The Whites’ by Harry Brandt aka Richard Price (2015) – 333 pages Grade: B+
Richard Price is the great urban novelist of the United States. Police procedural novels are usually not my favorite reads, but I make an exception for Richard Price. I have followed his work from the very beginning back in 1974 with his first book of connected stories, ‘The Wanderers’. I have read all of his fiction since then. He has branched out into screenwriting (‘The Color of Money’, ‘Sea of Love’, ‘Clockers’) and television (‘The Wire’). He has the accuracy and honesty to portray all of his characters as individuals rather than as members of any group.
First let me explain the title, ‘The Whites’. Price’s conceit is that every member of the police force has one case that sticks in his or her craw, a case where a vicious perpetrator, who could be any race or nationality, was never ever arrested or held responsible for their hellacious crime.
“They had all met their personal Whites, who had committed criminal obscenities on their watch and then walked away untouched by justice.”
The white whale. Leave it to Richard Price, in a society where the word ‘black’ is given so many negative connotations, to give the word ‘white’ a negative connotation. Richard Price is a true believer in justice, in fair play.
In Richard Price’s fiction, the cops and the criminals live quite similar lives. Both have husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and family; both do what they can to get a little extra money; both have lots of troubles. It’s just that the cops are on one side of the law and the criminals the other. The cops generally came from the same area they now work in and know some of the criminals from childhood.
Just to give you a sense of the spirit and city ambiance of ‘The Whites’ so you can decide whether or not you want to read it, I will quote the first paragraph on New York street life.
“As Billy Graves drove down Second Avenue to work, the crowds worried him: a quarter past one in the morning and there were still far more people pulling into the bars than leaving them, everyone coming and going having to muscle their way through the clumps of half-hammered smokers standing directly outside the entrances. He hated the no smoking laws. They created nothing but problems – late-night noise for the neighbors, elbow room enough for the bar-cramped beefers to finally start swinging, and a plague of off-duty limos and radio cabs all tapping their horns to hustle fares.”
Police are sworn to uphold the law and impart justice for all of the people in their districts. We hear about some police forces that are led by white racists, and there probably are some. But racists make lousy cops, because they don’t believe in justice and they don’t believe in fair play.
Although Richard Price uses the pseudonym Harry Brandt here, he makes no attempt to hide the name Richard Price which is also printed in big letters on the cover. I’m not sure he will accomplish much of anything with the pseudonym.
‘The Whites’, just published, is already scheduled to be made into a movie.