This was one of those books that I read on a vacation. I started on a train and the first page had me just the slightest bit discombobulated because of the strangeness of some of the details, but as soon as I picked up the rhythm, the book took off. I ended up reading the first 400 pages in one go on the train. Richard Price is one of the writers for the wire, and I think he’s clearly one of the architects as well, especially in the first season, where we see some of the same story beats, ideas/conceits, and even exchanges of dialogue.
This novel came out in 1992 and is set somewhere between 1987 or so and 1992. If there’s some anchors in time, I am not entirely sure but it’s somewhere in there. Do you have the same memory that I do where they started doing PSAs for crack? Well I recall them and distinctly remember telling my mom “Watch out! There’s a new drug!” Anyway, we’re in the NYC/NJ metro area (mostly in New Jersey) and we are following first Strike, a drug crew leader working for Rodney. Strike is smart and capable, and he’s nursing a terrible ulcer that he’s medicating with vanilla Yoo-Hoo. He’s also only 19, paying for his parents’ and grandparents’ bills and thinking about finishing school and leaving it all behind. Cast in juxtapose is Rocco, a veteran murder detective. Rodney tells Strike that there’s a new opportunity available. Another crew leader has been caught working for both Rodney and a rival, and if Strike takes him out, he can have that crew too. There’s the strong implication that if Strike doesn’t say yes, this other target will be offered the same deal in reverse. Strike says he’ll do it, and just can’t. But when the dealer ends up dead anyway, Strike doesn’t know who did. Rocco steps in to investigate.
It’s both a kind of typical crime book, but also one that very richly captures the era. I happen to think the dialogue is incredibly sharp and well-rendered, and the mystery itself (and there is one!) is solid throughout. There’s also a lot of interesting little details that add life and richness to the novel. It’s one of those incredibly quick 600 page novels that never feels light.