As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

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After winning back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes for his previous two books, Whitehead lets fly with a typically crafty change-up: a crime novel set in mid-20th-century Harlem.

The twin triumphs of The Underground Railroad (2016) and The Nickel Boys (2019) may have led Whitehead’s fans to believe he would lean even harder on social justice themes in his next novel. But by now, it should be clear that this most eclectic of contemporary masters never repeats himself, and his new novel is as audacious, ingenious, and spellbinding as any of his previous period pieces. Its unlikely and appealing protagonist is Ray Carney, who, when the story begins in 1959, is expecting a second child with his wife, Elizabeth, while selling used furniture and appliances on Harlem’s storied, ever bustling 125th Street. Ray’s difficult childhood as a hoodlum’s son forced to all but raise himself makes him an exemplar of the self-made man to everybody but his upper-middle-class in-laws, aghast that their daughter and grandchildren live in a small apartment within earshot of the subway tracks. Try as he might, however, Ray can’t quite wrest free of his criminal roots. To help make ends meet as he struggles to grow his business, Ray takes covert trips downtown to sell lost or stolen jewelry, some of it coming through the dubious means of Ray’s ne’er-do-well cousin, Freddie, who’s been getting Ray into hot messes since they were kids. Freddie’s now involved in a scheme to rob the Hotel Theresa, the fabled “Waldorf of Harlem," and he wants his cousin to fence whatever he and his unsavory, volatile cohorts take in. This caper, which goes wrong in several perilous ways, is only the first in a series of strenuous tests of character and resources Ray endures from the back end of the 1950s to the Harlem riots of 1964. Throughout, readers will be captivated by a Dickensian array of colorful, idiosyncratic characters, from itchy-fingered gangsters to working-class women with a low threshold for male folly. What’s even more impressive is Whitehead’s densely layered, intricately woven rendering of New York City in the Kennedy era, a time filled with both the bright promise of greater economic opportunity and looming despair due to the growing heroin plague. It's a city in which, as one character observes, “everybody’s kicking back or kicking up. Unless you’re on top.”

As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54513-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A moralistic noir masquerading as a heart-warmer.


Life continues haltingly for the inhabitants of Beartown and its rival borough, Hed.

As in the two earlier books in this series (Beartown, 2017; Us Against You, 2018), things are never settled between these two hockey-obsessed towns in the forests of Sweden. Only one can seemingly do well at a time—resourcewise or hockeywise; the two are interchangeable—and their residents share a mutual, pathological hatred. Beloved characters return, new ones are introduced, tragedy is promised. Backman repeatedly tells the reader about his characters’ overwhelming love for each other, but their ability to actually care for one another comes and goes with the demands of the unwieldy plot. He wants to assure readers that this makes his characters complex, but it really renders them pawns. To stoke the conflict between the towns, he includes not only the pregnancy-ending factory accident of a nameless woman (ushering in a suspiciously out-of-place anti-abortion sentiment), but also the murder of a beloved dog. These machinations are not alone in being soppy and unearned. The book is almost 700 pages long and covers only a two-week span. Backman writes with wit and sincerity and is a talented web-spinner, but with a tale this long, the lack of nuance becomes grating. There’s also a brief “not all men” message that, given the toxic nature of the narrative, is hard to ignore.

A moralistic noir masquerading as a heart-warmer.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982-11279-0

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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Turow clearly had fun writing this one, and his fans will have fun reading it.


A private eye aids a police chief whose knickers may be in a twist.

In Highland Isle, Chief Lucia “Lucy” Gomez is accused of forcing a subordinate to have sex with her in exchange for his promotion to sergeant before his retirement. Unfortunately for the chief, there is a lurid photograph. But wait, she says, it must be Photoshopped. That can't be her. Well, we'll see about that. She's a “good police chief,” an attorney says. “But power corrupts. And she's turned her officers into her pool boys.” If a civil hearing determines that she’s been “bringing home guys who were under [her] command,” those knickers are well and truly twisted. Doing research on her behalf is the narrator, Clarice "Pinky" Granum, a 33-year-old ace investigator who works for the chief's lawyer, Rik Dudek. Gomez is a strong character, but she’s nothing like Pinky, the granddaughter of Sandy Stern, who has been a recurring character in Turow’s novels. Sandy is now in his mid-80s and in assisted living, where Pinky comes to visit. Pinky is a bisexual “inked-up chick” with a nail in her nose, and her ex-girlfriend is a “lumbersexual” cop named Tonya. Sandy is cool with all that as long as Pinky takes out the nail and wears long sleeves when necessary. She's very athletic, was once a police cadet, and is happy to be a “queerdo.” And wouldn't you know, she lives next door to a guy she calls The Weird One, or TWO, who she becomes convinced is a spy. Anyway, she’s skeptical about the chief forcing sex on a guy. “She's a woman, Boss. Men still hate it when a female does what she wants with her body. These dudes' stories make no sense." And then a witness named Blanco dies, raising the stakes. Did the chief have him whacked? Or maybe it was TWO, who is a Hmong guy named Koob, or a superrich ex-cop real estate mogul nicknamed the Ritz. Pinky and her colorful cohorts are the book's main appeal, but readers wanting gunplay won’t be disappointed.

Turow clearly had fun writing this one, and his fans will have fun reading it.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5-387-0632-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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