Crook Manifesto is a dazzling treatise, a glorious and intricate anatomy of the heist, the con and the slow game. There’s an element of crime here, certainly, but as in Whitehead’s previous books, genre isn’t the point. Here he 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 ... Whitehead bends language. He makes sinuous the sounds of a city and its denizens pushing against the boundaries. He can be mordantly funny.
Both deceptively substantive and sneakily funny, a wise journey through Harlem days and nights as lived by Ray Carney, a conscientious furniture salesman and family man who happens to run a little crooked ... Whitehead has always had a sharp instinct for the workings of culture ... Whitehead’s New York of the ‘70s is a fully realized universe down to the most meticulous details, from the constant sirens and bodega drug fronts to a sweltering, abandoned biscuit factory ... A...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.
Whitehead’s ironic, biting humor is laced throughout Crook Manifesto ... Thinking of Harlem Shuffle as a loving pastiche of Chester Himes’s crime novels, perhaps we can read Crook Manifesto as a Blaxploitation farce like Sidney Poitier’s ’70s action-comedies, Uptown, Saturday Night and Let’s Do It Again. Though neither novel is experimental, Whitehead has imposed narrative constraints that challenge him to develop and maintain formal symmetry among the sections. Unfortunately this decision dilutes his plotting in parts two and three of the new book. But luckily, because of Whitehead’s blazing wit, striking cultural intelligence, and special storytelling talent, Crook Manifesto overcomes its flaws.
With these books, Whitehead has identified deficiencies in the noir genre, and injected beauty and grace into its often too-predictable and clichéd conventions. He saw an invisible post-World War II Harlem epic, a decades-long journey through the most consequential urban Black space in the 20th century, and he willed it into existence ... For all its slapstick fun, this project also has the same gravitas as August Wilson’s seminal 10-play Century Cycle, about Black life in Pittsburgh during the 20th century, a decade-by-decade journey through Black America’s tortured yet breathtaking memory ... 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.
Crook Manifesto displays his singular ability to write adroitly in multiple styles, his facility with language, and his customarily sharp and expansive sentences. Yet this novel does not accomplish what he has managed in his previous works. Its characters don’t feel fully fleshed out, and its plot doesn’t capture the extreme feelings and circumstances that readers might expect from what is essentially a crime novel. Because these elements don't quite gel, this book is both powered and limited by its most absorbing characteristic: Whitehead's voice ... The trouble with the novel starts in the second section ... Whitehead’s chatty prose reliably carries the reader along, sometimes advancing the plot and sometimes appearing to be taken with its own fluency, its startling virtuosity. This is a boon for a novel in which determining why we’re taking this journey grows more and more difficult ... Linguistic delights ... However, as the novel continues, flickering among different perspectives, the language attracts attention to itself at the expense of plot. Whitehead, and not the various colorful characters in this book, emerges as the star ... I learned a great deal from reading it, but it never felt quite real.
Captivating, sardonic ... A dense read, heavy on irony and grim humor; Whitehead bricks his sentences thickly, much like Carney lining his safe with wads of cash. The novel can be read as a stand-alone but requires some familiarity with Harlem Shuffle. Whitehead's larger project propels us forward, probing the whipsaw of race and the ouroboros of virtue and vice.
[A] finely tuned sense of history ... Whitehead deploys a clipped and hard-boiled style that can pick up the pace at any moment, yet there’s a meditative, internalised element to his prose that puts us inside the action, allowing for reflection and candour among its participants ... Two-time Pulitzer-winning author Whitehead shows no sign of resting on his laurels. Crook Manifesto continues the brilliantly realised 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.
If Harlem Shuffle was a caper, Crook Manifesto is an apocalypse ... Eventually we see beyond even the graft: not this bent cop – a whole lot of bent cops – or that bent politician, but unintended consequences and dodgy research, with its skewed rubrics and dirty data. Spoiler alert: it was the think tanks all along.
Whitehead's flair for texture is as sharp as ever ... Like so many middle books in a trilogy, Crook Manifesto feels more like a bridge than a fully self-contained work. Its hopscotch chronology gives it a swift, almost breezy ease ... What truly makes this series, or any series, work is the way it compels the reader to revisit its characters, to invest in them, to compel you to care enough to see their narratives through. Whitehead knows it, and Crook Manifesto proves it.
As Whitehead returns to the criminal-as-detective thriller genre with this sequel to Harlem Shuffle, it may be time to start asking whether he’s shorting his considerable skill to appeal to a wide audience ... I found myself wondering, was this black culture, 'keeping it real,' earned in the only way that matters, which is to say sweating it out with other downtrodden blacks, unmindful of reward? Or was it something else? ... What are the forces that make sense of the churning sequences, and to what place does the writer of note deliver his audience? What’s the juice of this squeeze? By its nature the genre convention delivers lovable punch lines ... Give the people what they want, true. But knowing what we know, laughing when we are primed to and nodding our heads in unison corresponds tidily to the blown-out brownstone with the Elizabeth Roberts glass wall: We are entertained and informed and still bent on making it in New York. That’s the Crooklyn that makes us all a crook. Whitehead’s book does have glimmers of promise, of something irreducible to the social, the reason you read a novel instead of a pamphlet on segregation. But the resolution, connected to a gauzy nostalgia, is yet another aspect of the inevitable limit, the containment of genre fiction. The book’s wisdom operates in hindsight.
Whitehead is clearly enjoying himself in the telling, and he takes us along for the ride. Manifesto isn’t just an entertaining beach read, though; the author’s sly social commentary ensures this book has a thoughtful head on its shoulders ... A summer read that is both fun and intellectually filling.
Whitehead is having way too much fun in the two novels ... I shared the fun Whitehead must have had researching Harlem after the Renaissance, the local street life, the clubs, the food, even the furniture his protagonist, Ray Carney, stocks in his store. Also the fun of inventing short back stories and quirky first names for the novels’ numerous capering characters.
Bent cops, seedy filmmakers, venal politicians – Crook Manifesto is on one level an audit of the major archetypes of American power. It portrays a society fuelled by kickbacks and corruption, in which the difference between living on the right and the wrong sides of the law – between being a 'respectable' capitalist and a fence or a racketeer – is largely a matter of where you were born, or the colour of your skin. There are certainly some Big Questions to consider here, for readers who require them, but the mood is relaxed and caperish throughout, and the final impression the novel leaves is of an author kicking up his heels ... This all made for an engaging spectacle throughout Harlem Shuffle, but by the end of this second volume it’s starting to wear a little thin. Part of the problem is the lack of quieter character-based dramatic passages – Carney’s family life, for example, is given relatively superficial treatment – when compared to the lavishly detailed action sequences ... The experience of reading six installments of his story in a row is a bit like watching all the Die Hard movies back to back: an entertainment of pretty consistent quality but gradually diminishing appeal.
Whitehead has always hopped from genre to genre...and it’s easy to see why he has chosen to spend more time in the crime fiction mode. The genre’s traits and preoccupations dovetail neatly with his own: the ironic and detached style, the obsession with institutions and hidden power relations, and the subtle gradations of social class. Whitehead is fascinated by the restless movements of capital and the frenetic competition it generates – his nonfiction book about poker is titled The Noble Hustle – and the novel expertly portrays what it describes as 'churn' as the ever-changing face of Carney’s furniture showroom parallels the constant upheaval of the city outside ... His best novels make a point of subverting (or in his own words, 'deforming') genre conventions; here, it sometimes feels as if Whitehead is more straightforwardly 'doing' crime fiction. No bad thing, but the level of ambition in his best work – the bold strokes of formal invention in genre and plot – sometimes seems absent. There is a counterpoint, though. The expanded canvas of two novels allows for a more extended portrait of a neighbourhood whose growth pains come to stand for broader postwar political currents.
Whitehead has always been a beautiful prose stylist, but here his ability to summon a world into being feels both effortless and masterful, an immaculate meeting of style and subject matter ... The second book in a trilogy can feel caught between two stools, arriving with neither the thrill of the new nor the conclusiveness of an ending. Crook Manifesto, however, is a delight, bringing depth and complexity to familiar characters, not least New York itself. Few writers combine depth of insight and compassion with exquisite prose; Whitehead is one of them. I’d rather read his novels than those of just about any other writer alive.
Whitehead has always been a diverse novelist, moving between historical fiction, science fiction, social realism and post-modernism. Yet with these novels, it seems as if he has found a groove he can inhabit and expand at the same time. The ending is sufficiently surprising and unsettling that I would give you even odds on this not being the last Carney novel, and it would be fascinating to see what he does with the rise of Reagan.
Throughout “Crook Manifesto,” Whitehead’s deft plotting and skill at bringing characters to life shine. The novel is so vibrant with details of daily life, from pop culture to politics, in the 1970s that it’s startling to remember he wasn’t born until 1969. He continues to be one of our most extraordinary storytellers and observers of the complexities of race in America. And, sentence to sentence, his writing is simply gorgeous.
Like its predecessor, Crook Manifesto is split into three parts, which span multiple years and encompass corrupt cops, a missing starlet and a smarmy politician on the make. But unlike Harlem Shuffle, these episodes have a looser, less coherent feel; they function almost as standalone short stories. In itself, this is no issue – yes, the middle chapter is a little underpowered, but each is compelling and well-realised. Taken altogether, though, something is lost. Harlem Shuffle benefitted from a clean throughline in Carney’s struggles to scrub off Skid Row and Freddie’s boisterous, mercurial energy. In Crook Manifesto, Freddie is out of the picture – for reasons I shouldn’t spoil – and it adds up to a less satisfying read ... Still, Carney remains an appealing, amoral hero: a not-quite-innocent. Whitehead’s New York, too, is masterfully characterful. It has intelligence, wiles, predatory cunning; it sneaks up on you when your back is turned ... Strange to admit, given that it involves murder, maimings and unrepentant malfeasance, but Crook Manifesto gave me something I had missed in recent reading: joy.
...his greatest and most underrated achievement may lie with this budding crime trilogy and what it has to say about the myth of American exceptionalism ... Whitehead is ever the linguistic chameleon, and his work here continues to perfectly reflect the snare drum pace and effortless cool dialogue of a heist movie and the resigned attitude toward the dark and grotesque violence of a noir. But while it is often tempting as a reader to settle back into the hilarious verbal jabs and heart-racing gunfights between mobsters and hit men, Crook Manifesto is a deeply layered and complex novel at every level ... because Whitehead is a master of genre, he understands how this deeply American tale needs to be told—as a story of cops and robbers, a mobster and heist thriller that satisfies our desire for action while striking at the heart of our country’s crooked foundation.
As he did in Harlem Shuffle, Whitehead mixes noir crime tropes and social history to present a slant, cynical view of New York as a thoroughly rotten Big Apple, only occasionally redeemed by individual acts of love, loyalty and kindness. Whenever Carney’s wife wants something that’s going to cost serious money, and Carney realizes he doesn’t have it, he says to himself, 'What else was an ongoing criminal enterprise complicated by periodic violence for, but to make your wife happy?'
Whitehead’s sly sense of humor and encyclopedic knowledge of the city make Crook Manifesto an entertaining read, but as incident after incident piles up, you just want it to be over.
In the hands of a lesser author, this might have been cause for concern, but in Whitehead’s, it becomes that rarest of things: a follow-up that pretty much earns its stripes ... Whitehead excels at stitching gallows humor into some very heavy topics, and this novel is riven with them ... If, ultimately, Crook Manifesto doesn’t quite impress like its predecessor, then, well, that’s sequels for you. There are times here when the action seems a little too caper-ish, like a cartoon mugging for laughs. But Whitehead, a stylist whose sentences sing, mostly maintains the momentum – which is just as well, because a third installment, this one set in the 80s, looms.
Colson Whitehead’s elegant and pulse-pounding sequel to his tour-de-force heist novel, Harlem Shuffle, may exceed the original ... Whitehead’s acerbic, stylized and rhythmic storytelling voice is stronger than ever, but it’s his precise evocation of a fraying 1970s New York City that really makes Ray’s story compelling ... With that knockout interplay between context and character, Crook Manifesto more than matches the finely hewn psychological tensions that haunted its (anti) hero in Harlem Shuffle. The combination makes this sequel soar.
Crook Manifesto is filled with precisely observed visual impressions of New York City—evocative writing suffused with nostalgia ... And yet something about Crook Manifesto, expertly executed as it is, suggests a certain ennui at the heart of the historical novelist’s enterprise. Whitehead’s characters are buffeted by history—never for more than a paragraph does the book let you forget that it’s set in the ’70s—but they seem exhausted and a little bored by it ... Though the plot zips along and Whitehead’s witty, agile prose keeps pace, Crook Manifesto is, at heart, a middle-aged man’s book.
Whitehead captures the menace and the beauty of the city in exhilarating detail within the many-faceted, rollicking plot that propels his second, magnificently vibrant and transcendent Ray Carney novel.
Colorful if haphazard ... The momentum is throttled by copious references to events in the previous book, while an explosive climax feels rushed. Still, almost every page has at least one great line ... There’s fun to be had, but it’s not Whitehead’s best.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Whitehead continues his boisterous, incisive saga of late-20th-century Harlem and of a furniture dealer barely keeping his criminal side at bay ... What recurs in each of these episodes are vivid depictions of hustlers of varied races and social strata, whether old-hand thieves, crass showbiz types, remorseless killers, or slick politicians on the make with the business elite. Whitehead’s gift for sudden, often grotesque eruptions of violence is omnipresent, so much so that you almost feel squeamish to recognize this book for the accomplished, streamlined, and darkly funny comedy of manners it is. If its spirits aren’t quite as buoyant as those of Harlem Shuffle, it’s because the era it chronicles was depressed in more ways than one. Assuming Whitehead continues chronicling Ray Carney’s life and times, things should perk up, or amp up, for the 1980s. It’s not just crime fiction at its craftiest, but shrewdly rendered social history.