The author's satirical instincts are razor sharp.” New York Observer
“Johnson is eloquent in his prose and insightful in his commentary on contemporary urbanization and gentrification.” New York Daily News
“This great thriller makes you consider what it takes to build a community.” Honey magazine
“Mat Johnson's breathless thriller cuts to the heart of gentrification. Implausibly humorous, righteously terrifying, Johnson has written a cautionary tale for our time.” Walter Mosley
“[Johnson's] satirical, loving, conflicted fiction consistently makes burgers of sacred cows.” Philadelphia City Paper
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. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Three ex-cons get ensnared in a treacherous scheme to revitalize Harlem. Second-novelist Johnson (Drop, 2000) begins his likable, and often entertaining story, virtually a casual history of Harlem, as Starbucks, developers, and homebuyers encircle the neighborhood, sniffing bargain real estate and threatening to seal Harlem’s fate as "the most romanticized ghetto in the world." Johnson’s perceptive insights point up what black culture would lose in the transition, a fate that jars protagonist Cedric Snowden from his ennui. Just sprung from a sentence for the murder of his father (it was mostly an accident), Snowden and two other former big-house residents are enlisted by Horizon Reality in a program that promises to rebuild the neighborhood by cleaning out crime and opening up housing for the middle class. The reward: in a year, Horizon will deed the ex-cons a history-laden brownstone. Snowden’s work finds him disposing of the belongings of recently deceased apartment owners to get the premises in shape for new owners. He soon sniffs a pattern in what’s going on: all the apartments housed lowlifes (thieves, pimps, drug dealers) who died in violent accidents, spiking the accidental death rate in Harlem way beyond that of the rest of the city. Piper Goines, keen reporter for the New Holland Herald, also senses something suspicious and starts asking questions. Her investigation brings the somewhat rambling narrative into focus but also sends it along a rather conventional line that ends up begging credibility. No matter. Johnson makes a welcome raconteur for a late night: he’s sharply observant and funny, even witty at times. He can also be long-winded, and some of his sentences do bumpalong. Still, few will complain as long as the good lines keep coming. Fun more in the telling than in the tale. Author tour