HUNTING IN HARLEM
Set against the historically rich geography of Harlem, Johnson's smart thriller offers fine writing, a sometimes wacky but compelling story, and an absorbing social history of "the most romanticized ghetto in the world." Three ex-cons are invited to join Horizon Realty's Second Chance Program by becoming interns at the real estate office: Cedric Snowden, who has served time for manslaughter; arsonist Bobby Finley; and tough thug Horus Manley. After a year learning the secrets of the real estate business, one member of this trio will be rewarded with a free historic brownstone to remodel on his own. In the meantime, their day-to-day job is to move desirable African-American tenants (read: professionals) into the apartments of various impoverished lowlifes who have recently met with untimely fatal accidents. Sexy local crime reporter Piper Goines helps Snowden see that these are not accidents—-they're part of Horizon's secret plan for revitalizing Harlem. Johnson, who probed the advertising world in his first novel, Drop, uses offbeat characters, zany humor and historical information to examine the ethics of gentrification and the problems of poor urban neighborhoods. Think James Baldwin channeled through T. Coraghessan Boyle. Johnson salts the rich narrative with popular and intellectual references (Jackson Pollock, Waiting for Godot, Eliza Doolittle). The ending may seem ambiguous and over-the-top to some, but it is certainly thought provoking. (May)
Forecast:Johnson's socially savvy voice makes him an appealing interview subject, and Bloomsbury is solidly behind this sophomore effort (with a seven-city author tour and urban radio promotion). Expect a bump up in recognition and sales.