Harlem Shuffle

Colson Whitehead

The picture featured was taken in Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Plaza across from the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where the book’s events are centered.

Quick Synopsis

Ray Carney is trying to establish himself as a business and family man. With cash tight and a baby on the way, Ray is convinced to help his cousin Freddie do one last heist. But can Ray keep himself straight or will this heist get him back in the game or killed?

Publisher’s Synopsis

Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…” To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home. 

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time. 

Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn’t ask questions, either. 

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa—the “Waldorf of Harlem”—and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes. 

Thus, begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs? 

Harlem Shuffle’s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem. 

Book Review

When I found out that Harlem Shuffle was supposed to be Colson Whitehead’s foray into crime novels, I was excited. While I do own two of his books, I have yet to read either. However, his reputation and literary awards proceed him.

Without having read his other work, I feel confident in saying that this is not the Colson Whitehead book you should start with. I could not make it through its 320 pages. I do not like leaving books unfinished, especially ARCs that are gifted to me. But after struggling with Harlem Shuffle for weeks, I am calling it quits. I made it 30 percent through, but I cannot in good conscience spend more time on a book I’m struggling through when my shelves are overflowing.

I loved the idea behind Harlem Shuffle and that it was based upon historic places of significance. But it was slow ad boring. I read far enough to find that even the robbery and hostage situation was unexciting. Add to that character development that felt surface deep and Harlem Shuffle𝘦 just did not strike my interest.

Because Harlem Shuffle has received such high praise, I questioned if I am missing something in the second half of the book. But for now, I am putting this on my did not finish shelf. If you do not mind a slow book, you may enjoy this.


Overall Rating

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.


Rating: 3 out of 5.


Rating: 1 out of 5.

Character Development

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Harlem Shuffle


Historical Fiction;
Mysteries & Thrillers

Publication Date
September 14, 2021


Storygraph Rating
3.73 stars

Goodreads Rating
3.88 stars

Buy Now

Note: I received a gifted advance readers’ copy of this book from the publisher, Doubleday Books. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.

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