Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Harlem Gunnery

So, while relaxing last week I fell down a hard-boiled detective rabbit hole.  But one a little different.  Unusual for some white-boy find himself engrossed in.

Chester Himes' Harlem Detectives series. 

It's about 2 black detectives in Harlem in the 1950s.  And Himes can write.  It's not just genre fiction, read because it is good for the in group in the same way you eat you broccoli.  It's just good.  You know how I know it is good?  One way:  There are few white characters in the book.  You know how a white writer can have a single black character and it just feels... bad.  Wrong.  The dialect is all wrong.  Like a note off key.  Well, I realized a few books that Himes white characters just flow.  The note is in Harmony. 

But it's not just that example. 

And, I like the time capsule microcosm when I read 60 year old fiction of any sort, and this has it. 

As mentioned, the setting is Harlem.  But nothing in Chester Himes' online biographical sketch indicates he ever lived there.  Born in Missouri, lived in Cleveland, Columbus, and LA...  Later Europe.  I wonder if he made up those details without ever experiencing them.  At least experiencing them there, specifically. 

Anyway, the stories.  The protagonists are Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones.  Toughest plain clothesmen in Harlem.  And there is gun content. 

They have duplicate revolvers in their oil shoulder holsters.  Chrome plated long barreled .38s built on a .44 frame.  Custom.  Big and flashy so the crowd can better see them  when they take control of a scenet.  Big also for quick pistol whips.  They are described as purposely left with the one chamber empty so they won't go off during such clubbing work.  Which makes gunnies a little leery in fictional accounts, as that should hardly be necessary with modern revolvers and modern hammer block safeties.  Himes wasn't a policeman (quite the contrary) and certainly not in the weeds about firearm design like people that read this blog might be.  And it's a common enough fictional trope with revolvers. 

But there is one other scene in Cotton Comes to Harlem.  Where he describes a rifle is fine detail with a couple other nitpicks for me to mine for fodder.  (a non gun enthusiast getting the details wrong in a work of fiction?  T-Bolt must SPRING into pedantic action!)  More importantly, I am trying to figure out which model he refers to, after you get beyond the nitpicks.  Here is the passage:

"They had .303 automatic Savage rifles loaded with .190-point brass nosed shells, equipped with telescopic sights."

Now that .190 number is probably referring to a 190 grain projectile.  That's believable for a .30 caliber.  .303 round?  I dunno about that.  .308 maybe.  That would be available in the 50s.  But a semi-auto Savage in any .30 caliber chambering?  That should be easy to pinpoint, right?  I am guessing the gun in his head is prolly a Model 99 lever gun?  Dunno.  And I can't ask him.  He's been dead since the Reagan administration.

In reality I am just mildly bemused by flubs in gun minutiae like this.  If it weren't for the blog I would have already forgotten the gun flub. 


Lantry said...

A rifle chambered in .303 Savage would be a Savage 1899 or a 99. Both closely related lever actions. I don't believe anyone other than Savage ever chambered a production rifle in .303 Savage. 190 grain bullets were one of the standard loadings in the .303 Savage. Remington did chamber the Model 81 Semi Automatic Rifle in 300 Savage. They probably just mixed the wrong cartridge and rifle.

I remember as a kid seeing advertisements for a movie by the name of Cotton Comes to Harlem. Might have to buy that book to see what it was all about.

John Matus said...

There were two movies made with his characters/books, Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones (always loved that name). Can't remember the second one, but the first was 'Cotton Comes to Harlem'.