Crook Manifesto

Colson Whitehead

Crook Manifesto
Little, Brown Book Group
United Kingdom
25 July 2023

Crook Manifesto

Colson Whitehead

From two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead comes the thrilling and entertaining sequel to Harlem Shuffle.

1971 - Trash is piled on the streets, crime is at a record high, and the city is careening towards bankruptcy. A shooting war has broken out between the NYPD and the Black Liberation Army. Ray Carney, furniture-store owner and ex fence, is trying to keep his head down, his business up, and his life on the straight and narrow. His only immediate need is Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter May, so what harm could it do to hit up Munson, his old police contact and fixer extraordinaire? And suddenly, staying out of the game becomes more complicated - and deadly. When one of Ray's tenants is badly injured in a fire, he enlists the enduringly violent Pepper to look into how it started, leading the duo to battle their way through a crumbling metropolis run by the shady, the violent and the utterly corrupt.

In scalpel-sharp prose and with unnerving clarity and wit, Colson Whitehead writes about a city that runs on cronyism, threats, ego, ambition, incompetence and even, sometimes, pride. Crook Manifesto is a kaleidoscopic portrait of Harlem, and a searching portrait of how families work in the face of indifference, chaos and hostility.


If you need to offload some suspiciously acquired jewellery while getting a good deal on a recliner in 1970s Harlem, Ray Carney’s your man. Or, at least, he used to be, before he went straight – now he’s living comfortably with his loving family, thriving furniture business and a home on Striver’s Row. But the line between straight and crooked is a thin one, and whether it’s Jackson 5 tickets, an ill-fated blaxploitation film or a random act of arson, circumstances inevitably conspire to drag Carney back towards the criminal underworld of Harlem. It’s a place of backroom deals and midnight capers, a whirlpool of danger that constantly threatens to pull Carney under for good.

With Crook Manifesto, Colson Whitehead returns to the vividly realised New York he introduced in Harlem Shuffle. It’s an endlessly compelling city populated by capital ‘C’ Characters and animated by a perpetual churn of complex social relations and ever-changing streets, old edifices continually making way for new constructions. It’s a world that owes its existence to Whitehead’s unbelievably crisp prose, which seamlessly combines exposition, character development and worldbuilding into a gripping narrative voice that can just as easily produce a home truth about race in America as it can a grim chuckle.

Like Harlem Shuffle, the novel is lightly episodic, each section stepping forwards through the years to introduce some new crisis in Harlem, some new collision of the straight and crooked. It’s a structure which allows Crook Manifesto to comfortably exist both as a sequel and a standalone work – you won’t be lost if you haven’t read Harlem Shuffle, but together the two books form a portrait of Harlem and its people that is twice as rich and deep. However, unlike Harlem Shuffle’s clear focus on Carney’s family ties and ambition, the connective tissue between each episode in Crook Manifesto is looser and more ambitious, pulling back from Carney to better interrogate the city itself. Its themes and ideas demand multiple readings to fully unravel, but if you’re just looking for crime-novel thrills, Whitehead still delivers that in spades.

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