This “writing as Harry Brandt” business doesn’t change the fact that it’s Richard Price—The Wanderers, Clockers, Freedomland, Lush Life, Samaritan and work on such knock-out TV shows as “The Wire” and “The Night Of.” The book flap says The Whites “introduces Harry Brandt—a new master of American crime fiction.” Yeah, sure, if he’s so great (The Whites came out in 2015), what has Richard Price does for his since then?
The good news is it’s the same old Richard Price—maybe a bit less heavy, maybe a bit more straight-ahead than, say, Clockers. More straight-up urban thriller.
Veracity seems to ooze from every syllable. How do I know? I don’t. It feels that way, though. Price’s research for previous books, embedding himself with police, is legendary. While he claims he did zero research for The Whites, he drew on all those zillion other ride-alongs and let it rip. The credibility issue starts with the cop stuff and carries over into the many aspects of our seen-it-all officer of the law, in this case one Billy Graves.
Billy was once a member of the Wild Geese, “seven young cops averaging three years on the Job, fresh, to anti-crime in the late ‘90’s, a tight crew given a ticket to ride in one of the worst precincts in the East Bronx.” (Yes, capital J J-o-b.)
The Wild Geese, “in the eyes of the people they protected and occasionally avenged, walked the streets like gods.”
Each of these crime fighters had one white whale—the ones that got away. The Whites is about a lot of things, but obsession might be at the top of the list. Thinks Graves: “No one asked for these crimes to set up house in their lives, no one asked for these murderers to constantly and arbitrarily lay siege to their psyches like bouts of malaria, no one asked to feel so helplessly in the grip of this nonstop black study that they had no choice but to pursue and pursue.”
A man turns up fatally stabbed in Penn Station and it might be one of those whites that one of his fellow geese buddies cared about. The victim was once a suspect in the unsolved murder of a twelve-year-old boy. And then another white turns up dead and … we’re off. The past comes rushing back.
Graves is “shackled for all time” to Curt Taft, the killer of three females in one evening—including a four-year-old. “Three shots, three dead, then right back to bed, Curtis Taft, as far as Billy was concerned the most black-hearted of the Whites. But so were they all, if you asked each of their star-crossed hunters.”
Most of the “geese” are living new lives. One manages a funeral parlor. One is an itinerant building super. One works a cop-like job at a university in lower Manhattan. One, Billy surmises, may have taken justice into his own hands and killed his White—the Penn Station victim.
But Graves is no longer a golden-boy detective. He once accidentally shot a ten-year-old boy while doing his job—the bullet from his gun went through a druggy bad guy and hit a good kid. Is he a loose cannon? The fact that he has survived, even if the shine is off as he works Manhattan Night Watch. And he’s worried that someone might be stalking his family. For starters. His father has issues. His wife, Carmen has issues, too. She is battling a “baffling and invisible dragon.” We see Billy 24-7. And we get glimpses of Billy’s stalker—Milton Ramos (who gets a Moby Dick reference in toward the end of the novel in case we didn’t get the whole white whale business.)
New York, of course, is on full, gritty display. Yonkers, The Bronx, Manhattan. Everything is entangled. These places and these people are of a whole—streets, neighborhoods, and their colorful inhabitants.
Billy searching for a witness at three-fifteen in the morning:
“Billy woke up the tenants on the second floor, an ashy-skinned middle-aged man, dumb with sleep, coming to the door in his boxers as a woman in the back of the apartment screamed like hell about having to go get up for work in a few hours. On the third floor, the door was answered after five minutes of pounding by a moon-faced African in a wrinkled caftan, kufi, and busted slippers, this guy having no English to him, but the TV in his otherwise furniture-less living room was playing so loud Billy couldn’t imagine him hearing anything out on the street short of an explosion.”
The Whites heads to an emotional, climax that stays within the story. Powerful stuff.
And then it’s back to the J-o-b. Capital J.