REVIEW: THE WHITES by RICHARD PRICE

Noir not only lives, but flourishes with Richard Price.  His latest is equal to Lush Life and Clockers.

The protagonist is the aptly named Billy Graves.  Aptly because he runs the Night Watch, the only detective squad on duty in Manhattan during the small hours--the graveyard shift.  Not the most desirable duty, perhaps, but Billy's glad to have it.  Years before, his rapid rise through the ranks had stopped cold when his bullet passed through its intended target and killed a teenaged bystander as well.  The resulting uproar--protesters outside his house for weeks--cost him his marriage  and chained him to a desk.  Through the ordeal he had the closed-ranks support of his brother and sister Wild Geese, a half dozen detectives who'd had each others' backs since the start of their careers.

But now they're all deep into middle age and--with the exception of Billy--retirement.  Yet each has a case he can't let go of--a White.  As in the White Whale Ahab can't leave alone.  The one that got away, usually from an horrific crime committed with notable cruelty and arrogance.  Each of the Geese has an old file in a corner of the rec room; each periodically shows up at the perp's house or hospital room just to remind him that he's not forgotten.  The story opens when one of the Whites meets his end on a platform at Penn Station on St. Patrick's night and Billy's squad catches the call.  Rather than risk a spoiler, I will only say that this White is not the last.

The other line that drives the plot is another cop's quest for vengeance.  But in his case, the target is Billy's present wife.  

Price does his usual virtuoso turn describing the gritty realities of police procedure, the bond among cops doing a dangerous job, and the strain that tests that bond when one crosses the line even farther than usual.  (And usual is pretty far.)  But what's really striking is language that's simultaneously lush and tough.  An example: "Well, if the Bronx is good at one thing, it's hurting people. . . .He'll get his."  Another: "The state-run nursing home in Ozone Park smelled like cooking diapers."  

If you're a Price fan, you won't be disappointed.  And if you're not, you will be.

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