digger are trying to discover who is selling children.

All Shot Up…circa 1960.

Casper Holmes is a powerful politician. The voluptuous Lila Holmes, Casper’s wife, manages to tempt Digger. But the detectives rescue Casper who turns out to be a closet homosexual. In character, for the times, he is also hiding behind a veneer of respectability, and is using his position to steal funds from his political party.

The Big Gold Dream…circa 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 Heat’s On aka Come Back Charleston Blue…circa 1961.

Detectives Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones have lost two criminals. Pinky ran off – but it shouldn’t be hard to track down a giant albino in Harlem. Jake the dwarf drug dealer, though, isn’t coming back – he died after Grave Digger punched him in the stomach. And the dwarf’s death might cost them both their badges. Unless they can track down the cause of all this mayhem – like the African with his throat slit and the dog the size of a lion with an open head wound.

Cotton Comes to Harlem…circa 1965.

This novel begins with the Back-to-Africa rally, which is run by Reverend Deke O’Malley. The rally is interrupted by masked white hijackers who come armed to steal the collected money, which amounts to $87,000. A large amount of shooting occurs and one man is killed as the hijackers make their getaway with the money in a large truck.

Blind Man With a Pistol aka Hot Day, Hot Night…circa 1969.

Blind Man With a Pistol begins with an old condemned house on 119th Street with a window sign funeral performed. This attracted no attention even though neighbors had seen black nuns entering and leaving. Then another sign appears advertising for fertile women. Two white policemen investigate via the rear to find a fat cretinous black man stirring a huge pot of foul smelling stew atop a fire place built on a Volkswagon. When one police asks the man a question, he gets on the head with a stew ladle. The second cop knocks the ladle holder down just as a hoard of nuns and naked screaming children run into the room followed by a very old white robed man, Reverend Sam, claiming to be a Mormon, the husband of the wives, the father of the children. But, in the basement, there are three graves with remains of dead women of the house.

There are a total of nine books in the Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson series. Blind Man With A Pistol is the final entry in Chester Himes’s Harlem Detectives series. Four of Chester Himes’ novels were made into feature films: If He Hollers, Let Him Go!…circa 1968, directed by Charles Martin; Cotton Comes to Harlem, directed by Ossie Davis…circa 1970; Come Back, Charleston Blue aka The Heat’s On…circa 1972, directed by Mark Warren and A Rage in Harlem, starring Gregory Hines and Danny Glover, directed by Bill Duke…circa 1991.

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