Harlem Shuffle

Doubleday. Sept. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780385545136. $28.95. M
Two-time Pulitzer winner Whitehead (The Underground Railroad; The Nickel Boys) has fun and shows off his literary dexterity with this rollicking crime novel set in 1960s Harlem. Ray Carney, a self-made Black man, sells new and used furniture at affordable prices (with generous payment plans) in a store that bears his name on historic 125th Street. He’s caught between his haughty in-laws who are unhappy that their daughter lives in a dingy apartment near the train, and his wayward cousin Freddie, the devil on Ray’s shoulder since they were kids. The “slightly bent” storekeeper sometimes fences stolen jewelry too. Ray gets talked into a lucrative heist with seedy coconspirators, which leads to more dangerous capers, until he is forced to balance his loyalty to his business and his family with his loyalty to Freddie. As a writer, Whitehead is in full command, seamlessly populating his story with lovingly recounted period details. The stakes here aren’t as high, or the subject matter as heavy, as in his two recent masterworks, but Whitehead’s mystery explores the intersections of Black class mobility, civil unrest, and New York City in an entertaining way.
VERDICT Another can’t-miss from the versatile Whitehead, for readers who loved James McBride’s Deacon King Kong.
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