Following the successful format of his prior novels, focusing on the random characters that push a seemingly random event to law enforcementís conditioned response, gives Price a particular advantage in describing the streets of New York, that unique blend of honest, hopeful citizen and criminal enterprise, the venal and the well-intentioned caught in a fateful web where consequences are ever unpredictable.
Not to be outdone in Lush Life, we encounter all walks of life: narcs sweeping the pre-dawn streets, stressed-out detectives, supervisors only interested in the publicís opinion, victims, witnesses and the usual ethnic mix that defies compartmentalization. Price once again offers an unforgettable portrait of greed, misery, opportunity, hope and loss.
Eric Cash, a smalltime wanna-be-more-than-he-is, scrambles through his days clinging to the belief that life can still happen - and it does, just not as he anticipates. After a long night of drinking with two acquaintances, the three men are set upon by gun-toting thieves. A shocking moment of violence, then one man lies dead on the sidewalk, another passed out, dead drunk; the third, Eric, dodges for cover in a nearby building.
With dialog that riffs along like the wild notes of a jazz concert, a picture slowly emerges of a New York night that obscures the truth, creating a workable fiction where lies become truth. Perhaps victim, perhaps suspect, Eric is interrogated with a cynical eye to guilt before innocence; meanwhile, the guilty go unquestioned, and a father is left to make peace with the senseless death of a son with a terrible secret.
Painfully familiar in an overloaded and often ignorant system of justice that values only statistics, Eric panics, spiraling downward in a crazed embrace of danger and punishment, his narrow escape from death barely skimming his consciousness. In sharp contrast, the dead boyís father aches to see something done to assuage his loss and the grief that paralyzes him.
Caught in the moral ramifications of the troubled investigation and his personal failures as a parent, detective Matty Clark allows himself to become entangled in a fatherís demand for justice, every step tainted by inaccuracies and an institution that is nothing if not self-preservative. Is there justice in this case? Perhaps salvation of one kind or another, but justice is rendered irrelevant.
With the chaotic precision of his other significant novels (Clockers, Freedomland), Price strikes once again at the heart of the teeming layers of frustration and false assumptions that plague a city of inequities. Criminal enterprise thrives on confusion, back-door deals made for personal advantage and cops forcing random pieces to fit into an awkward puzzle that passes for a solved crime.
Price exposes New York from the inside the bureaucratic blight of One Police Plaza - overworked detectives and a ridiculous war on drugs contrasted with the watchers, the silent witnesses of daily outrage, the voiceless victims and posturing punks, no choice ever easy and no decision without consequences in a city that never sleeps.