Review: The Whites by Richard Price

Whites.jpgBy now, almost a year since its publication The Whites has earned such vast critical acclaim, I was almost reluctant to read it. Not because I doubted the legitimacy of its devotees; but how could anything live up to that stratospheric hype?  Of course, if any writer is going to live up to, if not entirely exceed expectations, it’s Richard Price, in this instance writing as Harry Brandt.

The Brandt pseudonym, apparently, came from a desire to tell a more commercial, straight-up urban thriller rather than the portrait of American Society Price is so famed for depicting, using a criminal investigation, or the tropes of the crime genre, to propel the narrative. This might’ve been Price’s original intent, but all he’s ended up doing is produce his most accessible, and possibly best, novel to date. Oh, it’s a crime novel, sure; it has procedural elements, and a mystery at its core – but that’s not what’ll keep readers flipping the pages. No, it’s the characters who’ll keep you enthralled in Price’s yarn. Because Billy Graves, his wife Carmen, the members of The Wild Geese – they’re not the cardboard cut-outs that often populate crime fiction. These are living, breathing people, and Richard Price has no problem depicting their blemishes; some obvious, others hidden, and festering.

Back in the 1990s, Billy Graves was one of The Wild Geese – a crew of young NYPD mavericks hungry for justice, committed to each other and the cause. But Billy’s career nosedived when he accidently shot a ten-year-old boy and got tagged as a vigilante. As a result, he got bumped to Night Watch; which means he’s one of the cops on the scene when a man is stabbed at Penn Station: the ‘White’ of a former member of the Wild Geese. Soon after, another ‘White’ of a former colleague is found dead, and Billy realises the days he thought he’d left behind are back with a vengeance; and at the most inopportune time, too – because his family is being targeted by a psychotic stalker.

Its plot summarised like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is the basis of a whodunit: who’s killing the Whites? Who’s after the Graves’? But in truth, those mysteries aren’t particularly deep, and will probably be unravelled quickly by veteran crime readers. It’s the motivations of the protagonists and antagonists that’re key; they why. Price digs deep, far deeper than your average crime novel; it asks readers to define justice, and exposes some uncomfortable truths about how far we’d go to ordain our own brand of it.

With incomparable dialogue – even Elmore Leonard would’ve gulped at its authenticity – and refined rawness few writers can emulate, The Whites demonstrates just how pliable the crime genre is. It’s not always about good guys chasing bad guys, cops after vicious killers; in fact, its best examples often reveal just how alike the policemen and the criminals are; how differentiating between both sides can be just a matter of perception.

ISBN: 9781408864586
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 12-Feb-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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