Harlem Shuffle: A Novel - book cover
Thrillers & Suspense
  • Publisher : Doubleday; First Edition/First Printing
  • Published : 14 Sep 2021
  • Pages : 336
  • ISBN-10 : 0385545134
  • ISBN-13 : 9780385545136
  • Language : English

Harlem Shuffle: A Novel

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • 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.

Editorial Reviews

"A rich, wild book that could pass for genre fiction.  It's much more, but the entertainment value alone should ensure it the same kind of popular success that greeted his last two novels, "The Underground Railroad" and "The Nickel Boys."
-Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Colson Whitehead has a couple of Pulitzers under his belt, along with several other awards celebrating his outstanding novels. Harlem Shuffle is a suspenseful crime thriller that's sure to add to the tally - it's a fabulous novel you must read."

"A warm, involving novel" 
-The Wall Street Journal

"Another triumph from Pulitzer winner Whitehead" 
-People Magazine

"Fast-paced, keen-eyed and very funny, "Harlem Shuffle" is a novel about race, power and the history of Harlem all disguised as a thrill-ride crime novel." 
-San Francisco Chronicle

"Enthralling, cinematic…Whitehead's evocation of early 1960s Harlem - strewn with double-crosses and double standards, broken glass and broken dreams - is irresistible…a valentine to a time and place."
-Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"A cool, funny, slyly elegant genre outing that deftly weaves in weightier themes around the edges of a story about crooks and schemers in mid-20th-century New York."
-Laura Miller, Slate

"Dazzling…exciting and wise."
-Walton Muyumba, The Boston Globe

"A spectacularly pleasurable read, and while it is, of course, literary, it's also a pure, unapologetic crime-fiction page-turner." 
-Los Angeles Times

"Harlem Shuffle" is a wildly entertaining romp. But as you might expect with this two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur genius, Whitehead also delivers a devastating, historically grounded indictment of the separate and unequal lives of Blacks and whites in mid-20th century New York."
-Associated Press

"An American master"
-New York Times Book Review

"Two-time Pulitzer winner Whitehead (The Nickel Boys) returns with a sizzling heist novel set in civil rights–era Harlem. It's 1959 and Ray Carney has built an ‘unlikely kingdom' selling used furniture. A husband, a father, and the son of a man who once worked as muscle for a local crime boss, Carney is ‘only slightly bent when it [comes] to being crooked.' But when his cousin Freddie-whose stolen goods Carney occasionally fences through his furniture store-decides to rob the historic Hotel Theresa, a lethal cast of underworld figures enter Carney's life, among them the mobster Chink Montague, "known for his facility with a straight razor"; WWII veteran Pepper; and the murderous, purple-suited Miami Joe...

Readers Top Reviews

Great author makes magic realism come to life with fully rounded characters living harsh, cruel, desparate situations rising above their dire circumstances. Wonderful, lyrical prose detailing heroic struggle of African slaves to overcome barbaric, brutal, cruel, unchristian "masters" A masterful work by a great poet. Monumental, epic life affirming.
Mr. A. Q. Kopp
A wonderfully atmospheric evocation of mid 20th centrury Harlam. Colston Whitehead has created a great set of characters who feel totally authentic. I understand to a native of Harlam and New York that the locations are very accurately described. They include the World Trade Centre being built. Importantly and sadly many of the issues faced by Black citizens then are still being faced by them.
This book by Colson Whitehead covers a few different genres: suspense/mystery, historical fiction, and family drama most notably. The book takes place in 1960s Harlem, with the main character Ray Carney trying to balance his family and legitimate business, with his “crooked” side of shady deals and criminal connections. When his loyalty to his cousin gets him caught up in a situation that is more dangerous than he planned, Ray's life becomes even more complicated; and navigating both worlds becomes even more difficult. The book is divided into three main parts, with a total of about 318 pages in the digital version. Whitehead is excellent at describing scenes and interactions with vivid details. You can tell he's done his research, and his reconstruction of this time and place made me feel like I could see the environment the characters were living in. Some readers might personally identify with the plight of the main character more than others, but many of the interactions rang true to me. The main character's scars from childhood trauma, his loyalty to his cousin, and his feeling like he has to hide part of himself even from his wife; all seemed sad but realistic. The suspense elements were solid, but this book is not trying to be a twisty thriller or a time-jump murder mystery like other suspense novels I've read; instead it is more focused on the the setting and characters. The author succeeded in making me feel like I understood the main character, and his frustrations with how life often seems so unfair (especially in 1960s Harlem). Overall I enjoyed this book. I like Whitehead's ability to capture different character's perspectives, and transport the reader to the setting. I personally liked the complicated main character, but I would not be surprised if some people didn't identify with him as much, or even disliked most of characters. If you don't appreciate the complex characters, then you probably won't enjoy this as much as I did.
John K. Mainieri
When I read Colson Whitehead was writing a heist novel, I was thrilled. Such a great storyteller, I imagined a tale told in the fashion of the late, great Chester Himes, the man who gave us “Cotton Comes To Harlem” “Come Back, Charleston Blue” and “A Rage In Harlem”, books I’d devoured as a teen. But I was also a great fan of Dick Gregory, who did not write heist novels. Gregory wrote passionate tracts on the belittling and desecration of his people, the people of Harlem, and Detroit and Chicago, and of every black community in America. With “Harlem Shuffle”, Mr. Whitehead has not written a Chester Himes heist caper, but instead, a not-so-nostalgic look back at the Harlem of the early sixties as though Dick Gregory wrote a heist novel, and in doing so, has devised a story that looks to be a heist novel, but is instead, an amalgam of Himes, Gregory, with hints of Richard Wright and Lorraine Hansberry mixed in for flavor. This is not what I expected, but is intensely readable nonetheless. It’s a story of furniture salesman and part-time fence Ray Carney. Carney has a beautiful wife, children, in-laws he despises for all the right reasons, and a successful uptown business. The fact that he mixes with small-times hoods and the neighborhood low-lifes doesn’t make him any less of a man, it just means he’s attracted to the local color. His associations do make for some unlawful capers and some dirty business along the way, though, as this story covers about 5 years from 1959 to 1964. Real-life events like the Harlem riots, which erupted over the shooting of a young black man by a white cop enrich the story as it goes along. Dirty politicians, crooked bankers, and double dealing relatives figure in as well. But this is not a heist novel in the classic sense. It is social commentary, some of it sweet, some of it bitter, but all of it authentic and painfully funny at the same time. This is the thinking man’s heist novel, where the score isn’t stolen goods, but instead, stolen lives.