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Hunting In Harlem Book Review

Phyllis Rhodes

By Any Means Necessary

I must say I was impressed with Mat Johnson's latest novel, Hunting In Harlem.  I had not read his debut novel, Drop, or any of the press releases surrounding his latest work, so I blindly opened the book and began reading.  I soon found myself laughing aloud and engrossed by the author's clever imagination, mature writing style, and original characters.  Johnson builds a story that is both interesting and thought provoking - a true challenge for a tough and controversial topic such as gentrification.

Hunting In Harlem is the story of Horizon Realty's vision to revitalize Harlem one brownstone at a time; hoping to eventually return it to the booming community it once was during the Renaissance. The realty company is also a sponsor of the Second Chance Program and subsequently employs three ex-convicts as part of a real estate training program.  Snowden (convicted of manslaughter for killing his father), Bobby (an arsonist), and Horus (a former gangbanger) are handpicked to participate in this prestigious, cutting edge, year-long program.  As they study the ins-and-outs of real estate, they also perform extra assignments, such as clearing out Horizon apartments of tenants who happen to perish in freak accidents.  The suspense begins when Snowden mentions the number of accidental deaths to his love interest who happens to be a reporter.   She investigates and discovers a pattern which leads Snowden to confront his mentor.  He soon learns that it is Horizon Realty's plan to dispose of "undesirables" (people who discredit Harlem) and is blackmailed into supporting their plot to meticulously remove the offenders (prostitutes, pick pockets, child abusers, drug dealers, etc).  Conflict arises as the three convicts must determine how to handle the truth, come to terms with their direct involvement in the murders, and think of a way to escape blackmail.

This book challenges the intellectual to revisit the classic debates surrounding "sacrifices for the greater good of society" and infamous "by any means necessary." Johnson also educates by sharing the history of Harlem and provides an explanation of how and why it is in its present condition.  Throughout the book were subtle lessons in gentrification, discussion of the African-American socio-economic condition, and even a discussion of DuBois's Talented Tenth theory.  These topics and other ethical dilemmas were skillfully crafted in the dialogue and thoughts of the colorful, strong, wacky characters. It can also be said that this novel is an examination on human nature as we follow the central character's development and watch them wrestle with moral issues. 

This is an intriguing, suspenseful, well-written novel.  The author's writing style, social messages, and storytelling ability makes this a book worth picking up.  In the hands of others, this book would have been a disaster, but Johnson has mastered his own technique and it works really well.  Be warned, this book is only for the serious reader.

The Nubian Circle Book Club rating for Hunting in Harlem is 4.5 out of 5 stars. We welcome your comments and thoughts about this book review.  Please e-mail us at: