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Summary

From the author of The Underground Railroad (now a major Amazon Prime TV show) 

One of Barack Obama's Favourite Books of the Year

'Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked....'

To his customers and neighbours on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a 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 and bigger all the time.

See, cash is tight, especially with all those instalment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace at the furniture store, Ray doesn't see the need to ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweller downtown who also doesn't ask questions. 

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, after all. Now Ray has to cater to a new clientele, one made up of shady cops on the take, vicious minions of the local crime lord and numerous other Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he starts to see the truth about 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 is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem 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.

©2021 Colson Whitehead (P)2021 Hachette Audio UK

What listeners say about Harlem Shuffle

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  • 11-10-21

Rich, tender and gripping with brilliant performance

This is a wonderful listen, by turns gripping and tender, exploring such themes as destiny, choice, family and loyalty set against the history of Harlem and the civil rights movement. Brilliantly performed and utterly compelling. Loved it

2 people found this helpful

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Maybe it was just me, but..

I enjoyed this book much less than I was expecting. It was more about Harlem than it was about the people. Yes, Harlem was a character in the book, but I the other main characters seemed thin.

My biggest complaint though was I struggled to understand the narrator, which was essential to following the plot. My advice therefore is to listen to clip and make your own mind up before purchasing.

1 person found this helpful

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I hope there will be a sequel

Great writing, fantastic speaking voice made each character come alive. I think even more fun to listen than to read this book.

1 person found this helpful

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Crooked world; straight world...

Harlem Shuffle is a novel of contrasts: love, power, envy, greed, attitudes, Everyone hussles. Everyone ends up playing the game of life; a game where the rules can change in a heartbeat. Though a few rules remain constant - one being everyone has their hand out to someone else. (Cashed filled envelopes are often present). Another rule is life is cheap, and as the author observes - 'when things start getting expensive, it gets cheaper still'.

Colin Whitehead's novel is a story of Ray Carney, a good man going to bad while still wanting to do good things. Carney's focus is on himself and his furniture business, his family and his friends and their survival. He endeavours to navigate being the son of a man gone to bad, being a cousin to a man gone to bad and wanting to ensure his children don't go to bad by giving them better opportunities including the family car, housing and furniture. Poor Carney has so many 'Daddy or Chips' decisions to make - because his past won't go away and well, bills do need to be paid, revenge needs to be sought, and he wants to climb the ladder of life. Even more Carney wants to climb two ladders: neither ladder is a straight ladder. And the reader might conclude that one or both ladders are up against the wrong wall. Yet, Carney wants to be Known. He is proud that his name is above a furniture store in Harlem. He is a good fence. Daddy or chips - who is going to get the wish.

It's a novel where bad things happen (heists, murders, shakedowns), but I didn't feel there were too many 'bad characters'. Memorable ones, yes.

Among the many joys of this novel (in addition to Dion Graham's performance), were the number of pithy observation Carney makes either in his mind or to other people. I especially enjoyed his sideways remarks about the home furnishings of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A wonderful listen.

1 person found this helpful

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Felt like I was in Harlem

I'm going to listen to more of Colson Whitehead's book and find more narrated by Dion Graham, I would recommend both...

Great story got a real feel for Harlem and the era it was written in, I seen somewhere there is going to be a 2nd book, I hope so!

Great characters!

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Wonderful!

Fantastic evocation of C20 Harlem. Excellent plots, complex and interesting characters and brilliant dialogue.
The narration was perfect. Wonderful voice and delivery.
This was the first novel by this author that I’ve read or listened to. I’m going straight to another one!

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Narrator is excellent

Good, enjoyable story about small time crooks in Harlem. Engaging, and entertaining, well presented.

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Spectacularly good.

Such a good book. So much to recommend in this humorous, touching and pacy heist novel. CW is such an accomplished storyteller.
Took me 15-20 minutes to dial in the accent and then I could really appreciate the narrator's delivery.

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A masterful delight from start to end

If ever there were a production to convince readers of paper books of the joys of an audiobook, then this is it. Dion Graham brings this fantastic tale to life with his gorgeous tones and boy, Colson Whitehead’s exquisitely drawn characters deserve nothing less. Loved it. Recommend, recommend, recommend.

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Great performance

The performance is superb and brings the dizzying world of Harlem to life. Highly recommend this as it is extremely immersive and the hours slipped effortlessly by.