First line: "As Billy Graves drove down Second Avenue to work, the crowds worried him: a quarter past one in the morning and there were still far more people piling into the bars than leaving them, everyone coming and going having to muscle their way through the swaying clumps of half-hammered smokers standing directly outside the entrances."
Billy Graves is a Manhattan Night Watch sergeant. He and a small band of misfit detectives tend to the city's crime in the wee hours. It's not glorious, but on a good shift, Graves makes it home in time to take his two young sons to school. Billy Graves doubts he'll be making that school run the morning after St. Patrick's Day, however, when he's called to Penn Station at four a.m.
The blood-streaked tableau is a cop's nightmare. Drunk revelers traveling home on the trains have repeatedly trampled through the crime scene where a young man was stabbed to death. "It looked to Billy as if the guy had been trying to jump the turnstile, bled out mid-vault, then froze like that, dying in midair before dropping like a rock."
The real sucker punch sneaks in when Billy recognizes the victim, Jeffrey Bannion--a haunting memory from his days as a member of the South Bronx anti-crime unit Wild Geese. His life was forever altered as a WG when he inadvertently killed a young boy. While Billy doesn't know it yet, the reemergence of Bannion means it's about to be razed once again.
With The Whites, Richard Price (Lush Life), writing as Harry Brandt, delves into the psychological conflict of his battered and scarred protagonist with a honed scalpel, cutting and prodding and poking, leaving cop and reader painfully uncomfortable with ugly truths. Brandt's style is vivid and succinct, creating strong atmosphere that seamlessly melds with the plot. Cop corruption is an intractable theme, but wow did Brandt forge an extraordinary story with it.
The Whites is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780805093995) from Henry Holt and Company. There is also an unabridged audiobook version (ISBN: 9781427213143), narrated by Bobby Cannavale from Macmillan Audio.