Crook Manifesto: A Novel (Hardcover)
August 2023 Indie Next List
“Colson Whitehead has given us all the gift of Ray Carney’s Harlem. Crook Manifesto is one of 2023’s finest crime novels, not to mention one of the best overall novels of the year. Colson, we cannot wait for what’s next!”
— Berkley McDaniel, Shelf Life Bookstore, Richmond, VA
“Dazzling” –Walter Mosley, The New York Times Book Review.
It’s 1971. Trash piles up on the streets, crime is at an all-time high, the city is careening towards bankruptcy, and a shooting war has broken out between the NYPD and the Black Liberation Army. Amidst this collective nervous breakdown furniture store owner and ex-fence Ray Carney tries to keep his head down and his business thriving. His days moving stolen goods around the city are over. It’s strictly the straight-and-narrow for him — until he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter May and he decides to hit up his old police contact Munson, fixer extraordinaire. But Munson has his own favors to ask of Carney and staying out of the game gets a lot more complicated – and deadly.
1973. The counter-culture has created a new generation, the old ways are being overthrown, but there is one constant, Pepper, Carney’s endearingly violent partner in crime. It’s getting harder to put together a reliable crew for hijackings, heists, and assorted felonies, so Pepper takes on a side gig doing security on a Blaxploitation shoot in Harlem. He finds himself in a freaky world of Hollywood stars, up-and-coming comedians, and celebrity drug dealers, in addition to the usual cast of hustlers, mobsters, and hit men. These adversaries underestimate the seasoned crook – to their regret.
1976. Harlem is burning, block by block, while the whole country is gearing up for Bicentennial celebrations. Carney is trying to come up with a July 4th ad he can live with. ("Two Hundred Years of Getting Away with It!"), while his wife Elizabeth is campaigning for her childhood friend, the former assistant D.A and rising politician Alexander Oakes. When a fire severely injures one of Carney’s tenants, he enlists Pepper to look into who may be behind it. Our crooked duo have to battle their way through a crumbling metropolis run by the shady, the violent, and the utterly corrupted.
CROOK MANIFESTO is a darkly funny tale of a city under siege, but also a sneakily searching portrait of the meaning of family. Colson Whitehead’s kaleidoscopic portrait of Harlem is sure to stand as one of the all-time great evocations of a place and a time.
“Dazzling … a glorious and intricate anatomy of the heist, the con and the slow game … [Whitehead] uses the crime novel as a lens to investigate the mechanics of a singular neighborhood at a particular tipping point in time. He has it right: the music, the energy, the painful calculus of loss. Structured into three time periods — 1971, 1973 and finally the year of America’s bicentennial celebration, 1976 — “Crook Manifesto” gleefully detonates its satire upon this world while getting to the heart of the place and its people.”
—Walter Mosley, New York Times Book Review (cover)
“Whitehead’s New York of the ‘70s is a fully realized universe down to the most meticulous details (Parts of “Crook Manifesto” would pair nicely with Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker”) … Crook Manifesto” and “Harlem Shuffle” also form a joint reminder, as if we still needed one, that crime fiction can be great literature. These books are as resonant and finely observed as anything Whitehead has written. They have the pulpy verve of Harlem’s crime fiction godfather, Chester Himes, combined with the literary heft of Whitehead’s more garlanded novels.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Remarkable…For all its slapstick fun, this project also contains the same gravitas as August Wilson’s seminal 10-play Century Cycle about Black life in Pittsburgh … When Carney is reflecting, attempting to better understand how Black Harlemites and Black Americans have survived before and will survive again, Whitehead is at his best. It makes this story feel important, not just entertaining, not just suspenseful, not just another surefire bestseller from a beloved author. These are crime novels, yes; funny and fast-paced. They are also the first two installments of a grand historical epic. Novel writing at its best. Bigger and better, together, than anything Whitehead has written before.” —The Washington Post
“Whitehead's flair for texture is as sharp as ever…Ray, May, Elizabeth and Pepper in particular are by turns exasperating and aspirational. Life gets thrown at them, and they throw themselves back in return. These are people you crave to catch up with, and in Whitehead's hands, the vast and intangible forces of society, injustice, morality, survival and love are distilled in them.”
“[A] masterwork of stylish noir and social satire ... Whitehead's larger project propels us forward, probing the whipsaw of race and the ouroboros of virtue and vice.”
“A dazzling sequel to Harlem Shuffle ... Two-time Pulitzer-winning author Whitehead shows no sign of resting on his laurels. Crook Manifesto continues the brilliantly realized sequence that began with Harlem Shuffle, intricately depicting cultural history and family drama with the compelling energy of a crime thriller and the sharp wit of social satire. Harlem itself is one of the lead characters, and there are echoes of other chroniclers of this burg such as James Baldwin and Chester Himes. In ambition and scope, in the way the intimate is so deftly weaved with the epic, one is also reminded of Balzac. Whitehead has embarked on a great comédie humaine of his own.” —The Guardian
“Fierce and glorious ... Sentence by brilliant, funny sentence, a masterpiece” —People
“[Whitehead] combines the crime caper form with the Dickensian social novel and powers it all with a turbo charge of humor and a rich Harlem setting.” —Tampa Bay Times