Harlem Shuffle is the story of Ray Carney, whose father was an infamous criminal, but who has graduated college and thanks to a lucky “inheritance” bought a furniture business and respectability. Not quite enough respectability for his in-laws, but he’s mostly legit. Sure, his cousin drags him into a few scrapes. And sure, he kind of likes it, but really, he’s a respectable guy, most of the time.

But a bit of fencing on the side is an investment in their future. He sees real respectability in living on Striver’s Row where his in-laws had a home and belonging to the Dumas club, the Black businessmen’s club that identified who was who. When he is denied membership despite greasing an outstretched palm, he sets out for revenge.

Harlem Shuffle is written in three parts that could stand on their own, though each builds on the one before. The first involves his cousin getting him into a jam by mentioning him as a possible fence for a hotel heist. The second involves his pursuit of revenge after being swindled. The last returns to his cousin once again involved in an unwise, too rich for safety theft.

I liked Harlem Shuffle though I really struggled with getting into it. You know how when people talk and veer into tangents explaining how someone fits into the community, sharing bits of history as a way of putting them in context? It’s much more intrusive when written than when spoken. This became less of an issue in the latter two parts of the book. However, even when I was irritated by these tangents, I was admiring Whitehead’s craft.

He writes so beautifully, crafting sentences that make me wish I had thought of that before, with powerful metaphors that left me highlighting entire acres of text. Every book he writes is so different from the ones before. He keeps bringing us new worlds.

I received an e-galley of Harlem Shuffle from the publisher through NetGalley.