Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review of The Whites by Richard Price (Picador, 2015)

In the 1990s Billy Graves was an up-and-coming detective working the South Bronx as part of a team self-titled the ‘Wild Geese’ who were determined to create law and order in the crime-ridden area.  Then one evening he accidentally shot a ten year old boy while dealing with an angel-dusted berserker on a crowded street.  In the aftermath his wife left him and his career downshifted.  Now in his early forties Graves works the Night Watch shift dealing with serious crime from Wall Street to Harlem post-midnight.  Most of his fellow Wild Geese have retired but they are still haunted by their ‘Whites’ – murderers who managed to avoid prosecution.  Called to a fatal stabbing at Penn Station in the early hours he discovers the victim is one such White.  The investigation stalls, however, and soon Graves has his own problems to deal with as someone starts to victimize his family.

The Whites is a gritty police procedural set in New York tracking detective Billy Graves of the Night Shift as he deals with the city’s violent post-midnight world, a threat against his family, and his complex relationship with his former team members.  It’s fair to say that there’s a lot going on in its 333 pages with multiple characters performing different roles (detectives, criminals, victims, family, friends, etc.), two major plotlines and numerous sub-plots.  Indeed, my sense was there a bit too much going on and the story would have benefitted from dropping the plot focusing on the threat to Graves’ family as it was too much of a coincidence that it was occurring at the same time as the other main plot which was a substantial enough on its own and could have been explored further.  That said, the characterization and dialogue is very nicely done, the scenes are astutely written, and there’s a strong sense of the underbelly of the city and what it’s like to police it.  The result is an interesting, multi-layered and tense read that poses questions of duty, family and justice.

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