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Book Review

'The Whites' Is Electrifying


Richard Price writes immaculate crime novels. He set his lengthy novel Clockers in one square mile of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where a cop can see an entire world making only right-hand turns. As a writer for HBO’s series “The Wire,” Price immersed himself in the vernacular of cops and drug dealers particular to Baltimore.

Wanting to improve his earning capacity, Price attempted to cash in by writing a fast-paced, plot-driven subpar crime novel under the pseudonym "Harry Brandt." He failed. He couldn’t let himself write anything subpar. Price states, “I knew how to dress down, but I didn’t know how to write down.”

Beginning with the title, The Whites, Price draws on his erudition, paying homage to Moby-Dick. “The Whites” are cases that haunt New York City cops like Ahab’s White Whale.

Third-shift detective Billy Graves and his fellow investigators call themselves "The Wild Geese," and after decades, they've earned the respect of those they've protected and avenged. Each has a personal white whale. As Price describes, "the thug who had committed criminal obscenities on their watch and walked away untouched." The novel opens with the murder of one of those thugs and what ensues is a snap-crackle-pop tale of crimes committed in the dark of night, of investigative police work and of punishment and revenge.

Price’s command of New York City grit, his poetic command of street talk and sardonic cop lingo is as forceful as the pressure cooker tension that builds to an electrifying conclusion. I suspect the pseudonym "Harry Brandt" is not long for this world.