domingo, 22 de fevereiro de 2015

‘The Whites,’ by Richard Price Writing as Harry Brandt By MICHAEL CONNELLYFEB



‘The Whites,’ by Richard Price Writing as Harry Brandt




Many years ago, in a magazine interview, Richard Price (now the author of nine novels, including “Clockers” and “Lush Life”) was asked why he devoted so much of his considerable literary talent to crime fiction and film scripts featuring criminals. He responded by saying that when you circle around a murder long enough you get to know a city. I cut that line out of the magazine and taped it above my computer screen. For several years, it presided over what I wrote in my own novels. With that answer, I believed that Price had crystallized what many writers knew and attempted to practice. That is, he considered the crime novel something more than a puzzle and an entertainment; he saw it as societal reflection, documentation and investigation.
Today, perhaps more so than when Price first answered that question, this supposition holds true. With controversial deaths at the hands of the police drawing attention and protest from coast to coast, with cops being ambushed on the streets and with law officers turning their backs to elected officials at the subsequent funerals, the issue of how we police ourselves and the consequences of departmental procedures draw great scrutiny and debate everywhere, including the pages of crime fiction.
Written under the pen name Harry Brandt, his new novel, “The Whites,” is as much an entertaining story as it is an examination of the job of policing. It’s a job that’s difficult to do right. It’s even more difficult to do safely — especially when you try to prevent it from slowly hollowing out the holder of the badge. The novel posits a simple axiom: Those who go into darkness as a matter of course and duty bring some measure of darkness back into themselves. How to keep it from spreading like a cancer, eating at your humanity, is the police officer’s eternal struggle.
It’s this struggle that Brandt places at the heart of his storytelling. Another great so-called crime novelist, Joseph Wambaugh, has said that the best crime novels aren’t about how cops work cases, they’re about how cases work cops. This holds true, with fervor, in “The Whites.”
The title isn’t a racial reference; that might be too prescient. Rather, it alludes to the cases that haunt detectives through careers and post-careers. The white whales. The ones that got away.
Brandt’s lead detective is Sgt. Billy Graves, who runs the Night Watch in Manhattan. Any call for a detective that comes in from midnight through sunrise goes to Billy to be parceled out to the ragtag members of his squad, all with varying degrees of dedication, skill and sobriety. From home invasions to jewelry heists to gang shoot’em-ups, it’s all Billy’s — until 8 a.m., when the night’s haul of cases and miscreants can thankfully be passed to the day shift.
In the course of the novel, Billy and his crew deal with many crimes and murders, but certain killings take on a haunting personal resonance. These deaths set the tone of the novel and have Billy measuring the darkness within himself and his colleagues old and new.
The action begins on a humdrum night watch following St. Patrick’s Day. Humdrum, that is, until Billy and his team pull a slasher case in Penn Station. Billy recognizes the victim from his days as a member of the self-christened Wild Geese, a crew of young, brazen cops who ran roughshod in the streets and got things done back in the late ’90s. For Billy, it was a time that ended when a bullet from his weapon passed through a bad guy and into a good guy, an innocent bystander who was only a boy. Billy became fodder for the tabloid press, and his career literally went into the N.Y.P.D. basement. It’s taken all these years for him to work his way back up to being the sergeant on the Night Watch.
But the slashing victim on the platform at Penn Station threatens all of that. Jeffrey Bannion got away with murder back in the Wild Geese days. He was one of the Whites. Now he’s dead with a hundred-yard trail of blood behind him. The case opens up the past for Billy, big time. It leads him to renew contact with the remaining living members of the Geese, all retired and pursuing other walks of life: funeral-home director, real-estate mogul, campus security chief, apartment-house super. Only Billy Graves has remained on the job.
Meantime, Brandt splits the narrative and follows another detective, Milton Ramos, a widowed father who bears a deep-seated family grudge. Ramos neither works with Billy nor even knows him, but the two detectives orbit in tightening spirals that inevitably lead to confrontation.
The novel features so many names and so many characters that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who. At times it’s two pages forward, one page back in order to check. Nevertheless, with this split structure Brandt manages to give the story a fierce momentum, one that makes putting this book aside to sleep or eat or do anything else very difficult. Because I write crime novels, I don’t often read them, finding it too easy to guess what’s between the lines of character and plot. Not so with “The Whites.” This book literally interrupted my professional and personal life. Once in, I had to stay in and stick with it to the end.
The many facets of Billy Graves’s circumstances eventually threaten the fragile thing that keeps the man on the Night Watch from letting too much of the darkness inside — his family. In lesser hands this would be a cliché: The detective’s case becomes personal. Deployed by ­Harry Brandt/Richard Price, it propels the narrative and makes this book as unstoppable as a train coming through a tunnel. Billy is one of the good guys. Flawed, yes, but in his own way undaunted and willing to sacrifice all to do the right thing. He’s standing on the tracks when the train comes through.
The routine of police procedure in “The Whites” is just right, depicted in its perfect shopworn way. And the dialogue — whether that of good guy or bad guy — reaches the high-water mark of previous Richard Price novels. Most readers will never have come close to a homicide investigation in New York City, or anywhere else for that matter, but instinctively they’ll know the author has this world down right.
“The Whites” is a work of reportage as much as it is a work of fiction. That’s what makes it important. It tells it like it is. It provides insight and knowledge, both rare qualities in the killing fields of the crime novel. It’s a book that makes you feel that Price has circled the murders at this detective’s side and in the process really gotten to know a city.

THE WHITES
By Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt
333 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $28.

Michael Connelly’s most recent novel is “The Burning Room.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/books/review/the-whites-by-richard-price-writing-as-harry-brandt.html?ref=books
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