Ray Carney, the furniture store owner and part-time fence for stolen goods who we met in Harlem Shuffle (2021), is back for part two of author Colson Whitehead's trilogy. The first book took place in the 1960s when Ray opened Carney’s Furniture on 125th Street in Harlem and was a proud Black businessman. While his father was a career criminal, Ray worked hard to avoid following in his footsteps until he moved from selling some merchandise that had “fallen off the truck” to crimes that were more serious. At the end of the first book, we were left hoping that Ray would stay far away from the life of crime, as his business was doing well, and he was able to move into a house on the most aristocratic street in Harlem dubbed "Striver's Row". But since this book is named Crook Manifesto, we know that wasn't going to be the case. Ray's saga continues in three parts taking place in 1971, 1973 and 1976. Family man Ray is committed to getting his daughter sold-out tickets to see the Jackson 5 at Madison Square Garden. With all his nefarious contacts, Ray figures that he can make it happen. And just like that, Ray is back into the life of crime. In this fast-paced, intense, violent yet often funny book, we see the evolution of Ray as well as New York City. The 1973 section is devoted to the making of a Blaxploitation film. And in 1976, with the country's bi-centennial celebration approaching, the book presents the sad reality that buildings in neighborhoods such as Harlem were being torched, pushing poor residents out of their homes, making way for more lucrative redevelopment. We meet good guys, bad guys and people living in the middle, including Ray.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Whitehead has such a great way of blending drama, dark comedy and social commentary. The 1970s was a tough time for New York City, making this installment of Ray's tale bleaker than the first book. I'm looking forward to what lies ahead for Ray in the 1980s. Many thanks to Doubleday Books for providing a gifted, advance copy of Crook Manifesto. It is certainly worth reading but if you haven't already done so, read Harlem Shuffle first!
Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Literary Fiction | Historical Fiction.
Publication Date: July 18, 2023.
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