I picked up The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer (Spiegel & Grau, 2010) as a galley at work because I liked the first few pages, even though it’s somewhat different from the sort of books I’m usually drawn to. Then, Michael over at Books on the Nightstand talked about it on their podcast, and I got interested again. I was in the mood for something with a quick pace and a manageable number of pages, and this book fit the bill.
Our main character, Ian Minot, is an aspiring author, though his efforts to get noticed by the publishing industry have come to naught. All the rejection has made him a bit bitter; it doesn’t help that while he’s serving hot beverages at Morningside Coffee, his girlfriend’s short story collection takes off. Then Blade Markham’s memoir, “Blade by Blade,” hits the shelves, rocketing to instant bestseller status, and Ian can’t take it anymore. He just can’t believe a word of Blade’s story, is sure Blade made it all up to get attention. One day Ian snaps, and his momentary freak-out is the beginning of a bizarre journey.
I can’t tell you much more about the plot without taking away the fun of reading it. Langer plays constantly with what is truth and what is fiction, morphing one into the other and back again before you even realize he’s doing it. As you’re was following him on this twisty turn-y reality roller coaster, you really start thinking about true vs. invented and how it might apply to, ahem, book publishing today. (You can read the backstory for Thieves over on Langer’s website.)
Langer is constantly name-dropping and making little references to all sorts of bits from the book world. He even goes so far as to invent his own slang, coining new phrases for everyday objects and actions based on authors and characters. A “golightly” is the sort of dress favored by Holly Golightly in Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s; a “cheshire” is a mischievous, secretive smile, like the one sported by the Cheshire Cat from Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. And if you don’t get the reference, Langer includes a handy glossary in the back. (The glossary also prevents readers from easily flipping to the last page to see how the story ends, as Langer explains in this interview over on Biblioklept.)
I didn’t find The Thieves of Manhattan to be a particularly beautifully written novel, but it reads well. It’s fast paced and keeps you delighted and guessing. And I do enjoy when a book has a hidden (or not so hidden) agenda, if the author weaves it into the story so well that you hardly notice it as being separate from the story.
Another cool thing about The Thieves of Manhattan is that I think it would hold my attention for a longer reading session (think plane trip), but its short chapters and quick-but-not-breakneck pacing make it good as a stop-and-start read too. Overall, a lot of fun!