Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. You can't say Whitehead is afraid to try something new. The two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad, has proved he can write thought-provoking literary historical fiction. And one of his earlier novels, The Intuitionist, is speculative fiction, while another, Zone One, is a post-apocalyptic zombie tale. Now with Harlem Shuffle, he tackles the crime drama genre, setting his rollicking story of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs in early 1960s Harlem.

His protagonist, Ray Carney, runs his own furniture store business on 125th Street. 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. He's a good salesman and for the most part avoids dealing with "fell off the truck" merchandise. He's managed to rise above his lineage, which includes more than a few hoods and crooks, but his facade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cash is tight, and Ray has never been able to extricate himself from a lifelong relationship with his cousin Freddie, who's always in trouble and in need of bailing out. When Freddie falls in with a crew that plans to rob the Hotel Theresa - the Waldorf of Harlem - he volunteers a protesting Ray's services as the fence. Naturally, the heist doesn't go as planned, and Ray now has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes. Thus begins a test of character between Ray the striver and Ray the crook - navigating a double life and trying decide what kind of man he wants to be.

Ray's trials and tribulations make for a dandy story, but Whitehead enhances and enriches it with an array of disreputable, highly colorful characters. In addition, as Publishers Weekly put it in a starred review, "the most impressive achievement is Whitehead’s loving depiction of a Harlem 60 years gone — 'that rustling, keening thing of people and concrete' —which lands as detailed and vivid as Joyce’s Dublin."