The Whites

By Harry Brandt (pen name for Richard Price)

Holt, $28, 352 pages)

Who is this author?

Harry Brandt is the pen name of novelist Richard Price, the talented author of eight previous crime novels that have gained him a wide and devoted audience. His other novels include Clockers, Lush Life, The Breaks, Freedomland, Blood Brothers and more. He has also written the screenplays for such hit films as The Color of Money, Sea of Love and Shaft, as well as for the HBO series The Wire. Price, who is now 65, lives in Manhattan.

What is this book about?

Police detectives, even the most successful, all have their “whites,” those Moby Dick-like criminals who tantalize their pursuers yet always seem to get away. In this novel, one such detective, Billy Graves, is haunted by a never-solved murder, his sketchy past and a stalker out for cruel revenge. His involvement in the accidental killing of a little boy has stalled his career, but now, years later, circumstances throw him back into the dark world of cops seeking off-the-record vengeance. Even his personal life gets twisted up in the dangerous tensions that result when Graves begins probing the hidden involvement of his old pals in the Wild Geese unit.  A gripping story of good guys and bad guys and some guys who are both.


Why you’ll like it:

You know him as Richard Price, who first gained fame at age 24 as the author of the inimitable, hilarious and touching novel, The Wanderers, the saga of bunch of Italian American kids in the projects in the Bronx in 1962.  Price also grew up in public housing in the Bronx, and his understanding of urban mean streets is visceral and vivid. You can feel, smell, taste, see and hear that gritty world in his on-the-money descriptions. Price has become one of our most admired and respected novelists, whose crime stories are always about much more than just crime. The Whites is gaining universal high praise, even from such hard-to-please reviewers as Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times. Price/Brandt is a master of realistic dialogue: its word choice, pacing and nervous energy. By any name, this author is always worth reading.


What others are saying:

Kirkus Reviews says: “Old tragedies combine with fresh ones in Brandt’s steely-jawed, carefully constructed procedural. Few crime novelists are as good at taut storytelling as Richard Price who, for reasons of his own, writes here under a pseudonym. But then, everyone in these pages is hiding bits and pieces of their lives and nursing secrets. Billy Graves, for instance, is well-known among Gotham’s cops for having been an almost mythical crime fighter back in the day, until an errant bullet put a kid instead of a bad guy into the ground. Since then, Graves has been shunted from one graveyard shift to another, and though he nurses hard feelings, he’s also glad just to have a gig in a time when it seldom seems that “the Prince of Peace was afoot.” Certainly that’s true when another perp of old turns up dead at just about the time it dawns on Billy that others nurse grudges, too: “Although money was the prime motivation for those signing up for a one-off tour with Night Watch, occasionally a detective volunteered not so much for the overtime but simply because it facilitated his stalking.” The city quickly becomes a set for a sprawling, multiplayer game of cat and mouse, with vengeance not the province of the lord but of the aggrieved mortals below. Or, as one player ponders while assessing the odds, “To avenge his family, he would be destroying what was left of it.” When vigilantes try to do the work of cops, no one wins—but how can there be justice in a place where everyone seems to consider the law a private matter, if not merely a polite suggestion? The grim inevitability that ensues follows lines laid out in such recent fiction as Mystic River and Smilla’s Sense of Snow—but also, for that matter, in The Oresteia. In the wake of rage and sorrow, ordinary people respond by going crazy and screwing up. In this far-from-ordinary novel, Price/Brandt explores the hows and whys. Fasten your seat belt.”

In The New York Times,  Michiko Kakutani writes: “…riveting…[Price] not only has a visceral ability to convey the gritty, day-to-day realities of [his characters'] jobs, but also a knack for using their detective work the way John le Carré has used spy stories and tradecraft, as a framework on which to build complex investigations into the human soul…No one has a better ear for street language than [Price] does, and no one these days writes with more kinetic energy or more hard-boiled verve. His high-impact prose is the perfect tool for excavating the grisly horrors of urban life…And his ability to map his characters’ inner lives—all the dreams and memories and wounds that make them tick—results in people who become as vivid to us as real-life relatives or friends…[The Whites] is, at once, a gripping police procedural and an affecting study in character and fate. “

In The New York Times Book Review, mystery author Michael Connelly says: “…as much an entertaining story as it is an examination of the job of policing…The novel posits a simple axiom: Those who go into darkness as a matter of course and duty bring some measure of darkness back into themselves. How to keep it from spreading like a cancer, eating at your humanity, is the police officer’s eternal struggle. It’s this struggle that [Price] places at the heart of his storytelling. Another great so-called crime novelist, Joseph Wambaugh, has said that the best crime novels aren’t about how cops work cases, they’re about how cases work cops. This holds true, with fervor, in The Whites…The routine of police procedure…is just right, depicted in its perfect shopworn way. And the dialogue…reaches the high-water mark of previous Richard Price novels…The Whites is a work of reportage as much as it is a work of fiction…It tells it like it is. It provides insight and knowledge, both rare qualities in the killing fields of the crime novel. It’s a book that makes you feel that Price has circled the murders at this detective’s side and in the process really gotten to know a city.”

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Price is one whale of a storyteller by any name, as evinced by the debut of his new brand—okay, Brandt—a gripping, gritty, Greek tragedy of cops, killers, and the sometimes-blurry line between them. The sprawling tale centers on stoic police sergeant Billy Graves, banished to the purgatory of the NYPD’s night watch since his role in a racially charged, politically explosive double shooting a decade earlier. Despite the adrenaline-pumping emergencies that routinely erupt during his 1–8 a.m. tour, he has time to obsess over his troubled wife, Carmen; his increasingly demented father, Billy Sr., a retired former chief of patrol; and, most of all, his “White” (that’s what Billy, with a harpoon salute to Melville’s tormented mariner, calls the one who got away): triple-murderer Curtis Taft. He’s the elusive monster Billy is fated to hunt, probably even after retirement—to judge from the way Billy’s former colleagues in the Bronx, a group calling themselves the Wild Geese, continue to hunt their own Whites. Suddenly, one of Billy’s friends’ Whites turns up murdered amid a St. Patrick’s Day scrum at Penn Station. Soon a second disappears. And then it starts to look as if someone is stalking Billy’s family. The author skillfully manipulates these multiple story lines for peak suspense, as his arresting characters careen toward a devastating final reckoning.”

In its starred review, Booklist says: “This is going to be a strong contender for best crime novel of 2015…. With one-of-a-kind characters and settings so real you can smell them, Brandt plunges us into the chaos of domestic life, the true agony of a parent’s grief, the cost of secrets kept and revealed. He does it all with indelible phrasing that captures both the black humor of the on-the-job cop and the give-and-take of longtime married couples. While the finely tuned story engine accelerates, it’s supercharged with complications…In the end, The Whites isn’t about cops and killers so much as it is about the damage we all carry [and] the sins we’ve all committed.”

Stephen King says: The Whites is the crime novel of the year — grim, gutsy, and impossible to put down. I had to read the final 100 pages in a single sitting. I began being fascinated, and ended being deeply moved. Call him Price or Brandt, he knows everything about police life, and plenty about friendship: what your friends do for you…and what they sometimes do to you.”

When is it available?

The Whites is on the shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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