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Harlem Shuffle

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From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s. “Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…” To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, mak From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s. “Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…” To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home. Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time. Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn’t ask questions, either. Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa—the “Waldorf of Harlem”—and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes. Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs? Harlem Shuffle’s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem. But mostly, it’s a joy to read, another dazzling novel from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning Colson Whitehead.


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From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s. “Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…” To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, mak From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s. “Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…” To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home. Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time. Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn’t ask questions, either. Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa—the “Waldorf of Harlem”—and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes. Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs? Harlem Shuffle’s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem. But mostly, it’s a joy to read, another dazzling novel from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning Colson Whitehead.

30 review for Harlem Shuffle

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    The award winning Colson shifts genres to write a light hearted and beautifully crafted piece of multilayered historical fiction, crime and family drama, an astutely observed and atmospherically vibrant picture of 1950s and 1960s New York City's Harlem. It depicts the hustles and bustle, the culture, the community, detailing and describing the neighbourhoods, with its wide ranging cast of diverse characters, the offbeat, the high, the low and the shady, amidst a background of social and politica The award winning Colson shifts genres to write a light hearted and beautifully crafted piece of multilayered historical fiction, crime and family drama, an astutely observed and atmospherically vibrant picture of 1950s and 1960s New York City's Harlem. It depicts the hustles and bustle, the culture, the community, detailing and describing the neighbourhoods, with its wide ranging cast of diverse characters, the offbeat, the high, the low and the shady, amidst a background of social and political change the author provides a commentary on. This entertaining and humorous novel celebrates black crime writers such as Chester Himes, whilst touching on a number of critical areas, political corruption, white privilege, exploitation, race, power, policing, class, ethics and morality, the criminal underbelly, black history and the civil rights movement. The ambitious Ray Carney is looking to move on from his crooked personal family history, married to Elizabeth, now expecting their second child, he is doing well running his furniture store, but money is tight, his in-laws look down on him, and he dreams of moving to better neighbourhoods as he aspires to climb the social ladder. The respectable side of him juggles with the more illegal parts of his enterprise, while his cousin Freddie manages to drag him into deep trouble as with a planned heist of the Theresa Hotel, the 'Waldorf of Harlem' where it could be predicted that things would go wrong. We follow Ray through time as he tries to negotiate the pitfalls and dangers that come his way, is he going to be able to survive? Ray finds his eyes opened to the truths of the parts of New York that so often remain below the radar, the powerful elites, mobsters, corrupt cops and other criminal elements. The complex plotting, the comic touches, the great characters, particularly Pepper, and the nuanced storytelling make this a joy to read, whilst showcasing Whitehead's versatility as a writer. The Harlem of this historical period and its community holds centre stage, so wonderfully evoked, so different to the place it is today with the rise of gentrification. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Beata

    Having read two of Mr Whitehead's novels, this one was on top of my list. What a total surprise it was! A definite and unexpected shift into Harlem in the 1960s, with its bitter humour and portrayal of people and places so well-written that visualising them was not a problem for me. The beginning was rather slow and it took me a little time to get involved mainly due to my lack of knowledge what Harlem was like six decades ago. After some time though I felt more secure in the company of Ray and Having read two of Mr Whitehead's novels, this one was on top of my list. What a total surprise it was! A definite and unexpected shift into Harlem in the 1960s, with its bitter humour and portrayal of people and places so well-written that visualising them was not a problem for me. The beginning was rather slow and it took me a little time to get involved mainly due to my lack of knowledge what Harlem was like six decades ago. After some time though I felt more secure in the company of Ray and the company. This novel was the closest I could get to Harlem, I suppose. A reading journey that I will not forget for a long time. A big thank-you to Colson Whitehead, Little, Brown Book Group UK, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*

  3. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    4 stars for a book about Harlem, New York city, from the late 50s to the late 60s. The author calls this book "a love letter to Harlem.". This book is more about the changes in culture than about crime . It is narrated by Ray Carney, son of Mike Carney, a small time crook. Ray wants to go straight and opens a furniture store. But he accepts merchandise from questionable people to sell. His contacts with the underworld bring him into dangerous situations. How he resolves them amid the changes in 4 stars for a book about Harlem, New York city, from the late 50s to the late 60s. The author calls this book "a love letter to Harlem.". This book is more about the changes in culture than about crime . It is narrated by Ray Carney, son of Mike Carney, a small time crook. Ray wants to go straight and opens a furniture store. But he accepts merchandise from questionable people to sell. His contacts with the underworld bring him into dangerous situations. How he resolves them amid the changes in society, including riots and civil rights protests, makes for an enlightening window into Harlem during this period. I recommend it to historical fiction fans and crime fans. I read this book in two days. One quote: "Put it like, that, an outside observer might get the idea that Carney trafficked quite frequently in stolen goods, but that's not how he saw it. There was a natural flow of goods in and out and through people's lives, from here to there, a churn of property, and Ray Carney facilitated that churn. As a middleman. Legit." Thanks to Doubleday for sending me this eARC through NetGalley. HarlemShuffle #NetGalley

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marchpane

    ‘No New Frontier stretched before him, endless and bountiful — that was for white folks — but this new land was a few blocks at least and in Harlem a few blocks was everything. A few blocks was the difference between strivers and crooks, between opportunity and the hard scrabble.’ What’s a literary superstar to do after winning back-to-back Pulitzers for novels dealing with the more brutal aspects of African-American history? If you’re Colson Whitehead it seems the answer is: write a crime ca ‘No New Frontier stretched before him, endless and bountiful — that was for white folks — but this new land was a few blocks at least and in Harlem a few blocks was everything. A few blocks was the difference between strivers and crooks, between opportunity and the hard scrabble.’ What’s a literary superstar to do after winning back-to-back Pulitzers for novels dealing with the more brutal aspects of African-American history? If you’re Colson Whitehead it seems the answer is: write a crime caper dramedy. Harlem Shuffle takes a trip to its titular neighbourhood during the massive social change of the 1950s and 1960s, through the eyes of Ray Carney. Ray’s a devoted family man; upwardly mobile; owns a thriving furniture store—while running a shady side hustle that keeps threatening to get him in trouble with the big boys in town. There’s a comprehensive cross-section of New York criminality represented: Ray, with his pretence of being a strait-laced entrepreneur, crosses paths with oily mob bosses, two-bit hustlers, untouchable old money types (‘stone cold original Dutch motherfuckers’), cops on the take, and everyone in between. The Harlem setting, with its dive bars, greasy spoon diners, Strivers’ Row townhouses, is vibrant and definitely the novel’s greatest asset. Whitehead layers beats of Black history—from Seneca Village to Freedom Riders—throughout the story like a pulse, vivifying that sense of place. Despite an appealing backdrop and milieu, this novel misses the mark when it comes to storycraft. Too much action happens off-stage, too much of the narrative is taken up with filling in back-stories or catching the reader up between time-jumps, not enough happens in ‘real time’. The best characters (hello Pepper, a gravel-eyed glare in dungarees…) are not given nearly enough to do. Harlem Shuffle is much lighter fare than Whitehead’s last two outings (you really can’t blame the guy for wanting a change of pace), with all the ingredients for a Fargo-style caper but it doesn’t quite live up to its promise. If you have a special interest in mid-20th century Harlem, definitely check it out.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Colton Whitehead’s latest is a return to 1959-1961 Harlem. He totally evokes the feel of the time and place. Each one of his words served to bring up the sights, smells and sounds of the place. His descriptions had me in their thrall. It was impossible not to see every scene, so lush were the descriptions. Ray Carney might be the son of a petty thief, but he seems himself as an upstanding citizen. He was “only slightly bent when it came to being crooked”, not above taking something that had fall Colton Whitehead’s latest is a return to 1959-1961 Harlem. He totally evokes the feel of the time and place. Each one of his words served to bring up the sights, smells and sounds of the place. His descriptions had me in their thrall. It was impossible not to see every scene, so lush were the descriptions. Ray Carney might be the son of a petty thief, but he seems himself as an upstanding citizen. He was “only slightly bent when it came to being crooked”, not above taking something that had fallen off a truck. But his main bread and butter was his furniture store. His cousin, Freddie, on the other hand, is looking for the big score and draws Ray into the mix. Things with Freddie never go as planned and always end up causing trouble for Ray. Ray starts fencing more, trying to carefully walk the line between the two worlds. “Crooked world, straight world, same rules -everybody had a hand out for the envelope.” As the book goes on, Ray gets drawn further and further into the crooked world and it’s fascinating to see him try to rationalize the change. Whitehead creates characters that just feel real. Not just Ray, but Freddie, Elizabeth, Pepper; even minor characters like Moskowitz. This book has a lot to say about revenge and suppressed anger, family relations, the urge to get ahead. But for all that, I was less than completely enchanted. The story was uneven. All too often in the beginning, it was too much talk, not enough action. The humor is very subtle here. Blink and you’ll miss it almost. This is a book that demands you pay attention to every sentence, every word. Things start to pick up around the middle and I enjoyed the second half of the book as the action picked up. So, a solid 4 stars, but it could have easily been a five. My thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday for an advance copy of this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elle

    If Colson Whitehead writes it, then I will read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Angela M

    This novel has been described as a crime story . I not interested in crime stories and I only read it because Colson Whitehead wrote it . But as I expected, it was much more than about heists and fences and gangsters . Taking place in Harlem in 1959, 1961 and 1964, it’s a striking portrayal of a time and place reflecting on the racism then and there causing us to reflect on the racism here and now. It’s a captivating story of a man who “was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked …” , an This novel has been described as a crime story . I not interested in crime stories and I only read it because Colson Whitehead wrote it . But as I expected, it was much more than about heists and fences and gangsters . Taking place in Harlem in 1959, 1961 and 1964, it’s a striking portrayal of a time and place reflecting on the racism then and there causing us to reflect on the racism here and now. It’s a captivating story of a man who “was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked …” , and in spite of that slight bent, Ray Carney is a character I liked and will remember. I received a copy of this book from Doubleday through NetGalley.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    There are going to be two different types of readers of this book: those who are familiar with Whitehead's full backlist and those who only know THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD and NICKEL BOYS. That latter group is going to be very confused by this book, but if you dive into Whitehead's backlist you know that he switches genres constantly and the only rule is to expect to be surprised by whatever he does next. This is a crime novel in the style of the mid-20th-century, there are all kinds of crooked ty There are going to be two different types of readers of this book: those who are familiar with Whitehead's full backlist and those who only know THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD and NICKEL BOYS. That latter group is going to be very confused by this book, but if you dive into Whitehead's backlist you know that he switches genres constantly and the only rule is to expect to be surprised by whatever he does next. This is a crime novel in the style of the mid-20th-century, there are all kinds of crooked types, mobsters and fences and guys who do "odd jobs." There are a lot of characters with names like Cheap Brucie and Miami Joe. Set in Harlem, this is also, like SAG HARBOR, a detailed study of a place and time in Black America. HARLEM SHUFFLE feels a lot like the great crime stories. Even if it's one of Whitehead's most readable books, it's still got a lot to say about how people find themselves involved in crime and how they justify it to themselves. Ray Carney's father was a crook, and he is determined to make something of himself. He's done pretty well when we meet him, he owns a furniture store, he has a wife from a good family, he has a daughter and a baby on the way. But Ray has his eyes on more, imagines moving his family to Riverside Drive. Ray and his store embody a kind of striving, a desire for the trappings of the comfortable middle-class. Unfortunately, Ray's vision of himself is not quite accurate. He is willing to look the other way every now and then when his cousin shows up in a pinch and unload the occasional tv or radio of unknown origin without asking questions. The novel unfolds in three sections, set a few years apart. And while they are entirely separate stories, they all tie together. Not just because we track Ray over the years, but that you see how the end of one story has led us to this new one. Ray is level-headed but he's also a sucker who is never really willing to stand up and say, "I'm out." We know as we read that it's not so much that Ray isn't cut out for the stuff he's getting deeper and deeper into, it's that no one who gets in that deep tends to end up just fine. There is an exception to this rule, as the book knows. It's just fine to be up to your neck in illegal stuff if you're rich enough. Each story brings Ray a little bit closer to the kind of power that cannot be stopped by any one man. The step from 1961 to 1964 in particular is a very smart one, there are a lot of similarities between the circumstances in the two stories, and we see how Carney is fully unprepared for what he's gotten himself into. This is not a book where you think, "Oh it'll turn out okay for our guy." It's a book where you constantly think it's not going to turn out well for our guy. This is a spectacular New York novel. Whitehead maps out the city in great detail, always setting us on a particular block or corner, giving you the lay of the land. The last section is set just after the riots of 1964, which feels like it could have happened yesterday. I've been reading Whitehead for a very long time and this is right up there as one of his most fun books, even if it's also laced with nonstop dread. It's also readable as hell, with a clipped prose that fits the pulpy subject matter and setting perfectly.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    This story, set in Harlem, begins in 1959 with Ray Carney, a man who owns a furniture and appliance store on 125th Street, the ‘main street’ of Harlem, a street that will also come to be known as Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard years later. But that is twenty-five years in the future as this begins. To those who know or have dealt with Ray, he is a decent guy, trying to make a decent living selling furniture at a fair price, only slightly bent when it comes to being crooked. A likeable guy to This story, set in Harlem, begins in 1959 with Ray Carney, a man who owns a furniture and appliance store on 125th Street, the ‘main street’ of Harlem, a street that will also come to be known as Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard years later. But that is twenty-five years in the future as this begins. To those who know or have dealt with Ray, he is a decent guy, trying to make a decent living selling furniture at a fair price, only slightly bent when it comes to being crooked. A likeable guy to all who meet him, with a wife who is expecting a child - their second. A family man. It almost doesn’t matter what takes place in the story, this is more of a love letter to this place and this time, an ode to the good and the bad of the time. Sprinkled throughout are references to those places that most people will recognize - the Apollo Theatre, the descriptions of the posters of the time, the rhythm of the city and the people. A slightly mischievous take on the era rather than a dark and sinister tale that seems born of a sentimental fondness for these bygone days. That doesn’t mean that it is devoid of darker, more dangerous moments, those serve to give a sense of a balance. Harlem has changed since those days, it has become more gentrified in the years since, but Whitehead brilliantly brings the Harlem of that era to life with a nostalgic touch through this story. While this does include tragic moments, there are lighter moments, as well, and so much love for this place and these people. Published: 14 Sep 2021 Many thanks for the ARC provided by Doubleday Books / Doubleday

  10. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    “…Carney knew crime’s hours when he saw them – dorvay was crooked heaven, when the straight world slept and the bent got to work. An arena for thieving and scores, break-ins and hijacks, when the con man polishes the bait and the embezzler cooks the books. In-between things: night and day, rest and duty, the no-good and the up-and-up. Pick up a crowbar, you know the in-between is where all the shit goes down.” “Carney didn’t like the notion of dumping bodies in the back of his truck, deceased or “…Carney knew crime’s hours when he saw them – dorvay was crooked heaven, when the straight world slept and the bent got to work. An arena for thieving and scores, break-ins and hijacks, when the con man polishes the bait and the embezzler cooks the books. In-between things: night and day, rest and duty, the no-good and the up-and-up. Pick up a crowbar, you know the in-between is where all the shit goes down.” “Carney didn’t like the notion of dumping bodies in the back of his truck, deceased or not deceased or any which way. Once is bad luck; twice and it looks like you’re getting accustomed.” “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys” were very serious books. I know that I am in the minority here, but I didn’t love either of them. “Harlem Shuffle” is a crime novel with a lot of style and I enjoyed it more than the other books I’ve read by this author. It’s rhythm was quick and the language was colorful. The riffs were enhanced by Dion Graham’s narration of the audiobook. Ray Carney is a business school graduate who is now the owner of a furniture store in Harlem. His in laws think that their daughter Elizabeth married beneath her, but Ray is hustling his way up in the world. Some of the merchandise that finds its way to Ray was not necessarily acquired legally. This book is set in the 1960s and is comprised of parts arranged in chronological order. Each part deals with another point in Ray’s life in which justice may be served in an unconventional way. A lot of the difficulties faced by Ray are caused by his cousin Freddie, who gets Ray involved in some ill-conceived crimes. However, Ray is not an innocent victim. He knows how to take care of business, as evidenced by a scheme to get revenge when a banker fails to respect the quid pro quo of a bribe. There was definitely more style than substance in this book, but I liked it. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    3.5 stars A love letter to Harlem. “Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…” Ray Carney wants to go straight. He really does but when he opens a furniture store and money gets tight so when his cousin Freddy drops off a ring or two, Ray doesn't ask questions. Neither does the jeweler downtown. But it doesn't stop there, good ole Cousin Freddy and his crew plan to rob the “Waldorf of Harlem” Guess what? It doesn't go as planned. Now Ray who hoped to go straight, to pro 3.5 stars A love letter to Harlem. “Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…” Ray Carney wants to go straight. He really does but when he opens a furniture store and money gets tight so when his cousin Freddy drops off a ring or two, Ray doesn't ask questions. Neither does the jeweler downtown. But it doesn't stop there, good ole Cousin Freddy and his crew plan to rob the “Waldorf of Harlem” Guess what? It doesn't go as planned. Now Ray who hoped to go straight, to provide for his wife and family has a new shadier clientele. Now Ray is walking a straight rope so to speak between being a bad guy/crook and being a hard worker running a business. "I didn't mean to get you in trouble." Set in the 1950's and 1960's, Colson Whitehead gives readers a glimpse into Harlem during that time. Harlem is very much a character in this book as well. Colson Whitehead first caught my attention with The Underground Railroad and I was curious about this book. While this one did not grab me or leave me thinking as The Underground Railroad did. I found this book slow to start and it took some time for it to grab my attention. But it eventually grabbed my attention and I found this to be enjoyable. He is a gifted writer and storyteller. He does a little humor here and if you are looking for this book to be like his other books you will either be disappointed or pleasantly surprised. While I enjoyed this one, I wasn’t blown away. Thank you to Doubleday and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own. Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I suspected this novel wouldn't be for me and unfortunately I was right. Because it is written by Whitehead, there is plenty of good stuff here - a great character in furniture salesman Ray Carney, atmospheric details of Harlem in the 1960s (and racist NYC) and some laugh-out-loud humor. But it didn't come together for me. All the colorful crooks and the wheeling and dealing bored me. I went back and forth between audio and print but interest waned with both. I suspected this novel wouldn't be for me and unfortunately I was right. Because it is written by Whitehead, there is plenty of good stuff here - a great character in furniture salesman Ray Carney, atmospheric details of Harlem in the 1960s (and racist NYC) and some laugh-out-loud humor. But it didn't come together for me. All the colorful crooks and the wheeling and dealing bored me. I went back and forth between audio and print but interest waned with both.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alwynne

    Division’s central to Colson Whitehead’s impressive, Harlem-based novel: the divide between black and white America; the divide that inspired Langston Hughes’s A Dream Deferred; the divided self of Du Bois's concept of double consciousness. In Whitehead’s episodic narrative these resonate through Ray Carney, who’s simultaneously hero and anti-hero. It’s 1959 when Carney’s introduced and he’s already on the road towards achieving a version of the American Dream – an era when that myth still held Division’s central to Colson Whitehead’s impressive, Harlem-based novel: the divide between black and white America; the divide that inspired Langston Hughes’s A Dream Deferred; the divided self of Du Bois's concept of double consciousness. In Whitehead’s episodic narrative these resonate through Ray Carney, who’s simultaneously hero and anti-hero. It’s 1959 when Carney’s introduced and he’s already on the road towards achieving a version of the American Dream – an era when that myth still held out a slender form of hope. Carney’s overcome the proverbial difficult, impoverished childhood, created a family and a business. But behind his façade of conformity and hard-working aspiration’s another Carney whose rule-breaking exposes the flaws and fractures in America’s capitalist mythology. Carney’s a liminal figure in the most literal sense, by day he runs a modest furniture store, by night he’s a fence trading in stolen goods. He’s poised between would-be respectability and the criminal undercurrents unceasingly flowing through Harlem’s streets. Whitehead expertly draws on the sense of place that’s a feature of the best crime fiction, making it clear Carney’s story’s also Harlem’s story. He effortlessly captures Harlem’s flavour, its hum and throb, its rich, turbulent history. Harlem’s indicative of a New York in flux, communities are being eroded, Carney’s childhood landmarks are disappearing, buildings rapidly rise and swiftly fall. Carney’s existence’s typified by constant movement, a state of permanent impermanence - the only way to survive’s to go with the flow. Carney’s desires mirror his surroundings, he’s always focused on the next step, moving out and moving up: an expanding business, a bigger apartment, a better area. Whitehead parallels Carney’s situation with his hapless cousin Freddy, an apt demonstration of the consequences of failing to adapt. In Harlem Shuffle Whitehead skilfully reworks genre conventions taking admirable advantage of the crime novel’s ability to deliver an engaging story with a generous helping of searing, social critique. His writing’s taut, disciplined, carefully honed, his tone shifts between drily humorous and gently lyrical, plot secondary to character and atmosphere. He imbues his hero with the sympathetic, world-weariness of Chandler’s Marlowe, the melancholy resilience of Mosley’s Socrates Fortlow, and the pragmatic, moral ambiguity of Highsmith’s Ripley; placing Carney in a noirish, corrupt world lacking any semblance of moral certainty, that much more precarious because he’s a Black man in racist, white America. Harlem Shuffle’s a meticulously-realised, compelling piece and I’m already longing for the sequel. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Fleet, an imprint of Little Brown for the arc. Rating: 4.5/5

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    As the only living writer who’s won two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction — and a National Book Award and a MacArthur “genius” grant — Colson Whitehead risks growing so encrusted with literary prestige that he’s not allowed to have any fun. But clearly that’s not holding him down. Yes, Whitehead wrote one of the greatest historical novels about slavery (“The Underground Railroad”), and his last novel was a grisly story — based on real events — about a deadly juvenile detention center in Florida (“The Ni As the only living writer who’s won two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction — and a National Book Award and a MacArthur “genius” grant — Colson Whitehead risks growing so encrusted with literary prestige that he’s not allowed to have any fun. But clearly that’s not holding him down. Yes, Whitehead wrote one of the greatest historical novels about slavery (“The Underground Railroad”), and his last novel was a grisly story — based on real events — about a deadly juvenile detention center in Florida (“The Nickel Boys”). But longtime fans know that he’s also the author of a fantastic zombie novel (“Zone One”), a witty satire about marketing (“Apex Hides the Hurt”) and a delightful fictionalized memoir (“Sag Harbor”). So perhaps it was only a matter of time before he drove down 125th Street in his native New York City to deliver a wry crime novel. If the ghost of Chester Himes hovers over these pages — think “Colson Comes to Harlem” — there’s nothing derivative about Whitehead’s storytelling. As usual, when he moves into a new genre, he keeps the bones but does his own decorating. “Harlem Shuffle” takes place in the late. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Harlem Shuffle is the story of Ray Carney. Being the son of a crook, he strives to lead an upstanding life as the owner of a furniture store in Harlem. He is happily married with children and has goals for their life such as owning a house on Riverside Drive. Everything is going well until unknown to Ray, his cousin Freddie volunteers him as the fence for a heist. I was not familiar with the term fence being someone who moves stolen goods, so that was an interesting fun fact to learn. Based on th Harlem Shuffle is the story of Ray Carney. Being the son of a crook, he strives to lead an upstanding life as the owner of a furniture store in Harlem. He is happily married with children and has goals for their life such as owning a house on Riverside Drive. Everything is going well until unknown to Ray, his cousin Freddie volunteers him as the fence for a heist. I was not familiar with the term fence being someone who moves stolen goods, so that was an interesting fun fact to learn. Based on the synopsis, I was really expecting the heists to be a major part of the story, but they actually are not. Unfortunately, going into this book with that expectation probably played a part in my rating of the book. This book focuses on Ray and his internal struggle between his wants/goals and the slippery slope of what he needs to do to get there. I found the pacing inconsistent and the story at times moves quite slowly. This book is told in 3 parts: 1959, 1961, and 1964. I found the time jumps to be jarring to the point that the story seemed disjointed and confusing in parts. There are so many minor characters to keep track of in this book, and the author went into a lot of detail regarding their backstory which didn't necessarily serve the story in any way. That being said, my favorite character was Pepper. I wanted more of him and always looked forward to his return to the story. Colson Whitehead is a wordsmith and a very talented author, and I like that he moves fluidly between genres. His writing in this book painted a very vivid picture of living in 1960s Harlem. I've only read one other book by this author and really enjoyed it, so I look forward to catching up on some of his previous books. 3 stars. Many thanks to Doubleday and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Colson Whitehead switches gears and gives us a crime thriller / sociogram of civil rights-era Harlem. Divided in three parts set in 1959, 1961, and 1964, thus culminating in the Harlem riot, the story centers on protagonist Ray Carney, the son of a criminal. He is is a first-generation college student und runs a furniture business while himself leading a double-life and being involved in crime schemes: The official business is used as a front to cover up illegal actvities. Most notably, Carney i Colson Whitehead switches gears and gives us a crime thriller / sociogram of civil rights-era Harlem. Divided in three parts set in 1959, 1961, and 1964, thus culminating in the Harlem riot, the story centers on protagonist Ray Carney, the son of a criminal. He is is a first-generation college student und runs a furniture business while himself leading a double-life and being involved in crime schemes: The official business is used as a front to cover up illegal actvities. Most notably, Carney is drawn into a heist in a fancy hotel - the consequences reverberate throughout the text. Married to the daughter of a wealthy, influential man, Carney aspires to leave his dubious past behind, only to discover that the world he wants to belong is run by the same dubious principles. Whitehead has crafted a pulpy crime novel - you could easily picture Tarantino turning this into a gritty spectacle. But most of all, this book illustrates a certain era in Harlem, capturing the atmosphere and the situation of (Black) people at the time: Kennedy, the Harlem riot, police violence, the spread of heroin addiction, discrimination. The author himself hails from New York and has by now produced quite a few books about or set in his hometown (The Colossus of New York, Sag Harbor, Zone One). While Whitehead clearly put a lot of thought and effort into inventing a vast cast of characters, I found it a little tedious to follow all of them and work through their connections - but then again, I'm not much of a crime novel reader. I would have preferred to learn more about the history and the political circumstances, and less about the intricate vendettas played out in this tale of family loyalty, humiliation and revenge. This is not going to win Whitehead the third Pulitzer in a row, but hey, that can't be the goal: This author apparently aims to cover a wide range of genres and topics, depicting life in the US from different angles. Colson Whitehead, still a master storyteller, but alas, this is not my kind of book. You can learn more about the German translation (also titled "Harlem Shuffle") in our latest podcast episode.

  17. 4 out of 5

    emma

    a heist story written by colson whitehead?! what did i do to deserve this

  18. 4 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Ray Carney has a foot in both worlds, and he isn’t given to thinking too deeply about that. As the son of a badass criminal, he considers that he has turned out quite respectably; yet, when Cousin Freddie occasionally brings a consignment piece of jewelry to his store, he doesn’t ask many questions about its history. Thus begins a slow, steady slide, from being a mostly-straight retailer, to a mostly-crooked fence. But oh, what a glorious story it makes! My thanks go to Doubleday and Net Galley Ray Carney has a foot in both worlds, and he isn’t given to thinking too deeply about that. As the son of a badass criminal, he considers that he has turned out quite respectably; yet, when Cousin Freddie occasionally brings a consignment piece of jewelry to his store, he doesn’t ask many questions about its history. Thus begins a slow, steady slide, from being a mostly-straight retailer, to a mostly-crooked fence. But oh, what a glorious story it makes! My thanks go to Doubleday and Net Galley for the invitation to read and review. You can buy this book now. The first time I read Colson Whitehead was when The Underground Railroad was published five years ago. It was unquestionably a work of genius, but it was also a fair amount of work to read. Then The Nickel Boys came out, and when I finally found a copy, it was well written yet so harsh, and at a difficult time for me personally, that I thanked my lucky stars that it wasn’t a review copy, and I gave myself permission to abandon it. So thus far, my admiration for this author has been tempered by the awareness that I would need to roll up my sleeves, or to brace myself, or both. Harlem Shuffle contains none of that. It’s told in linear fashion, beginning in the late 1950s and ending in the late 1960s. The writing is first rate, as one might anticipate, but it’s also an unmitigated pleasure to read. Our protagonist, Carney, has married up. His beautiful wife Elizabeth comes from a family with lighter skin, higher social position, and a good deal more money. Elizabeth loves him, but she has expectations. As his young family grows to include a son and daughter, the pressure increases. But let’s not kid ourselves; this isn’t just about Carney supporting his family: “If he got a thrill out of transforming these ill-gotten goods into legit merchandise, a zap-charge in his blood like he’d plugged into a socket, he was in control of it and not the other way around. Dizzying and powerful as it was. Everyone had secret corners and alleys that no one else saw…The thing inside him that gave a yell or tug or shout now and again was not the same thing his father had. The sickness drawing every moment into its service…Carney had a bent to his personality, how could he not, growing up with a father like that. You had to know your limits as a man and master them…His intent was bent but he was mostly straight, deep down.” Freddie comes to Carney with a plan: he and his confederates intend to rob the Hotel Theresa, which is the pride of Harlem, the place to stay for Negro patrons of breeding and taste. It was almost sacrilege; and yet, it would also be a fantastic take. Would Ray Carney put out some feelers to find out who could move the sorts of valuable baubles that might be found in the hotel safe? Ray tells him of course not. No no no no no. A thousand times no! And then, he commences doing exactly that. There are several aspects of this tale that make it exceptional. Whitehead resists the amateurish urge to fall back on pop culture of the period, instead imparting the culture and the pressures of the time more subtly. Racism against Negroes (the acceptable term of the time) by Caucasians; racism by light-skinned Negroes against darker ones, such as Carney; cop violence against all of them; the difficulty faced by Harlem merchants that want to carry first-class products but must first persuade snooty Caucasian company representatives; protection rackets endemic to Harlem, run by Negro criminals as well as cops, so that envelopes had to be passed to multiple representatives every month; and a plethora of other obstacles, stewed into the plot seamlessly, never resembling a manifesto. There’s Whitehead’s matchless ability to craft his characters, introducing each with a sketch so resonant that I had to reread them before moving on; highlight them; then go back and read them a third time after I’d finished the book. My favorite secondary character is Pepper, an older thug so terrifying that even the cops wince when they’re near him. And then there are brief shifts in point of view, and again, my favorite of these is Pepper’s. Carney isn’t a brilliant decision maker, but he is an underdog, and he’s a survivor as well, and both of these things make me cheer him on. I haven’t had so much fun in a long damn time. When events escalate, Carney finds himself rolling a corpse into a fine carpet, and I can only hope that he chose a relatively cheap rug, because otherwise, what a waste! Those that love the genre mustn’t miss this book, filled with everything anyone could ever want in a noir-style crime novel. Do it, do it, do it!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bkwmlee

    The last couple of years, Fall has been a particularly busy reading season for me due to the fact that a lot of my favorite authors (or famed authors whose works I’ve been wanting to read but hadn’t gotten around to yet) release new books around this time and I end up scrambling in a harried attempt to get to each and every single one of those books — a feat that is 10 times more difficult with a full-time job and family obligations that oftentimes leave me with little time for myself. Yes, I kn The last couple of years, Fall has been a particularly busy reading season for me due to the fact that a lot of my favorite authors (or famed authors whose works I’ve been wanting to read but hadn’t gotten around to yet) release new books around this time and I end up scrambling in a harried attempt to get to each and every single one of those books — a feat that is 10 times more difficult with a full-time job and family obligations that oftentimes leave me with little time for myself. Yes, I know this is a self-inflicted bookworm problem (sorry / not sorry?) and I am by no means trying to elicit sympathy, it’s just that when I opened up my book tracking app today and saw that I this was only the fourth book I’ve finished out of a (wildly unrealistic) goal of 13 for this month (yes, you read that right — 13 books for the month of September), I felt the need to vent, if merely to just get it off my chest. Whew! Ok, back to the matter at hand… The aforementioned 4th book (out of 13) that I just finished is Colson Whitehead’s newest release Harlem Shuffle . Whitehead is one of those famous authors whose works I’ve had on my TBR like forever, but for some reason or another, I haven’t been able to get around to reading those works. So when I was offered an ARC of Whitehead’s latest work, I of course jumped at the opportunity (even knowing his newest book would be markedly different from his previous ones). Going into this, I was excited to finally get the chance to “see what the hype was about” when it comes to this award-winning author. With that said though, while I did enjoy this one quite a bit and found it to be an excellent read in many aspects — the vivid, lyrical writing, the realistic and fleshed out characters, the wonderfully rendered atmosphere of 1950s / 1960s Harlem, witty and fun dialogue, the timeliness of the social commentary, etc. — what made this a 4 star read instead of 5 star is the fact that I wasn’t able to engage with the story as much as I thought I would, despite my best efforts. This is more a reflection of my own tastes rather than any issue with the book itself — namely that I’m not much of a reader of heist and gangster stories and while this wasn’t the entire focus of the story, I found it more difficult to connect with the story and therefore it was a much slower read for me. Regardless though, this was still a worthwhile read and one that I learned a lot from, especially with the historical fiction aspect and the masterful, atmospheric way that Whitehead captured the various nuances of Harlem and New York during that particular time period. Though I wasn’t much engaged with the story, I did like most of the characters — even the main character Ray Carney with his sardonic wit as he struggles to keep the two sides of his life separate from each other. Overall, this was a solid 4 star read, a book that I highly recommend! I read an interview with the author last week where he mentioned that he is working on a sequel to this book that would follow Ray Carney into the 1970s era, which I definitely look forward to reading. In the meantime, I need to get with the program and go pickup Underground Railroad as well as The Nickel Boys and other books from Whitehead’s backlist. So many books, so little time!! Received ARC from DoubleDay Books via NetGalley.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    He sat on it for a year to let the heat die down. Buxbaum paid him and Carney put the money away for the apartment. "I may be broke sometimes, but I ain't crooked," he said to himself. Although, he had to admit, perhaps he was. Harlem Shuffle is somewhat of a saga, chronicling the life of Ray Carney and his friends and family from 1959 to 1964. Carney owns and operates a legitimate furniture store in Harlem by day, but by night he follows in his criminal father's footsteps, acting as a "fence" a He sat on it for a year to let the heat die down. Buxbaum paid him and Carney put the money away for the apartment. "I may be broke sometimes, but I ain't crooked," he said to himself. Although, he had to admit, perhaps he was. Harlem Shuffle is somewhat of a saga, chronicling the life of Ray Carney and his friends and family from 1959 to 1964. Carney owns and operates a legitimate furniture store in Harlem by day, but by night he follows in his criminal father's footsteps, acting as a "fence" and reselling stolen merchandise brought to him by his underworld friends, such as gems and jewelry, to his other shady contacts, for a percentage. Carney is also periodically drawn into capers by his drug-addicted, trouble-prone cousin Freddie, and the reader is given the sense, over the course of the novel, that Carney is descending further and further into crime and that he is having increasing trouble hiding this aspect of his life from his wife and two kids. Overall I think this was a good book, and it's very well written; Whitehead is clearly a gifted author. I loved the characters and the descriptions of Harlem and other areas in New York, and the story was generally entertaining, though the book is divided into three parts, and I found a large portion of the third part to be pretty boring; it seemed to drag on forever. There were some problems with the book, however. One of them is how unrealistically dumb Carney is when it comes to his cousin Freddie. Freddie has been getting Carney into trouble since childhood, and in adulthood, even just during the few years this novel spans, he gets Carney into the type of trouble that could get him thrown in jail or jeopardize the lives of his family numerous times. But each and every time, Carney relents and participates. Any normal, sane person would have cut Freddie out of their life years before. It's so ridiculously obvious that the other characters in the book even mention it: "Look, you don't want my advice. You're not an advice-taker and I don't give a sh*t. But--cut him loose. He's a loser. It's already done." "It's not done. He's splitting." "Trouble'll find him again. Your father would say, f*ck him. Even if he is family. Even if it was you." I also didn't like how Carney basically never pays for his criminal ways by the end of the book; he just gets away with everything. Basically every other person in the book pays for their criminal behaviour, in one way or another, but somehow Carney is magically immune. I think the book would have been a lot better if Carney was killed at the end, or did a stint in prison, something. But instead it's just happily ever after for the guy who was involved in robberies, heists, fencing, etc. It just rubbed me the wrong way. The book also seems somewhat falsely advertised. Its own dust jacket describes it as "a love letter to Harlem", but I found it to be the exact opposite. All this book does for its entire length is sh*t on Harlem and its people. Every single person, with the exception of Carney's wife and kids, is involved in criminal activity or is a terrible person in some way. Settings, like apartments, businesses, or bars, were often described as dingy or filthy or shady. I wouldn't want to step foot within a mile of Harlem after reading this book. That doesn't seem like a "love letter" to me... I also found the excessive mentioning of how awful white people are throughout this book to be more and more off-putting as time went on. I totally understand the racial tension of the time and place this book is set in, but it felt like he bashed white people every 1-3 pages, which is at least one hundred times, as this book is 318 pages long. Statements like the ones below are littered everywhere throughout this book: Work together and we can subvert their evil order. That cop Rooker who hangs out on Sixth is out to get black people. Whitehead describes the police as "racist white cops", never saying anything positive about the good, non-racist white police officers or citizens of New York, but then, at a point in the book where he had probably bashed white citizens and police dozens or even hundreds of times, he proceeded to mention the riots and looting that occurred after the shooting of an African American boy by white police, and he made sure the reader was informed that not everyone in Harlem participated, and not to paint them with too broad of a brush: Despite what America saw on the news, only a fraction of the community had picked up bricks and bats and kerosene. In this sense, I found his opinions of whites and African Americans to be incredibly biased and hypocritical. Hopefully he was just trying to adequately convey the racial tension of that time period in New York, but even so I thought it was excessive. Overall, this is a decent and incredibly well written book, with a good story and a full cast of interesting characters. It's boring at times, a bit unrealistic, and excessively anti-white, but if you can get past all that I recommend checking it out. 3.5 stars

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ari Levine

    3.5, rounded down. Good pulpy escapist fun from a supremely talented writer with nothing left to prove. Whitehead's won the Pulitzer twice in the past five years for The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, both of which are serious contenders for Great American Novel of the first quarter of the 21st century (the latter even more than the former). Harlem Shuffle is probably going to confound readers who haven't been following Whitehead's entire career, the only constant of which has been wi 3.5, rounded down. Good pulpy escapist fun from a supremely talented writer with nothing left to prove. Whitehead's won the Pulitzer twice in the past five years for The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, both of which are serious contenders for Great American Novel of the first quarter of the 21st century (the latter even more than the former). Harlem Shuffle is probably going to confound readers who haven't been following Whitehead's entire career, the only constant of which has been wild shifts in genre. It's a loving homage to crime novels of the 1950s and 60s, especially the grandmaster of mid-century Black crime fiction, Chester Himes. This is a vividly and richly detailed reconstruction of the overlapping criminal underworld and legitimate overworld of Harlem between 1959 and 1964, where NYC racial politics is inescapable-- especially the brutality of racist cops, the pervasive corruption of the political machine, and economic exploitation by the city's white elite. But Whitehead is more interested here in building multi-layered and suspenseful crime stories with intricate plots and memorable characters, especially a parade of hit men, numbers runners, hired thugs, and drug barons. This is really three linked novellas with the same protagonist, Ray Carney, who is navigating both the crooked and the legitimate sides of Harlem as the upwardly-mobile owner of a furniture store on 125th Street who also fences stolen jewels and televisions on the side. While scheming his way into a deluxe apartment on Riverside Drive, Ray finds himself (unwittingly at first) dragged into a hotel jewel heist by his crooked cousin Freddie. The college-educated son of a criminal who inherited more than his father's ill-gotten money, Ray is a self-made man who thinks he's smarter than everyone else, and begins to succumb to the lure of suitcases of cash, while keeping his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of a wealthy lawyer from Striver's Row, in the dark. And just like Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III, just when Ray thought he was out, they pull him back in. Some quibbles: While the plotting is masterful, the storytelling here seemed a bit rushed, with an over-reliance on flashbacks to provide just-in-time exposition. And the info-dumps on New York racial history, the product of serious research, don't feel smoothly integrated into the novel's action. Many thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday for providing me with an ARC of Harlem Shuffle in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Harlem Shuffle represents a shift of focus for a favorite writer who has won prizes for his recent explorations of the African-American experience. On the surface, it is lighter, but there are undercurrents of tragedy and rage that make this such a rich, satisfying book. At the center is Ray Carney, a loyal, loving family man with a furniture store on 125th Street, who has more than a touch of the rascal in him thanks to circumstances and dna. Colson Whitehead has deliberately set his story in 1 Harlem Shuffle represents a shift of focus for a favorite writer who has won prizes for his recent explorations of the African-American experience. On the surface, it is lighter, but there are undercurrents of tragedy and rage that make this such a rich, satisfying book. At the center is Ray Carney, a loyal, loving family man with a furniture store on 125th Street, who has more than a touch of the rascal in him thanks to circumstances and dna. Colson Whitehead has deliberately set his story in 1959, pre-tech overhaul, pre-gentrification of the neighborhood. There is some gorgeous writing, a lot of nostalgia, and memorable sentences such as "It was a beautiful night to be out in the city and up to no good." Think that sums it up for me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    I haven't read a lot of Colson Whitehead's work, just Underground Railroad and now Harlem Shuffle, so I can't provide context for this review that many of those who know his work better can. What I can say with certainty is that I'm glad I read this title. Set in Harlem on the cusp of the 1960s, Harlem Shuffle presents the story of Ray Carney, son of a career criminal who is succeeding on his own as a legitimate—mostly—furniture store owner. Carney sells the occasional item that "fell off the ba I haven't read a lot of Colson Whitehead's work, just Underground Railroad and now Harlem Shuffle, so I can't provide context for this review that many of those who know his work better can. What I can say with certainty is that I'm glad I read this title. Set in Harlem on the cusp of the 1960s, Harlem Shuffle presents the story of Ray Carney, son of a career criminal who is succeeding on his own as a legitimate—mostly—furniture store owner. Carney sells the occasional item that "fell off the back of the truck" and helps fence occasional buts of stolen jewelry, but he also offers quality furniture at fair prices. Carney's father wasn't always around, so Carney spent a significant part of his growing up in an Aunt's home alongside his cousin Freddie. Carney has always been the kind of guy who thinks things through; Freddie acts on impulse. Now, one of Freddie's impulses has gotten Carney involved in the robbery of Harlem's best-known hotel, an undertaking much more risky than occasional fencing. Whitehead lays out this situation at the start of Harlem Shuffle, then leads us through several years of Carney's life, watching him juggle his quest for legitimate status and security with the temptation of quick money to be made on the side. This book didn't shake me up the way Underground Railroad did, but I enjoyed every moment of reading it. Carney and his cohort are engaging characters, and Whitehead's use of third-person omniscient narration gives readers plenty of insight regarding Carney's explanations to himself of the choices he's made and is making. A number of the secondary characters are equally well drawn, placing readers in the elaborately structured community that Harlem was at this time. The "action" of the novel moves in fits and starts, but that's how life moves—few of us consistently travel direct, purposeful trajectories. I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.

  24. 4 out of 5

    DeAnn

    3.5 Ode to Harlem stars This one took a while to take off for me, but then the writing and characters compelled me to finish. It’s the very late 1950s and our main character Ray Carney is doing well running his furniture store in Harlem. Since his father was a serious criminal, Ray is trying to be on the up and up and run a legitimate business. It’s awfully hard not to give in to temptation though. When stolen goods and jewels just show up at your door, how do you say no? When everyone else is in 3.5 Ode to Harlem stars This one took a while to take off for me, but then the writing and characters compelled me to finish. It’s the very late 1950s and our main character Ray Carney is doing well running his furniture store in Harlem. Since his father was a serious criminal, Ray is trying to be on the up and up and run a legitimate business. It’s awfully hard not to give in to temptation though. When stolen goods and jewels just show up at your door, how do you say no? When everyone else is in the game, how do you sit on the sidelines? With payoffs galore, it’s hard to keep track of who all the players are in this ode to Harlem. Ray is a family man and as the years go by, he is always trying to do better for his family, whether it’s moving to the newest part of town, or getting the best furniture for their own use. Ray is always trying to improve his image to his wife’s family. His cousin Freddie is deep into the criminal world and tries to stay away from Ray and the furniture store, but they’ve developed a lucrative side business. As the criminal activity escalates, I really worried that Ray would end up in the losing end of things. Interesting that the author had me feeling sympathy for Ray and thinking about shades of criminal activity. He wasn’t all that bad was he? Harlem itself was a character in this one and Whitehead really brought this time to life, from stories like Ray Carney’s, to the riots, and a bit about the police and politics of the time. Overall, I liked this one, but not as much as his earlier book "The Underground Railroad," however, he's such a talented writer that I will read all his books! Thank you to Doubleday and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this one and provide an honest review.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Putting this aside at 20 percent. Just can't seem to engage. May pick it back up later. Just not in the mood for heists and gangsters. Putting this aside at 20 percent. Just can't seem to engage. May pick it back up later. Just not in the mood for heists and gangsters.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Darla

    It was a racket, the whole thing. This book took me for a ride. While I was hoping for more of an 'Oceans 11' type story, it was more of an elegy to mid-20th century Harlem. That is all fine. The writing was excellent, but the arc of the narrative just did not focus on the pieces I had been expecting. Ray Carney was most definitely bent, as described in the first line. I would have liked to get to know his wife Elizabeth better in the book. The references to the up and coming World Trade Center It was a racket, the whole thing. This book took me for a ride. While I was hoping for more of an 'Oceans 11' type story, it was more of an elegy to mid-20th century Harlem. That is all fine. The writing was excellent, but the arc of the narrative just did not focus on the pieces I had been expecting. Ray Carney was most definitely bent, as described in the first line. I would have liked to get to know his wife Elizabeth better in the book. The references to the up and coming World Trade Center project also provided fascinating context to the story. Thank you to Doubleday and Edelweiss+ for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.

  27. 4 out of 5

    MicheleReader

    It’s 1959 and Ray Carney is the owner of Carney’s Furniture on 125th Street in Harlem. He is a proud Black businessman. While his father was a career criminal, Ray worked hard to avoid following in his footsteps. But he’s living in a world that has made that nearly impossible. The neighborhood police expect an envelope of money monthly as do the local gangsters, all claiming to provide protection. It’s the cost of doing business. While Ray’s store is a legitimate one, he reconciles that it is fi It’s 1959 and Ray Carney is the owner of Carney’s Furniture on 125th Street in Harlem. He is a proud Black businessman. While his father was a career criminal, Ray worked hard to avoid following in his footsteps. But he’s living in a world that has made that nearly impossible. The neighborhood police expect an envelope of money monthly as do the local gangsters, all claiming to provide protection. It’s the cost of doing business. While Ray’s store is a legitimate one, he reconciles that it is fine to sell merchandise that has “fallen off the truck.” When his cousin Freddie gets him involved in a jewel heist at the nearby Hotel Theresa, it becomes harder for Ray to continue to believe he is running a clean operation. Through it all, Ray’s main goal is to save money for a nice apartment on Riverside Drive and provide for his family. Unlike author Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winning books The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, his latest book is a crime novel. But it’s more than that. Within the criminal escapades of it’s well-developed characters, there are social messages to be found. Ray is unable to join the Dumas Club, the prestigious social club of his lighter-skinned father-in-law, as he strives to become part of Harlem’s Black business elite. And are these lawyers and bankers really any less of a crook that he is? The lines of distinction are blurred. The book takes us through the 1964 Harlem riots and continued injustices as Ray’s life continues to get more complicated. Harlem Shuffle satisfies with its creative cast of criminals, heists and cons while leaving readers with a lot to think about. Many thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this powerhouse of a book in advance of its September 14, 2021 release. Rated 4.5 stars. Review posted on MicheleReader.com.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andre

    Thoughts still percolating. But on first blush I’m surmising that my expectations may have been unreasonably high. And so I’m trying to align my thoughts without the expectations. Stay tuned....well with two weeks from publication date. Here is my update that I forgot to post. Colson Whitehead is such a talented and skilled writer, that he has in some ways become a victim of his own success. He has set the bar so high, that, to use a sports analogy, we (I) expect a grand slam each time he comes t Thoughts still percolating. But on first blush I’m surmising that my expectations may have been unreasonably high. And so I’m trying to align my thoughts without the expectations. Stay tuned....well with two weeks from publication date. Here is my update that I forgot to post. Colson Whitehead is such a talented and skilled writer, that he has in some ways become a victim of his own success. He has set the bar so high, that, to use a sports analogy, we (I) expect a grand slam each time he comes to bat. I readily acknowledge that my thoughts on this book may very well suffer from my oversized anticipation of a grand slam. Harlem Shuffle wasn’t that for me, but still a damn good and highly enjoyable read. In Harlem Shuffle, Colson takes Ray Carney, a salesperson/owner/manager of Carney’s furniture store and centers him in Harlem circa early 1960s. Ray is what you call a solid citizen and tries to toe the line of a crime free life, which is sometimes difficult when money making opportunities arise and the store revenue has trickled to a slow pace. Freddie, a cousin of Ray’s, is deeply immersed in the petty crime and hustle culture of Harlem and occasionally pulls a reluctant Ray across that line. Colson does a prodigious job of creating and making the reader feel the angst of Ray participating in and with the criminal element. The reader will commiserate with Ray as he makes decisions that will generate income but cross the line of legality, Ray constantly strives to remain legit and upstanding. The anxiety of this double life for Ray, and the vivid descriptions of Harlem are what carries this novel. The pettiness of some of the criminal capers are seemingly contrived to fatten up a thin plot. There is a thread that feels tossed in to lengthen the story, and it isn’t really necessary or germane to the novel. Now, as I stated at the top, my expectations may be unrealistic, and so that is reflected here. It’s a very good book, though not a grand slam but still a home run that will bring joy to any reader who chooses to spend time with Ray Carney in Harlem. Special thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Random House for an advanced DRC. Book will drop September 14, 2021

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)

    3.5 stars Ray Carney is a family man and business owner, selling fine home furnishings on 125th Street. Ray and Elizabeth are expecting their second child and money is a little tight with all those sofas purchased in installments. He doesn’t have a problem cashing in on the occasional piece of jewelry his cousin Freddie brings to him, especially since he knows a discreet jeweler. Things go too far when Freddie volunteers Ray to help out with a heist at the Hotel Theresa that naturally goes wrong. 3.5 stars Ray Carney is a family man and business owner, selling fine home furnishings on 125th Street. Ray and Elizabeth are expecting their second child and money is a little tight with all those sofas purchased in installments. He doesn’t have a problem cashing in on the occasional piece of jewelry his cousin Freddie brings to him, especially since he knows a discreet jeweler. Things go too far when Freddie volunteers Ray to help out with a heist at the Hotel Theresa that naturally goes wrong. Now Ray’s respectable clientele is laced with dirty cops, local gangsters, and other shady Harlemites. Walking a razor fine line between upstanding businessman and crook, Ray has to maintain his reputation while also saving Freddie from a bad situation and cashing in on a big score. This crime caper was an unexpected piece of historical fiction from Colson Whitehead. I enjoyed the family drama, double life, and heists as well as the atmosphere of 1955 Harlem richly layered within so many monumental events of the Civil Rights era. That being said, it was lacking action in the moment with time jumps and back stories that try to carry the narrative. This leaves some incredibly interesting characters with little to do in propelling the story forward. Still, Harlem Shuffle is an entertaining caper full of authentic characters. Thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Harlem Shuffle is scheduled for release on September 14, 2021. For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bam cooks the books ;-)

    1959 Harlem, NYC: Ray Carney is a solid-citizen family man and entrepreneur with a furniture store he is pretty proud of...but occasionally he gets drawn into 'crooked complexities' by his cousin Freddie. 'I may be broke, but I ain't crooked,' he likes to believe, but then he admits perhaps he is. This is an amusing crime novel on one level but also a look at how things really work behind the scenes. Ray learns many lessons and sees there are 'different entrances into one vast, secret city. Ever 1959 Harlem, NYC: Ray Carney is a solid-citizen family man and entrepreneur with a furniture store he is pretty proud of...but occasionally he gets drawn into 'crooked complexities' by his cousin Freddie. 'I may be broke, but I ain't crooked,' he likes to believe, but then he admits perhaps he is. This is an amusing crime novel on one level but also a look at how things really work behind the scenes. Ray learns many lessons and sees there are 'different entrances into one vast, secret city. Ever close, adjacent to all you know, just underneath if you know where to look.' We may like to think that race relations have vastly improved over the past 60 years but sadly Whitehead shows the more things change, the more they stay the same. Many thanks for the opportunity to read this new novel from a favorite author. I received an arc from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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