MysteryPeople Double Feature: RAGE IN HARLEM by Chester Himes

MysteryPeople Partners with Authors & Auteurs for Return to Normal: A 50s Film Noir Film Series

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

rtn series

For the past few years, MysteryPeople has highlighted some of our favorite noir cinema based on crime fiction, with discussions following each screening to discuss the book and film. This year, MysteryPeople’s Double Feature film series is partnering with the Author & Auteurs Book Club for a summer of films highlighting the injustices and rot beneath the glamorous veneer of 1950s America. We’re kicking it off with a screening of A Rage In Harlem, Chester Himes’ seminal 1957 crime novel adapted into director Bill Duke’s 1991 movie, this Sunday, June 4, at 2 PM. In some ways the relationship between book and film contradicts the usual film adaptation.

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Shotgun Blast from the Past: THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE by Don Winslow and COTTON COMES TO HARLEM by Chester Himes

Today we bring you a special double Shotgun Blast from the Past, profiling two classic hardboiled crime novels – The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow, first published in 2006, and Cotton Comes to Harlem, by Chester Himes, first published in 1965. 

The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow

9780307277664Frank Machianno is an upstanding member of the community on the San Diego pier. To those who can remember far back, like Dave White, the cop buddy he surfs with, he was Frankie Machine, an enforcer during the Mafia’s last heyday. Through a very bad day for Frankie that reflects on a violent life, Don Winslow shows how you can’t put that past past behind you, in his character driven mob novel The Winter Of Frankie Machine.

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Great Mystery Reads for Black History Month

Post by Molly Odintz

F ebruary is Black History Month, not Black Mystery Month. However, fiction – especially pulp fiction, with its emphasis on raw emotion and experience – can be the best way to approach the sensations, as well as the actual facts, of history. Mysteries today tend to be seen as a mainly white genre, and there’s plenty of statistics, as well as the We Need Diverse Books movement, pointing out that authors of color tend to garner fewer reviews and less promotion than white authors. However, the history of mystery is as diverse as its present.

I’ve been working to learn more about the history of African-American mystery writers myself, and in the process, I wanted to bring some thoughts and recommendations to this blog.  Here are a few recommended mystery reads for the month of February, including classics, historical mysteries, and stories with contemporary settings, yet strong connections to the past.

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If you like Walter Mosley…

Post by Molly

Walter Mosley is one of the most prolific and talented writers today in any genre, and he writes in enough different genres to make that a proven fact. His two mystery series are some of the most outstanding long-running series around. One stars Easy Rawlins: stand-up citizen, unlicensed private detective, and informal liaison between his diverse Los Angeles community  and LA’s virulently racist police and politicians of the mid-20th century. The other features Fearless Jones, a hero for the pulps, and is also set mid-century. For the fan of Walter Mosley, here are a few recommendations….

cotton comes to harlem1. Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes

This classic addition to Himes’ hard-boiled Harlem Detectives series has NYPD detectives “Coffin Ed” Johnson and “Grave Digger” Jones on the case for some funds stolen from a charlatan pretending to raise money for the Back-to-Africa movement. This was one of the books that Denzel Washington read to help prepare for his role in Devil in a Blue Dress.

 

the underbelly2. The Underbelly by Gary Phillips

Gary Phillips worked as a community activist for many years before going on to write mysteries, and The Underbelly draws deeply on Phillips’ connection to community and radicalism. In this short and immensely satisfying novel put out by PM Press, a homeless Vietnam vet goes searching for a friend and finds far more than he bargained for.

 

onion street3. Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman

One of Coleman’s more introspective installments to his Moe Prager series, Onion Street has the New York PI looking into the relationship between a camp survivor, an OD’ed junkie, an underground radical group, and his own Jewish identity in a complex and thrilling mystery.

 


You can find copies of the books listed above via bookpeople.com.

Double Feature: DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS

Devil-in-a-Blue-Dress

This Wednesday, August 6th, at 6 pm, MysteryPeople will host a screening of Carl Franklin’s 1992 noir classic Devil in a Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s book of the same name. The screening is part of our ongoing Noir Double Feature Film Series, a biweekly MysteryPeople event where we screen a film adaption of a noir classic and follow with a discussion of the film versus the novel. Each screening begins at 6 pm and takes place on BookPeople’s third floor.

Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosely’s first novel to star unlicensed private detective Easy Rawlins, follows Easy as he first enters into the finding-things-out-for-money game. A sinister white gangster hires Rawlins to find a blonde bombshell who likes to frequent black clubs, but when Easy gets a little ways into the case, people around him start showing up dead, and it is up to him to find out whodunit before the law decides to go the lazy route and just frame him instead. Easy Rawlins, as a proud veteran of World War II and the mean streets of Houston’s fifth ward, is up to the task. By the end of the book, he may just have found himself a new career and a permanent outlet for snappy one liners.

Mosley’s novel takes place in 1940s LA, like many a neo-noir, and the book is so cinematically written as to form a perfect bond with Franklin’s jazzy interpretation. With a 20 million dollar budget, Franklin creates a vibrant depiction of African-American neighborhoods in mid-century Los Angeles. This, combined with a tight narrative and stunning early performances from Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle, make this a film not to miss.

As a film, Devil in a Blue Dress shares most symmetry with Chinatown – they both take a modern perspective and delve deeply into LA’s sordid history, and the city plays as large a part as any single character. Walter Mosley and Carl Franklin use the groundwork already laid for LA noir, and Devil in a Blue Dress adds a welcome layer to the cosmopolitan patchwork that is representations of Los Angeles in literature and film.

Devil in a Blue Dress is firmly grounded in the hard-boiled detective novel conventions. Corruption, murder, greed, deviance, prostitution, small-time gangsters – Easy Rawlins does not find post-war LA to be a particularly wholesome world. Easy also has all the particular problems of dealing with racism as an African-American in 1948, including police violence, potential lynching every time he talks to a white woman, and a constant stream of indignities and casual racism from almost every white man he meets. Although Rawlins is well established as a hard-working homeowner in a community in which he is known and respected, the admiration of his peers and the constant booze and sex cannot obscure his place at the bottom of society’s totem pole. The film was made shortly after Compton exploded in the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating, and the film struck a particularly heart-wrenching cord upon its release through its portrayal of issues from an earlier time that to this day pervade society.

Detective novels have long been dominated by voices writing from within mainly white communities, where the majority of minority visitors are represented as the other. Devil in a Blue Dress provides welcome relief from such literary tunnel vision – any white visitor to Mosley’s spot-on recreation of 1940s black LA is immediately viewed as a potentially dangerous anomaly. Mosley is, however, certainly not the first detective novelist to represent the African-American experience, and noir set in black communities has a long history stretching back to Chester Himes in the 1950s. Carl Franklin had Denzel Washington read some of Himes’ novels, including Cotton Comes to Harlem, so as to give him a sense of the time and place the film aimed to recreate.

Mosley is one of the  most intriguing authors writing now in any mystery subgenre. His detective novels, like his sci-fi and general fiction, have all enjoyed wide renown and crossover appeal. Luckily for us, he is also one of the most prolific authors writing now, and you can find his work all over our shelves. Mosley himself will be coming to BookPeople this fall on Wednesday, October 22nd at 7PM, so keep an eye out on our events calendar.

MysteryPeople is proud to offer a screening of Devil in a Blue Dress, Wednesday, August 6, at 6 pm, up on BookPeople’s third floor. You can find Devil in a Blue Dress on our shelves and at bookpeople.com. Our next MysteryPeople Noir Double Feature will be Wednesday, August 20. We will screen Winter’s Bone and discuss Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence to Book [scale of 1-5]: 4

Recommended films:

Chinatown, LA Confidential, Long Goodbye, In the Heat of the Night, Boyz N The Hood

Recommended books:

Anything by Walter Mosley, anything by Chester Himes, Charlie Huston’s No Dominion, anything by David Goodis