The Whites by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt) is about a NYPD detective nearing retirement as he falls under siege by an unsolved murder, his own dark past, and a violent stalker (available February 17, 2015).
You can listen to an exclusive audio excerpt below!
Billy Graves heads the lobster shift for Detectives at New York's First Precinct. He's put in his twenty, the last of a group of third year cops who called themselves the Wild Geese, the rest of whom have all retired and moved on to security, real estate, funeral services, or just scraping by. They had each other's backs, and they all had their personal White:
… those who had committed criminal obscenities on their watch and then walked away untouched by justice, leaving their obsessed ex-WG hunters heading into retirement with pilfered case files to pore over in their offices and basements at night, still making the odd unsanctioned follow-up call: to the overlooked counterman in the deli where the killer had had a coffee the morning of the murder, to the cousin upstate who had never been properly interviewed about that last phone conversation he had with the victim, to the elderly next-door neighbor who left on a Greyhound to live with her grandchildren down in Virginia two days after the bloodbath on the other side of the shared living room wall— and always, always, calling the spouses, children, and parents of the murdered: on the anniversary of the crime, on the victims’ birthdays, at Christmas, just to keep in touch, to remind those left behind that they had promised an arrest that bloody night so many years ago and were still on it.
Their White Whales. The ones who got away. The crimes that haunt them the most.
Billy's is a killer named Curtis Taft, who coolly walked into his girlfriend's apartment and executed her and her niece, and destroyed the life of her younger sister. Still on the job, he eyeballs Taft regularly, waiting for him to slip up. It's not the crime they did, it's the one you get them for… Billy runs his squad clean, so there's no other way.
So when a fellow WG's White runs across Penn Station with a slashed throat like a chicken with its head cut off, he investigates the murder as thoroughly as he would any, even if the bloody end couldn't have happened to a better guy. Price tangles this mystery among countless others in the nonstop circus of human frailty that is the life of a New York detective, and Billy's home life is just as hectic. His wife Carmen is an ER nurse, their two young boys are wild, and Billy's ex-cop father lives with them, in a misty time-shifting world of a mind lost to dementia. The book is as rich as a season of television, and Price's tenure on The Wire will definitely be recognized, even if he's been spinning these complex tales of interconnected city living at least since Clockers.
The book is split between Billy and a darker police presence: Milton Ramos is the opposite of Billy Graves. A man who became a cop to keep from being a criminal. Given a gold shield he neither wanted nor deserved, he prefers meting out street justice to the endless work of a detective. All he has left is his young daughter Sofia, overweight and teased at school, her mother slain by a hit and run driver. One who met his fate not long after. Milton is a wrecking ball looking for a building to demolish, and what sets his sights on Carmen Graves becomes the central mystery.
She's Milton's White.
A BASEBALL BAT IS A versatile thing. As Milton learned while still a teenager, a moderate swing across the shins will get a piece-of-shit dope slinger to share with you his strategy for keeping financially afloat, which basically comes down to stiffing Peter in order to pay Paul, then stiffing Paul and finding new suppliers. Another rap will get the slinger to tell you who the most recent Peter is, who the most recent Paul. And if, a day later, you bring the butt of the bat down reasonably hard on the splayed knuckles of either Peter or Paul, both of whom wanted to kill that little rip -off artist, you will find out the names of the hitters who were sent out to consummate the deed. Now, once you get the actual hitters in an unoccupied apartment, bound hand and foot with gaffer’s tape— you won’t put another piece of tape across their mouths until they try to talk their way out of dying by telling you everything, including the truth— you can just go ahead and play home-run derby until the walls, the ceiling, and your clothes are streaked with red.
Pitting boy-scout Billy against street sweeper Milton sets a showdown in the back of our minds, and the story weaves a serpentine trail between past and present, where we meet each Detective's personal White and the slaughter they left behind. The Wild Geese who barely escaped the job with their lives, only to have the fire keep consuming them, burning its way through their souls like white phosphorus.
Big characters with damaged lives drive the story, with elements of police procedural and classic hardboiled police fiction combining to deliver a leaner, yet equally rich story akin to Price's 2008 Lush Life. The similarities are so vibrant that I was surprised that he used the Brandt pen name, but under any name, this is an unforgettably gripping and gut-wrenching tale of family of blood and choice, of loyalty to them and oneself, of justice and revenge, and living with the weight of them all on your back as you swim, harpoon in teeth, after that White Whale.
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Thomas Pluck is the author of the World War II action thriller Blade of Dishonor, Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense, and Hot Rod Heart: A Noir Novelette. He is also the editor of the anthology Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT and hosts Noir at the Bar in Manhattan. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, PANK Magazine, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hardboiled, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Crimespree, and numerous anthologies, including the upcoming Dark City Lights, edited by Lawrence Block. You can find him online and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.