Cotton Comes to Harlem 4/5
I am sometimes a little lukewarm about this series, but this one is great. Usually what I like about the series is that it wastes no time jumping into the action, especially offering up some crazy action right from the start. My favorite of the books really pull that off. Here we begin with a closed gate event in a parking lot where a minister (a grifter we know from a previous book) is selling people on a one-way trip back to Africa with all accoutrements supplied and waiting for them when they get there for $1000. To hear him tell it, this is not a for-profit situation but an opportunity where all the costs are accounted for. Eighty seven people have given their cash to the minister when the event is raided by masked bandits who make off in a high-speed car chase that ends with two police officers dead.
Because it’s Harlem, Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones are brought in to figure out what has happened. This leads them down some old familiar paths as well as some new ones. The title comes into play when a homeless man finds a fresh bale of raw cotton, puts it in his pushcart, and tries to find someone to buy it off him. This cotton, as you can imagine, is important to everything. With the loss of the income, the minister is bummed, but is confronted by a white man in neo Confederate gear and who looks the part of a southern Colonel offering to take the same people who paid to go to Africa (and by the way, no country is ever named) “back” to the South, where they’ll be taken care of. He’s an important player.
This is the wildest of the books so far, and they’re all wild. It’s also probably my favorite and has the best title too.
Blind Man With a Pistol 3/5
This book is pretty full of rage and so are all the others. The title is a kind of metaphor, until it isn’t, of the kind of wanton and reckless violence that can occur under the wrong circumstances. The book also deals with the riots and uprisings of the sixties in a more confrontational way. It also unfortunately has a bunch of queer characters, who you can imagine don’t get treated particularly well or sympathetically in this book.
“Good people, your food is digested by various juices in the stomach. There is a stomach juice for everything you eat. There is a juice for meat and a juice for potatoes. There is a juice for chitterlings and a juice for sweet potato pie. There is a juice for buttermilk and a juice for hopping John. But sometimes it happens these juices get mixed up and the wrong juice is applied to the wrong food. Now you might eat corn on the cob which has just been taken out of the pot and it’s so hot you burn your tongue. Well, your mouth gets mixed up and sends the wrong signal to your stomach. And your stomach hauls off and lets go with the juice for cayenne pepper. Suddenly you got an upset stomach and the hot corn goes to your head. It causes a burning fever and your temperature rises. Your head gets so hot it causes the corn to begin popping. And the popped corn comes through your skull and gets mixed up with your hair. And that’s how you get dandruff. Dusty Fletcher at the Apollo Theater on 125th Street in Harlem”