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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Thieves of Manhattan: A Novel
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2010
"Thieves" is magically entertaining. I loved Langer's wonderfully inventive literary references. Famous author's names can become verbs or evocative nouns such as when Ian, the main character, gets fed up with his crazy life and wants to pull a salinger, meaning he wants to hide away for awhile a la JD Salinger. People at upscale literary readings and parties drink faulkners (whiskey) or fitzgeralds (gin rickys), they wear ecklebergs or franzens, both forms of eyeglasses.

In the beginning Ian, a failing writer, meets Jed, another failed author, or is he a scam artist? and they embark on an adventure as they rewrite Jed's memoir. Along the way they speculate about what literary talent is, who has it, who's a fake or real in the corporate literary world and among their fellow writers. I loved the inside look into book society as well as the adventure tale running throughout the story. There are also a few love stories along the way and some cloak and dagger adventure. Best were the humor and the sense of fun. I enjoyed Langer's book immensely.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2010
I loved "The Thieves of Manhattan" by Adam Langer. A well wrought premise, at first neatly told and with little literary conceits that are down right amusing: a golightly is a cocktail dress as in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and a faulkner is a whiskey, and so on. There is even a glossary of terms. Imagined or not, it is an interesting glimpse into the publishing world that seems dimmer everyday; smug agents, posers, flash-in-the-pan best selling authors, clueless publishers. A book where most characters are not as they seem.

As said I loved it, as in past tense. Someone once wrote or said that in a novel an author can get away with one coincidence, and I suppose in a tolstoy (really hefty one) perhaps a couple. As this story unspools the coincidences, the accidents of improbable timing are simply staggering. It became almost impossible to suspend disbelief--as if one had been reading an amusing book that suddenly turned into a Indiana Jones adventure, and then into a cartoon.

In the first half there were a couple of plot distractions that caused hairline cracks in my suspension of disbelief, but they weren't fatal. All of a sudden something happens on page 174 that doesn't seem wrong until later in the story, but eventually it causes major cracks in the disbelief problem. (I don't want to make this a spoiler.) On page 194 a genuine deus ex machina appears in the form of an overweight café owner--unexpected and really inexplicable, although the author tries to explain it. In another scene the hero apparently reaches out for a glass of water but two pages later his hands are tied so that he has to indicate something with his chin as a pointer.

Lastly, I wished that I'd stopped reading at about page 190 and skipped to the last chapter. In the in between our hero becomes something of a human punching bag who should have been dead or hospitalized but manages with amazing resilience to bounce back like Wiley Coyote.

Hence the three stars.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
wrote this book. Adam Langer is the well-regarded author of three wonderfully sly novels set in Chicago and New York, and one interesting memoir about his father. I've read and enjoyed all four books. While he's not - as far as I can tell, anyway - a mega-bestselling author like Grisham or Brown - his writing seems to have been well received. The character in "Thieves", Ian Minot, is a never-succeeding writer in Manhattan - the one in New York state - who sees success all around him, but never manages to attain it for himself. He sees writers less talented than he is take advantage of - or are taken advantage by - the literary establishment in New York. He's particularly bitter about the authors who write "memoirs" that are fake but go on to literary glory. Ian sees this as a large system of fraud, from the writers to the reps to the publishing houses, who are making a lot off phony memoirs. Ian falls into on ongoing plot with several other failing writers and the plot of the book he writes turns real.

So I don't think Langer wrote this novel - which is very good and funny - as a bitter rejoinder to the literary world for not seeing his talent. He's clearly NOT the character "Ian Minot", but he's obviously distressed at the state of the literary society today where authors and agents and publishers play a game with literary output. I couldn't help but laugh at the number of "blurbs" from other well-known writers praising Langer's book.

I think I'll wait awhile to see what others say about "Thieves of Manhattan" and Langer's reason for writing it. I have a feeling that either the book will be ignored or will actually bring about some valid questioning of the literary establishment.

In any case, as always, Langer's novel is a great read, with his usual sly wit. I also think its great that the book was published in trade paper instead of hard back.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 4, 2010
This book was so interesting to me in ways I didn't expect. I recently read "The Angel's Game," by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and although quite different, they are alike in several intriguing ways. I kept thinking of the text-to-text conections (teachers will know)while reading. Both are Faustian books about books, asking "what is the truth?" From there, they completely diverge. "Angel's" is full of magical realism, set in Barcelona, while "Thieves" is contempory, set in Manhattan. The many literary allusions in "Thieves" make it a real English major's book. I heard Adam Langer interviewed on Weekend Edition Sunday, and he said he embedded 5 or 6 puzzles in the book, and he did the NY Times crossword every day before he wrote. An NYT puzzle fan myself, the puzzles eluded me. Anyone out there get them?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I wasn't sure what to expect when I plucked The Thieves of Manhattan off the library shelf. I had the vague impression that it was somehow literary - a book about books. I soon found myself completely engaged with a group of quirky characters, biting satire that made me laugh out loud and sometimes wince, and a story that was just intriguing enough to keep me turning the pages far past my bedtime. The author takes on the whole memoir vs fiction question (ala James Frey) with a biting wit that moves the story along at a brisk pace. I was more than happy with how things were going; our poor struggling angst filled writer was deciding whether he was actually going to pull a fast one on the publishing industry. I would have been more than happy to continue with that story, letting the characters develop in all their Franzenesque glory, plus finding all those literary references was really fun. So what happened? The author pulled a fast one on the reader and all of a sudden, this is a thriller! A caper! A mystery reminiscent of the DaVinci Code in all of it's code breaking glory. What a blast!

It's been quite a while since I've just enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed reading this one. If you're a book nerd like me, love a good strong narrative, and enjoy a writer who "cares about his characters" and knows how not to take himself too seriously, you will absolutely love this book. The writing is fantastic and the ending was perfect. What more can be said? As a lover of good fiction, this book made me feel sad for all the struggling authors out there and also hopeful that the power of a good story - fake or real- always triumphs. Recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In his new novel THE THIEVES OF MANHATTAN author Adam Langer takes us into a spirited tale filled with idioms, metaphors and metonymy. If you have ever viewed an old Cary Grant movie called Mr. Lucky you can get some idea of Langer's style. While Cary referred to "a couple of bottles and stoppers (coppers) searching for a lady from Bristol (a pistol), Langer uses more literary references to identify certain items in his novel such as a Capote (broad brimmed hat), a Highsmith (a train), golightly (little black dress), Gatsby (a man's sportcoat....well you get the idea. Most of the references are easily deciphered, but if you should be unable to make out the meaning of a particular reference, the author has included a Glossary of Selected Terms for the reader to consult.

The novel is filled with wonderful characterizations that are, at once, simple and complex, amusing and devious and a writing style that is ingeniously knowledgeable as it unmasks an unprincipled industry that rewards fakes and hoaxes with celebrity and wealth. (Think of the memoir A Million Little Pieces or Carcaterra's book Sleepers or even Irving's fake Howard Hughes autobiography).

We follow the books protagonist, Ian Minot, a morally committed unpublished writer whose character driven stories are just too ordinary to deserve publication as he attempts to survive in New York City. Ian has taken a job working in a coffee house where he meets Roth, a customer who proposes that Ian join him in executing the literary con of all time. I will not describe the con nor will I explore any of the many unexpected twists and turns the storyline takes, I will just say that Ian is a well written character whose transformation is a wonder to behold.

Finally, this book captivated my imagination and will certainly lead me to question the veracity of all the "gritty and true" memoirs I read in the future. **Just noticed that I am posting this review on April Fools Day...how appropos!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2010
In the acknowledgments at the end of his hilarious new novel The Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer doles out "thanks to all the fake memoirists, fictional poets, literary forgers, and hoaxers who have provided such great inspiration." That's funny because it's true -- this novel IS an inspired piece of fiction. It's a skewering of the publishing industry. It's an adventure tale, complete with a treasure hunt. And it's a treasure trove of inside jokes for literary geeks (Philip Roth signs a book to a smarmy literary agent: To Geoffrey, a true human stain...Cigarettes are called "vonneguts"...Trendy glasses are called "franzens".)

Ian Minot is a Manhattan coffee slinger, trying desperately to publish his short stories before the dregs of his inheritance run out. His girlfriend, Anya, has become a rising star, earning a deal to publish a book of short stories about her childhood in Romania. (Would she have gotten a deal if she wasn't from somewhere exotic?) When Ian, desperate for publishing fame, enters into a scheme to publish a fake memoir with a former book editor looking for revenge on an industry he believes has lost its soul, things go a bit awry. The line blurs between real life and fiction. And Ian finds himself running for his life.

The James Frey fiasco shines through clear as day (two chapters are even titled "Bright, Shiny Morning" and "A Million Little Pieces") as the go-point for this book. But with all the great jokes (see below for another), some hilarious caricatures, like a ebonics-spouting fella named Blade who becomes the toast of the literary world when he publishes a memoir about his gangsta life, and with the morph into adventure novel as the rubber meets the road on Ian's fake memoir plot, the novel moves way beyond what could have been a too-simple 250-page insult to Frey and other fakers.

At times you feel like Langer himself is angry or disillusioned, that he has his own axe to grind. At one point, he writes: "In the press, these hoaxes were viewed mostly of symptoms of a declining industry struggling for relevance and attention and a society of declining morals." More often, though, you get the sense he's just being funny -- and it's pretty clear he had a blast writing this book.

For anyone interested in how the publishing industry works (or doesn't), and who enjoys a good laugh at its expense, this is a must. It's a slim little book, written specifically for literary nerds. And it's a whole lotta fun!

Another literary joke: Langer setting the scene at a literary party: "There was a trio of drunk writers, all named Jonathan, each of who was complaining that the Times critic Michiko Kakutani had written that she'd like their earlier books better."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Adam Langer had to have had a blast writing this book. It's mischievous, fun, and oh-so-clever. And it's also mana for readers who will recognize and enjoy the many literary allusions.

Take this, for example: "He called an overcoat a `gogol,', a smile a `cheshire,' and an umbrella a `poppins.' He called trains `highsmiths' because they appeared so often in Patricia Highsmith's thrillers, and referred to money as `daisies,', since in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes Daisy Buchanan's voice as being `full of money.' :

Who wouldn't love a book like that?

The book focuses on a wanna-be author named Ian Minot (Ian McEwan? Susan Minot?), who toils in a coffee shop and envies his Romanian girlfriend who has just published the literary sensation of the year. His own stories are "small" and he is unable to find the right "home" for them. He is more than a little envious of Blade Markham, an ex-con who has written a smarmy memoir entitled "Blade by Blade", which has topped the bestseller list, despite a glaring lack of talent.

Enter Jed Roth, the Confident Man, who presents him with an offer he can't refuse: rewrite Roth's fictional book Thieves of Manhattan, repackage this over-the-top narrative as memoir, and become the darling of the publishing world. Roth adds, "When a hundred thousand copies of your book have already been shipped to every bookstore in America, you'll say that every word in it is a lie...When people ask why you did it, you'll tell them that you did it because it was the only way to get anyone to pay attention to your stories."

Shades of James Frey! Adam Langer divides his book into three sections: Fact, Fiction, and Memoir. And to add to the fun, the book is touted with real blurbs by two great literary hoaxers, JT Leroy and Clifford Irving. There's an Oprah clone, a delicious look at bottom-crawler agents and more.

As I was reading, I was reminded of other books: Paul Auster's Invisible (another pact with the literary devil), Steve Hely's excellent How I Became A Famous Novelist and Carlos Ruiz Zuin's Shadow of The Wind. All are recommended as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2010
Recently I've read a string of novels where the author has tried to veer from their usual genre with little success; having read all of Adam Langer's other novels I was a little concerned about this one for that reason. My concern was unfounded; this was a great book, very cleverly written and compelling. It is a great mix of soft-boiled mystery and contemporary fiction. As another reviewer said the idea of using authors' names as nouns and verbs is highly original (and the glossary at the back is very helpful). It

I read each night before going to sleep and I couldn't wait to climb into bed each night to pick this one up. I'm sorry to see it end and eagerly await Mr. Langer's next effort.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2010
Thieves of Manhattan is a thoroughly entertaining read. I read the book in a day (a work day no less), which is saying something as some books of similar lengths take me days just to become interested. The pacing of the story is okay, though the beginning is a little slow and whiny, while the ending is a bit abrubt. The pacing fits with the character development well enough, so I guess I can't really complain.

My beef with the book came almost immediately upon finishing. Despite being what I would consider "brain candy," _The_Thieves_of_Manhattan_ is an incredibly arrogant novel. Langer's literary references feel incredibly forced, and what is worse, he assumes his audience has never cracked a book or could never use context clues to figure out his little references. For example, he assumes his readers can't figure out that a gogol is an overcoat, despite the fact that "The Overcoat" is required reading for most high school students. I found the dictionary in the back of the book to be particularly insulting. But mostly, the arrogance is in the tone. He wants us to believe that he, as an author, is repulsed by the pandering nature of modern publishing and is baffled by publishers' desire to make money. Wake up Langer, it is a business, and that business hasn't changed. If books don't sell, publishers become defunct. Langer isn't really repulsed by it though. He spends the book describing an in-group/out-group dichotomy, and uses his knowledge of the literary world to prove to his readers that he is a part of that group whereas the readers most certainly are not.

The book is fun, so read it. Just have another book ready for the morning after. The irritation hangover this book will cause you is unpleasant.
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