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"Crook Manifesto" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab

Colson Whitehead “hits it out of the park,” that is out of New York City’s Shea Stadium, in his latest book set in 1970s Harlem. Crime spikes, racial tensions heat up, city services fail, and murders become routine during the John Lindsay-Richard Nixon era.

“Crook Manifesto” continues the fictional Ray Carney's exploits as a furniture store manager and a heister first introduced in Whitehead’s “Harlem Shuffle.” Now in his 40s, Carney falls further into a life of diverse and creative crime in this second volume of the series.

This book is composed of three individual stories. In 1971, the setting of the first story, Carney attempts to purchase Jackson Five concert tickets for his daughter, May, by hitting up his old police contact and ticket fixer Munson. Carney immediately gets into trouble and has to call on his other old friend and New York City gangster, Pepper, to get him out of it. Pepper is a likable hoodlum who keeps track of whom he owes and how threatened he should feel by those he knows will eventually come after their money.

In the second story, heists and hijackings do not prove to be as lucrative and easy to execute as they once were for Pepper, so he takes a job as a security guard for a movie being filmed in Harlem. When one of the players goes missing, Pepper attempts to find her. His escapades are sometimes humorous and sometimes dangerous resulting in a series of entertaining episodes.

The final story takes place in 1976, the Bicentennial Year and an election year. Pepper and Carney join forces to oust a corrupt local politician. To achieve their goal, the crooked teammates find they have to wrangle their way through a deteriorating city run by the sleazy, the corrupt, and the violent.

This is not only a clever crime noir but a deft fictional summary of the history of New York City in the 70s. Whitehead is a genius at blending fact and fiction into a captivating read. Colson’s depiction of the 1970s in New York City will undoubtedly endure as an important re-creation of a particular time and place.

The author promises to take us to New York in the 80s in the next volume of this series. I’ll be watching for it.

About the Author: Whitehead is the number one New York Times bestselling author of 11 works of fiction and nonfiction and is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He also is a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships.



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