Saturday, December 19, 2015

Another Brilliant Novel from Richard Price

For whatever reason, the acclaimed novelist Richard Price, author of Clockers and Lush Life, among other books, decided to write this novel as "Harry Brandt." He must have changed his mind in mid-stream, however, because the fiction of the pen name didn't even last until the pub date and, in consequence, both names appear on the cover.

Whatever the case, The Whites is among the absolute best crime novels of the year. The main protagonist is a middle-aged New York City detective named Billy Graves. In his younger days, Billy was a member of a celebrated anti-crime unit that became known as the Wild Geese, and the members of the group were not above bending the law from time to time to administer a rough justice to the scumbags that they encountered.

Most of the other members of the group have now retired and moved on to other jobs. Billy remains on the force as a sergeant in the Manhattan Night Watch, a group of detectives that catches cases overnight and then passes them on to detectives on the day shift. It's not a particularly exciting or fulfilling job, but at this point in his career, it's just what Billy needs.

Billy remains in touch with the other former members of the Wild Geese, and they occasionally get together for a reunion dinner or some such thing. But all of them, Billy included, are troubled individuals, unhappy both in their careers and in their personal lives. Each of them has a case from the past that continues to haunt him or her, usually because a perp who committed a horrible crime got away with it. In each case, the detectives know who did it, but they just never had enough proof to make the case. These cases are know as the "Whites," the name taken from a great white whale that once famously bedeviled a nineteenth-century sea captain.

Billy Graves is absolutely in love with his wife, Carmen, who is a nurse. But Carmen has deep secrets of her own from long ago, and she is as troubled in her own way as Billy is in his. This is one reason why he prefers the night shift, because it minimizes the time they have to spend together. Then in the middle of the night, Billy catches a case in which a man has been stabbed to death in Penn Station. But this is no ordinary slaying because the victim is one of the Whites that has for so many years dogged one of the other members of the Wild Geese. The slaying changes Billy's life and resurrects a lot of trouble that would have been better left buried deep in the past. And from that point on, Billy's life descends into the proverbial hell on earth.

Richard Price is truly a gifted writer who has a great way with language and who uses this story as an opportunity to probe into the hidden corners of the souls of the characters he has created here. They're all vividly drawn and the story sucks you in practically from the opening page. The Whites is a story that works at many different levels and if it's not the best book I read in 20015, then it's very close.

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