The Coffin and Grave Digger Mysteries

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The characters Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones are patterned after two detectives in a short story Himes published (1933) in Abbott's Monthly Magazine. They are almost peripheral in For Love of Imabelle but are full characters inThe Crazy Kill  1959, the second novel of the series. Here is a description:

As far back as Lieutenant Anderson could remember, both of them, his two ace detectives with their identical big hard-shooting, head-whipping pistols, had always looked like two hog farmers on a weekend in the Big Town. Grave Digger has a lumpy face, reddish brown eyes that always seem to smolder, and a big and rugged frame. He is more articulate than Coffin Ed who has one distinct feature - his face, which has been badly scarred by a thrown glass of acid. Their nicknames indicate the respect they receive in Harlem. They drive the streets in a nondescript battered super-charged Plymouth and work mainly through sheer presence, chance and, what we call today, brutality. As Grave Digger says to the commissioner, "We got the highest crime rate on earth among the colored people in Harlem. And there ain't but three things to do about it: Make the criminals pay for it - you don't want to do that; pay the people enough to live decently - you ain't going to do that; so all that's left is let'em eat one another up."

Travel with the gun ready detectives to their favorite haunts such as Mammy Louise's for meals of Chicken Feetsy, or black-eyed peas, peas, rice, okra, collard greens with fresh tomatoes and onion, and deep-dish apple pie and vanilla ice cream. Or visit the Great Man New Orleans night club. Meet their "good whiteman" superior.

With one exception, the Coffin & Grave Digger mysteries are:

For Love of Imabelle = A Rage in Harlem  1957

The Crazy Kill  1959

The Real Cool Killers  1959

Run Man Run  1966 (orig. Dare-Dare  1959) NOTE: Run Man Run  is a Harlem mystery not featuring Coffin & Grave Digger.

All Shot up 1960

The Big Gold Dream 1960

The Heat's On  1961

Cotton Comes to Harlem  1965

Blind Man With a Pistol  = Hot Day, Hot Night 1969

Newly released


For Love of Imabelle = A Rage in Harlem  1957

This is the first book of the series.

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.

The result of Goldy's involvement in the gold search is described:

Underneath the trunk black cloth was piled high.Artificial flowers were scattered about in garish disarray. A horseshoe wreath of artificial lilies had slipped to the back. Looking out from the arch of white lilies was a blackface. The face was looking backward from a head-down position, resting on the back of the skull. A white bonnet sat atop a grey wig stared at the four grey men witha fixed, unblinking stare. Beneath the face was the huge purple-lipped wound of a cut throat.

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  (1959) = Couché danse le pain (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  (1959) = If Trouble was Money (1959)
= Il pleu des coups durs

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.

Run Man Run  1966 (orig. Dare-Dare  1959)

Not a Coffin and Grave Digger novel: The darkness of Run Man Run comes from a white serial murderer operating within the establishment. An evil policeman, Matt Walker, run amok and his main quarry, an educated black man who has already witnessed the ending of two of Walker's victims: "He fell forward, pulling the tray from the rack along with him. Thick, cold, three-day old turkey gravy poured over his kinky head as he landed, curled up like a fetus, between a five-gallon can of whipping cream and the wooden crate of icebery lettuce."

All Shot up 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.

to be continued

The Big Gold Dream  1960


I must finish reading it

The Heat's On  1961


Criminals and law enforcement pursue a lost heroin shipment.


Cotton Comes to Harlem  1965

This is the most famous of the series.


For example, the type crime that outrages the two detectives most is the kind that occurs in Cotton Comes to Harlem - a hypocritical tpreacher extracting an enormous sum of money for a fake back-to-Africa movement.


Blind Man With a Pistol  = Hot Day, Hot Night 1969

Blind Man With a Pistol  begins with an old condemned house on 119th Street with a window sign FUNERALS 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.