Novel of the week: Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead is “just unable to write a bad book,” said Ian Williams in The Guardian. In 20 years he has produced both turning pages and major literary blockbusters, the two most recent of which, The Underground Railroad and Nickel boys, received Pulitzer Prizes for questioning America’s racist past.

Whitehead’s new novel, Harlem Shuffle, sees it revert to a lighter style, said Johanna Thomas-Corr in Sunday Times. A “pulpy neo-noir” set in the 1960s, it focuses on Ray Carney, an ambitious furniture salesman who gets drawn into various criminal schemes. “It’s a red-blooded book full of powerful personalities,” which brings mid-century New York to life in a memorable way.

I was less impressed, said Clive Davis in The temperature. Presented as a “family saga disguised as a detective story”, Harlem Shuffle consists of “banal prose patches that do not wander anywhere in particular”.

Whitehead is a true literary celebrity, the subject of many flattering magazine profiles – but on the evidence of that weak effort, it’s hard to see what it is.

Fleet 336pp £ 16.99; Bookstore of the Week £ 13.99

Bookstore of the week

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