Our Book Cover Reveal of Colson Whitehead’s “Crook Manifesto”

Ray Carney, we want you back!

In 2021, Colson Whitehead—who has won back-to-back Pulitzers for The Underground Railroad (which was also an Oprah’s Book Club selection) and The Nickel Boys—lured readers into what they thought was a one-off: Harlem Shuffle, a captivating tapestry of heist caper, dark comedy, and social novel. He mapped his protagonist’s fraught movements through the twilight of the Eisenhower years and into a new frontier: a furniture store on West 125th Street, where Carney had hung his shingle, selling showroom beauties in transactions both legit and not-so-much. Now comes Crook Manifesto, second in a proposed trilogy, whose pleasures may eclipse those of its predecessor. In an exclusive, Oprah Daily reveals the cover for the novel, which Doubleday will publish on July 18 of next year.

As the 1970s dawn in an increasingly combustible Manhattan, Carney is on the straight and narrow, “retired” from his “fencing” (larceny) days, anchored in a brownstone on Strivers’ Row with his “elegant” wife, Elizabeth; cheeky teenager, May; and sweet-tempered son, John. He has expanded his business and settled into a contented routine even as crime spikes, racial tensions swell, and politicians flail like toddlers on an urban playground. Elizabeth has grown her travel agency but seems dispirited. Amid trash scattered across streets and glass shards on sidewalks, Carney feels the tug of his illicit past: “There was always another hand, another conduit, another deal to be made in an enterprise as vast, complicated, and crooked as New York.” He slips back into the old ways, easy as ABC, 1-2-3.

The striking composition echoes that of Harlem Shuffle, but with updated vintage elements on the cover, framed by period typography that evokes a time and place Whitehead recreates scrupulously. The Crook Manifesto reprises characters from Harlem Shuffle: Munson, the corrupt cop who is emblematic of a deeper rot; Pepper, the muscle enforcer who elbows into Carney’s home; and Zippo, bad seed of an affluent family, now a Blaxploitation filmmaker. The Crook Manifesto Thrums with Whitehead’s singular prose—droll, knowing, half-smile-half-smirk, not a word amiss. Here are square deals and double-crosses, hijinks and down-lows, lefty militants, a vanished movie star, police thugs, sugary breakfast cereals, a national bicentennial from hell. Plus impossible-to-get tickets to a Jackson 5 concert in Madison Square Garden.

So how did the concept of the trilogy evolve? “I was halfway through Harlem Shuffle,” Whitehead says, “and I kept coming up with all these other capers and schemes for Carney, so I thought, Maybe I should follow his story in the ’70s? And if you do the ’70s, don’t you have to do the ’80s, too? It seemed prudent to figure out the end of the trilogy before I started writing the second book, so that the story is always, inevitably, pointing to that final scene of Carney’s adventure. since Harlem Shuffle hadn’t been copyedited yet, I was able to go back and set up some things in that first book that would pay off later. I handed in Harlem Shuffle in July of 2020 and started writing The Crook Manifesto the next day.”

The Crook Manifesto: A Novel

The Crook Manifesto: A Novel

Carney’s shady ventures propel him uptown, downtown, and Upper East Sideways; he’s headed for the danger zone. And yet the love Carney saves may be his own; his motives are pure if his deeds are anything but. “What else was an ongoing criminal enterprise complicated by periodic violence for, but to make your wife happy?” he asks rhetorically.

Do aspiration—and ill-gotten gains—a family man make? The Crook Manifesto brings salvation back, Whitehead’s pact with his myriad fans.

colson whitehead

Chris Close

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