Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lush Life by Richard Price

From Publishers Weekly Master of the Bronx and Jersey projects, Price (Clockers) turns his unrelenting eye on Manhattan's Lower East Side in this manic crescendo of a novel that explores the repercussions of a seemingly random shooting. When bartender Ike Marcus is shot to death after barhopping with friends, NYPD Det. Matty Clark and his team first focus on restaurant manager and struggling writer Eric Cash, who claims the group was accosted by would-be muggers, despite eyewitnesses saying otherwise. As Matty grills Eric on the still-hazy details of the shooting, Price steps back and follows the lives of the alleged shooters—teenagers Tristan Acevedo and Little Dap Williams, who live in a nearby housing project—as well as Ike's grieving father, Billy, who hounds the police even as leads dwindle. As the intersecting narratives hurtle toward a climax that's both expected and shocking, Price peels back the layers of his characters and the neighborhood until all is laid bare. With its perfect dialogue and attention to the smallest detail, Price's latest reminds readers why he's one of the masters of American urban crime fiction.

"I'm not superstitious or anything, but that thing I pulled this morning? I have a real bad feeling it's going to come back and bite me in the ass."

An understatement. Ike, the victim, has no idea just how prophetic those words really are.

This is a crime story set in the lower East Side of Manhattan, somewhere around the East Village, Katz's Deli, 1 Police Plaza - that general area. This is the only thing I've read of Price and I must say after getting through the initial confusion in the first 25 pages of 'where is this going' I loved it. The street talk, the New York location, the every day life of the cops and detectives on the trail of a murderer, confessions, interrogations, cop slang, and the fact you really feel you're in this book, in it's world, in it's pages, it captures you and you just keep reading until it's over.

The story of a murder at 4:30 AM, the murder of a white guy with his two friends, all drunk, after a night of work and then bar hopping. A supposed mugging gone bad, misinformation, chasing the wrong guy and then the police are on the trail of who really did it. We're introduced to the main characters, Eric, he works in a restaurant, going no where, 35 years old, would be actor/writer, not much of a life going on. Is he telling the truth? Did he kill Ike? Matty, a big beefy Irishman middle-aged detective who's working on the case. He's got his own set of problems. Yolanda, a Latina detective also on the case. She's the queen of interrogators, makes the young kids fall for her and trust her, she can get a confession out of anyone. Then there's 17 year old Tristan, lives in the projects and is enthralled by his .22 pistol, hoping to get in with the brutal cool crowd, but only winds up getting himself in a mess, time is running out for him, he's blown it for himself all from a reckless action in a split second.

The whole story takes place in less than 2 weeks, most of it really in only a few days. We're on the murder trail and soaking up the atmosphere of the lower East Side. The Williamsburg Bridge, the Quality of Life driving by, life in the projects. This is a fast paced book, but at times it slows down and we witness the heartache the victim's father is going through, the media seekers, restaurateurs -and the cops.

In some ways this book reminded me a bit of Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, only I liked it much more, but there are some similarities. Price has done his research, he knows this world and it's language. A worthwhile read if you're into gritty detective crime type novels or even if you're not, but want to get a small peek into the world of the lower East Side and it's denizens.


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