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 release.
Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Publication Date: September 14, 2021.
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