A rare breed among crime novelists, Richard Price (Clockers) has always been more interested in people and places than plot, though he's a master at all three. So it's no surprise that his powerful new Lush Life does away with any conventional suspense. The story billows out from a murder on the Lower East Side, but Price doesn't bother to keep readers in the dark about the victims, the perpetrator, or any other question mark he might be saving for the big reveal. The ins and outs of the crime itself don't really interest him, but the way it reverberates through that specific corner of the city and through the lives of the people involved make the book profoundly compelling. Much like HBO's The Wire, for which Price occasionally wrote, Lush Life takes a more kaleidoscopic view of crime than typical genre fare; just one bullet sets many different wheels in motion, and Price is keenly attuned to all of them.
Once lined with tenement houses, Price's Lower East Side "Candyland" is now a neighborhood "in transition," which is realtor-speak for rapid gentrification. Property values are heading north, as well-to-do young urbanites (mostly white) are buying condos and frequenting trendy new fusion restaurants, but longtime residents (mostly non-white) haven't faded into the woodwork yet. Those two worlds collide when a bartender, after a long night of drinking with two acquaintances, gets shot in a botched mugging attempt. Due to false eyewitness testimony, suspicion immediately falls on Eric Cash, a local restaurant manager and failed writer who claims the three were accosted by two junior hoods. Lead detective Matty Clark and his partner, Yolanda, try to railroad Eric into implicating himself, but there's more to the case than they realize.
The detectives' long session in the box with their chief suspect—who, guilty or innocent, is reduced to a shell of his former self—showcases Price's fine ear for dialogue and lends the book a simmering tension that proves ulcerous as it expands outward. The central characters are all well-sketched, particularly Eric, whose esteem is destroyed as collateral damage, but Price does even better work on the periphery with sad creations like the victim's father, whose bereavement leaves him dangerously adrift, or a "quality-of-life" police unit that cleans up the neighborhood one petty bust at a time. Taken all together, Price's observations provide a vivid cartography of an evolving city.