Saturday, March 14, 2015

How Sweet is Revenge?

 The Whites is a new book by Richard Price about five New York City cops who each have a "white": a perpetrator who got away with committing a horrific crime.

The officers have been friends for twenty years.  All but one are retired yet all still are focussed on their individual whites. Each wants nothing more than to catch the killer and make him pay. In addition to the group of five, another policeman is featured in the novel.  This character's brother was murdered when he was a teen and the cop seethes with a desire to punish the person who caused his sib's death.

I read an interview with Price a few weeks ago.  He said he intended this book to be different from his others and be more like what is called a police procedural. And for at least this one reason Price uses the name Harry Brandt as nom de plume for The Whites.

"Brandt's" book is not quite a police procedural and more like a cross between a procedural and a typical Price complex detective/mystery with a message. Price is the author of Clockers which is brilliant and almost as good, Samaritan. He also wrote the screenplay for an excellent movie, Sea of Love, that starred Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin.   Price may have wanted to try his hand at writing a police procedural, but my guess is that as he got going, his inclination towards writing something more substantive took over.

Price/Brandt writes like the New Yorker he is.  if you don't like cop parlance or New York slang this might not be for you.  But it is a good book and the questions it raises hang around a bit.

  • Can you purge your demons by exacting revenge?
  • Are illegal behaviors always unethical?
  • Should a cop turn in another cop who breaks the law in an attempt to avenge an egregious act?
  • Is revenge a sweet purgative or a disabling illusion?

If these questions intrigue you and you like to read about New York City and grisly crime, you will enjoy The Whites.

Interesting aspect of The Whites is that the main characters are racially diverse, one of the five buddies is a woman, and one of the white cops has been married twice both times to women of color--and these facts are all irrelevant to the story.  Issues of racial and gender discrimination in police forces regularly surface in contemporary headlines, so it is refreshingly odd that Billy's integrated marriage is not referred to by any of his contemporaries and seems to be a non issue, and women have roles on the force in this novel that are not significantly different from the men.

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