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'Lush Life' examines dark crime in urban landscape

| Sunday, March 9, 2008

The landscape of television is burnished blood-red by urban stories of death and violence as seen on "The Wire," "Law & Order," "Dexter" and "CSI."

"The Wire," in particular, is lauded for its great screenplays. No wonder. Some are written by the finest crime novelists of our time: Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Richard Price.

Price made a name for himself with "Clockers" (1992), a gritty, epic novel of urban poverty and the drug culture. He also wrote "Freedomland" (1998) and the screenplay for the 2006 film based on it, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore.

The highly regarded Price again is pounding the pavements of New York in his eighth novel, "Lush Life," a dark and edgy anatomy of a murder and its unraveling.

Restaurant worker Eric Cash, who is washed up in his 30s, lives his life waiting for his big break as a writer. The years pass. It doesn't happen.

Cash has his New York moment while out on the town with two buddies. One minute they're stumbling along the Lower East Side; the next minute Cash's friend Ike Marcus is shot dead.

Here's where it gets tricky. Cash says they were accosted by two armed robbers, one of whom shot Marcus when he wouldn't turn over his wallet. Cash's other friend was too drunk to remember anything. Two passers-by say they saw only three men at the time of the shooting -- not five. They also say Cash had something shiny in his hand.

Who's right is at the heart of this compelling story that showcases unfulfilled lives, grief for the dead and the staggering amount of time the police put in to kick loose motives, the gun and the shooter.

NYPD Detective Matty Clark is at the center of the investigation. He's the poster child for what happens when a career in law enforcement has a chokehold on a person's life. This crime won't be solved in an hour, as it's sometimes done on TV.

Amid the police work, Price showcases the lives of disaffected teenagers Little Dap Williams and Tristan Acevedo. Cash, Clark and the teenagers play key roles in the closing of this case.

Price, who was raised in the Bronx, gives his characters the walk and the talk of the city streets. The ultimate literary realist, Price tells a story that, as neatly as a black-and-white photo, shows all the shades of gray in our urban landscapes.

Additional Information:

'Lush Life'

Author : Richard Price

Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 455 pages

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