Not long ago I was invited to lead discussion on a classic in the mystery genre, Chester Himes’ A Rage in Harlem. We had what I call “an elite group” (read small turnout ).
This is a great book for groups that clamor for mysteries and also want something short. It was a good choice for the tail end of the winter months. All of the readers enjoyed it and made observations connecting this book to current situations they see in their neighborhoods.
One reader was familiar with the two detectives who play a smaller part in this novel than in later Himes’ novels. He said that the author hadn’t planned to start a series when he wrote A Rage in Harlem. From there, participants went into lengthy discussion about the “rage.” One reader discussed the rage of the community of Harlem and the efforts residents made to protect each other from the police, even if helping the police would help other residents.
Another reader said her “rage” came from the naivete of Jackson, the hapless, hardworking man who is taken in by a couple of con men who are assisted by Jackson’s girlfriend, Imabelle. She hoped that Jackson would become a little more street savvy by the end of the book and said she mentally “washed her hands of him” when he took back Imabelle and didn’t seem to learn anything from his experiences. One reader in the group said he thought, “five-cornered square referred to Jackson and being a square in Harlem could get you killed.”
The discussion of rage concluded when a third reader noted that the only person in the novel who exhibited no rage at all, and certainly had every right, was Jackson’s employer, Mr. Clay, from whom Jackson had stolen money and a car.
All agreed that the wiliest character in A Rage in Harlem was Mr. Clay since he benefits the most from everyone’s illegal or ill-thought out actions.