Sometime back in the late '70's or early '80's, I stumbled across a paperback edition of one of Chester Himes' Harlem crime novels featuring his two cop characters, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson.
It was a revelation for me, a finger poppin' pulp roller coaster ride through a crazy quilt crime narrative that was part Damon Runyon, part Raymond Chandler, part Langston Hughes and part The Reverend Jeremiah Wright; political, sociological, ribald, violent, poetic, colorful and musical - in short, the voice of a man who started writing while in prison as a jewel thief, and later became a Parisian expatriate and developed a cult following in both highbrow (for social novels like Lonely Crusade and Cast The First Stone) and lowbrow (for crimes novels like For Love of Imabelle and Blind Man With A Pistol) literary circles.
Himes seems to be one of those writers whose early, more serious work, was met with criticism, or worse, indifference, and little remuneration. It was only when he was urged to try his hand at genre fiction by a French publisher, that he discovered both a wide audience, and many feel, within the constraints of genre, a deeper, freer expression of his political and social views on race and the urban black American experience.
Many of his early books have only been sporadically reprinted, but by the mid '80's, most of his Harlem crime books were back in print in these British editions from publisher Allison and Busby, with their catchy cover art, by Edward Burra.
Himes was still alive then (sadly he died in 1984, before I ever got to meet him) and he was represented by his New York literary agent Roslyn Targ.
Targ is a legend in New York publishing circles (her husband William Targ bought the rights to a little novel called "The Godfather" from then unknown author Mario Puzo when he ran G.P Putnam) and she is still alive and working today, although the literary/publishing world she was at the center of in the 20th century is so vastly altered and diminished.
I was able to beg, borrow and steal some small amount of money and negotiate an option on Himes' first Coffin Ed and Grave Digger novel, "A Rage In Harlem", and I set out, completely improbably, to develop it as a feature film.