“The Thieves of Manhattan” – Painting the Publishing World

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Posted 01 Sep 2010 in Reviews

Adam Langer’s The Thieves of Manhattan (© 2010, ISBN: 978-1400068913) proved an exciting read. Glancing at the cover and title which hosts crooked letters cut from newspaper and eyes on a black background, I anticipated reading about low-life thieves, fences to dispose of stolen merchandise, drug dealers, or cheap hookers. Instead, Langer paints pictures of people dressed in suits or fashionable casual clothes, wearing chic eyeglasses and expensive watches. Low-life crooks had the day off. The thieves in the title are professional people—think the mirroring of elected government officials and investment bankers. But in this case, the author used people connected with the publishing business, which he is probably most familiar.

Ian Minot, the narrator, first appears as his homophone surname implies, a minnow. He works as a barista in a coffeehouse, and writes short stories during down time. We quickly gather he wants to be a big fish novelist; his sights for success never wane. He sees his girlfriend, Anya Petrescu, a Romanian chachka, being invited to read parts of her memoir at a who’s who in the literary field gathering. Langer brings her to life, having her speak in a broken English accent. “Ee-yen, ve should heff met earlier…vhen ve both vere different pipples.” Ian, wearing a t-shirt and jeans, sits and listens, as she captivates the audience. He laments he writes as good as anyone and cannot understand why he is a failure. With her rise to stardom, the scene soon leads to the breakup of life together between Ian and Anya.

After Ian, Anya is swept away by a book agent and very NYC man, Geoff Olden. Street slang such as “Metro Sex” or cheap Spanish expressions such as “Por Favor” dot the pages. Anya signs on with Olden to get her memoir published. Anya’s literary success strongly correlates with sexual liaisons; she is in over her head. It is here the author’s narrative shines. He describes the publishing business workings inside parties and dinner scenes: the smoozing, the backstabbing, the threats, the duplicity. Langer depicts an identifiable hate-love relationship with industry.

Ian recalls memories of his upstanding father. He’s challenged to carry the strong family character of honesty. Or should he discard family values and join in the lying, self-serving world of money-grabbing humans? He’s told to write lies in the body of a memoir everyone will think is truthful. Adam Langer’s book holds plenty of trouble to go around.

Yet, the narration about the publishing industry was first class—discussing material belonging in case study classes leading to a business MBA degree. I imagined the author taking business classes in his college days leading to a forthright, no-nonsense narrative. It was business without any off-the-wall craziness or feelings needing to be resolved. As a money manager in another life, I found the middle part of the book a delightful déjà vu.

Ian, now alone, takes up with Joe Roth, a flamboyant writer/customer at the coffeehouse nicknamed The Confident Man.  He takes Ian under his wing to help him edit a memoir leading to success. The mystery launches and the book is hard to put down with the outcome unknown. Well-crafted and easy to follow, The Thieves of Manhattan is a recommended read for sure.

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