****The Whites

crime scene tape

(photo: wikimedia)

By Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt, narrated by Ari Fliakos. This crime thriller received a splashy reception, in part because of the puzzlement over Price’s transparent attempt to write it pseudonymously (which even he gave up on), but more because—whatever name he adopts—the publication of one of his gritty novels is an event crime fiction aficionados celebrate. Price is the author of Clockers, Bloodbrothers, The Wanderers and numerous screenplays, as well as award-winning episodes of The Wire.

What has made Price so successful, as Michael Connelly points out in a New York Times review, is his belief that “when you circle around a murder long enough you get to know a city.” Says Connelly, Price is an author who “considered the crime novel something more than a puzzle and an entertainment; he saw it as societal reflection, documentation and investigation.”

The book’s title refers to the unsolved but unforgotten cases a tight group of young police officers confronted during their careers. Think the elusive target Moby Dick, not a racial reference.

They had all met their personal Whites, those who had committed criminal obscenities on their watch and then walked away untouched by justice . . . .
No one asked for these crimes to set up house in their lives, no one asked for these murderers to constantly and arbitrarily lay siege to their psyches like bouts of malaria.

At the time of the novel, most members of this formerly closeknit group are out of the NYPD because of injury, other opportunities, or sheer burnout, but Sgt. Billy Graves is still on the force. Billy knows his friends’ “Whites” like he knows his own badge number, and when they start dying in violent circumstances, he has to ask himself . . . Meanwhile, his family is the target of an unnerving and escalating series of threats, which he urgently needs to figure out.

The book, told from the point of view of both Billy and his antagonist, is full of characters from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, yet all are believable as individuals. The writing never falters and contains, as Connelly says, “a fierce momentum.” A favorite line of mine, about a witness smoking dope in his apartment, had him “blowing out enough smoke to announce a Pope.”

With recent events in Ferguson, North Charleston, Baltimore, and elsewhere, it isn’t good timing for a cop-as-hero book, and this novel’s moral dilemmas force Billy and the reader to consider the role of policing in our society and the differences between policing and justice.

Fliakos’s narration is excellent. Despite the large number of characters, I was never confused about whose voice I was hearing.