Adam Langer’s first two novels were comic, city-swallowing books encompassing music, Jewishness, politics, and more in his native Chicago. New York is the bigger town, but it’s made Langer’s interests more specific. His 2008 novel, Ellington Boulevard, largely stuck to real estate, and his latest, The Thieves of Manhattan, is an arch metafictional riff on the publishing industry. Its narrator, Ian Minot, is a failed writer who’s just lost his girlfriend to Blade Markham, author of a bestselling memoir stuffed with faux-streetwise bluster. Ian’s contempt is baked into his prose: He can’t help but note the “franzens” (stylish eyeglasses) and “atwoods” (curly hair) sported by successful literary types. So with the help of book editor Jed Roth, he plots his revenge. They’ll take Roth’s unpublished novel and sell it to Jed’s former boss as a memoir under Ian’s name; the book’s success will make publishing his fiction a snap, and Roth gets to shame his old employer once the deception is disclosed. Integrity? Whatever—they’ll both make a bundle.
The early pages of The Thieves of Manhattan are so thick with shop talk and references to literary frauds it’s initially hard to imagine the book’s appeal beyond publishing circles. But just as Ian subtly transforms into Roth’s doppelganger, Langer smartly shifts the novel into a witty, appealingly pulpy tale, guns and all, that echoes the book Roth initially wrote. The publishing industry might be narrow turf, but what Langer is really poking holes in is narcissism, and that’s a satirical target everybody can relate to.