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Book Review: ‘The Whites’ by Richard Price Writing as Harry Brandt

The Whites, Richard Price’s 2015 novel written under the pseudonym Harry Brandt, is scheduled for reissue as a trade paperback by Picador in February. Price, much lauded for novels like Clockers and Lush Life as well as his work on HBO’s The Wire, explains in interviews that he chose to write under a pseudonym because he intended the book to be a departure from what he normally wrote, much perhaps like J. K. Rowling choosing to write her adult mysteries as Robert Galbraith, only then to discover that old saw about leopards and spots, and as far as Price enthusiasts is certainly a good thing.

If The Whites is not Price at his best, it is not far off. What distinguishes him from the run of the mill whitesthriller writer, is his ability to tell a compelling story that keeps pages turning while at the same time making serious comment on the human condition. He draws his characters honestly and in depth avoiding comic book heroes and villains. Good people have their flaws, evil their sympathetic moments. Right and wrong are not always immediately distinguishable, and ordinary human beings are forced to make difficult ethical choices. Moreover, he deals with these larger ideas in a prose style that crackles with a drama that often rises to elegance. Richard Price should never be brushed aside as a genre writer; Richard Price is a novelist of stature and deserves consideration.

This time out he is concerned, Melville-like, with characters obsessed with vengeance. The Whites of the title is the term police officers use to refer to criminals they are certain are guilty, but whom they are unable to get the evidence necessary to convict. They are their modern day white whales.

Back in the day Billy Graves worked with a hot shot anti-crime squad in the Bronx, but after he accidently shoots a ten year old boy under questionable circumstances, he has been shunted out of the way and is now in charge of Manhattan Night Watch, a crew that seems set up to mind the store at night until the big boys get on the job. The other members of his old squad have all gone their separate ways, but they have remained friends and meet together regularly. Each, it turns out has their own “white,” and when the “whites” begin turning up dead, Billy is faced with his moral dilemma. A dilemma made even more complicated by an unknown attacker threatening his family.

The Whites is a book you will not want to put down until you reach the final page.

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