For February’s meeting of the Mystery Book Club, we are reading . It’s the sequel to the book we read in November, The Thursday Murder Club. Join us to discuss this book on Thursday, February 16 at 7pm both at Davis Library and virtually through Zoom. To join us virtually, register here.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
“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, 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.
Throughout, readers will be captivated by a Dickensian array of colorful, idiosyncratic characters, from itchy-fingered gangsters to working-class women with a low threshold for male folly. What’s even more impressive is Whitehead’s densely layered, intricately woven rendering of New York City in the Kennedy era, a time filled with both the bright promise of greater economic opportunity and looming despair due to the growing heroin plague. It’s a city in which, as one character observes, “everybody’s kicking back or kicking up. Unless you’re on top.” – Kirkus
Whitehead draws his roster of secondary characters, especially the ones that could easily become stock figures such as crime bosses and petty thieves, with as much care as the primary ones. His portraits are never mean-spirited; instead, Whitehead renders the humanity of hustlers. He gets their sweetness down. Some of them have clean aspirations of farm life or higher education. He makes us love them the way their mamas must. Take, for example, Pepper, an enforcer who would be played perfectly by Samuel L Jackson. He asks our humble furniture salesman, Carney: “What made you want to sell couches?” Carney replies: “I’m an entrepreneur.” “‘Entrepreneur?’ Pepper said the last part like manure. ‘That’s just a hustler who pays taxes.’” – The Guardian
Colson Whitehead was born in 1969 and was raised in Manhattan. After graduating from Harvard College, he started working at the Village Voice, where he wrote reviews of television, books, and music. Colson Whitehead’s reviews, essays, and fiction have appeared in a number of publications, such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper’s, and Granta. He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, A Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Dos Passos Prize, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.
In 2018, New York State named him their New York State Author, and in 2020 the Library of Congress awarded him its Prize for American Fiction. He has taught at the University of Houston, Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, New York University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, and has been a Writer-in-Residence at Vassar College, the University of Richmond, and the University of Wyoming. Apparently, he can’t keep a job.
He lives in New York City.
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