Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Blind Man with a Pistol: Review

Blind Man with a Pistol (1969) is the first Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson novel I've read and the last in the series published before Chester Himes's death in 1984. It tells the story of one night and a day in Harlem. A period in which Detectives Jones and Johnson are tasked with finding the person responsible for a spate of organized race riots while weaving their way through murders, Black Muslims, Black Power movements, organized crime, and terrible violence everywhere. 

They get sidetracked from their primary assignment (the race riots) when a pantsless white man with his throat cut falls dead at their feet.  A trail of blood leads back to a cramped apartment building where apartments full of people neither saw nor heard anything. Another murder (of a key witness) follows and the police seem powerless to stop the murderer or the riots. The story ends with a regular shoot-em-up featuring the titular Blind Man and his pistol. 

I have to admit that I really didn't follow what was going on throughout most of this. Plot does not seem to be a major point of interest for Himes. I think I know who was behind the riots, but I wouldn't bet anything too valuable on that and I haven't the faintest idea about who killed the pantsless man and the witness. Jones and Johnson (and the white policemen on the force) haven't solved that crime by the end of the book and I doubt that they were going to. There is a lot of gratuitous violence and if you have any qualms about language (both racial and vulgar), then I'd suggest you steer clear. Definitely not a mystery story in the traditional sense.

I recognize that Himes was using the crime novel as a vehicle to make statements about violence and conditions in Harlem as well as to highlight the racial tensions of the time period. This is valuable for those interested in the late 60s/early 70s in New York. And, perhaps, the chaotic nature of the book--which jumped around from scene to scene and from viewpoint to viewpoint--was meant to reflect the chaotic atmosphere of the time and place--but it makes things difficult on the reader. Interesting as a snapshot of the time period, but not a typical mystery novel and it was difficult for me to enjoy it from that standpoint. The ending is well-done. Himes does seem to have a gift for describing the crowd mentality and giving the full flavor of the people's reactions without over-doing it. ★★

This fulfills the "Revolver" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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