The comments on the back cover of Richard Price's "Lush Life" praises him for writing dialogue better than anyone. The last author I recall seeing praised in this way was Elmore Leonard, who I am a huge fan of. Leonard's writing lends itself to being translated into film very well and I notice that Richard Price's previous writing credits do include film and TV. I had all expectations of a decent read ahead of me.
After a night out, Eric Cash and Ike Marcus are walking home supporting a friend who has had too much to drink when they are approached by a couple of men with a gun. Eric hands over his wallet, but Ike tries to resist and ends up being shot; his last words to the muggers are "Not tonight, my man". This is what Eric says, anyway, but a couple of eye witnesses say something different, making him the prime suspect.
Detective Matty Clark is the man charged with building the case against Eric Cash. Just as he thinks he's done that, the case falls down around him, leaving him with his bosses against him, a key witness who won't give him a statement and a bereaved father who won't leave him alone and, on top of this, he's having personal problems. Eric Cash isn't having the best time of it either, as his girlfriend is back in town with another man in tow and he can't escape the memory of that night. We also get to follow the shooter and his friends as they struggle through their lives in the slums of New York.
The praise lavished on Richard Price is certainly very well deserved, as the dialogue is always sharp and fresh. He writes the characters in the way you would expect, with the younger, more street wise characters using street slang and the more mature characters tending to speak more rounded English. The way he writes Yolonda, Matty Clark's sidekick, is especially good, as she's generally the "good cop" in the pairing and you can almost hear her voice oozing sympathy as she talks to witnesses and suspects. She's not the only character for who this is true, as Price describes tone and vocal pacing wonderfully, but she does have a more distinctive voice than some.
Price's writing is surprisingly visual, especially considering his descriptions of people and places tend to be fairly vague. I found myself coming up with thoughts of how people would look, despite the fact that Price rarely describes them in any more than broad terms. For some reason, his vague outlines formed themselves into quite detailed pictures in my mind. This was an unexpected pleasure, as whilst it's not uncommon for me to get images like this from a book, the detail my mind created was a surprise given the limits of what Price gave me to work with.
The one thing that struck me most throughout the story was how real it all felt. There was a much wider range of characters than is often present in stories of this nature and you get to see all aspects of life. Everyone from the police to the criminals have lives that aren't centred around the events of the story and the breadth of the story reflected real life far better than most incident-centric novels.
Despite all the realism, or maybe because of it, the pacing of the story is very slow. The reader knows who committed the crime very early on and he crosses paths with the police on several occasions, but nothing happens for a long time. Whilst the side steps into the home lives are entertaining diversions, the longer the story goes on, the more they seem like diversions rather than fleshing out the characters and it all gets a bit too much at some points and with parts of the stories not really going anywhere, it can feel a little like padding.
What is here is very well written and it's an enjoyable enough slice of New York life and it is worth reading the once, especially for aspiring writers looking to see how dialogue should be written. Unfortunately for the casual reader, it's a much larger slice than it needs to be so rather than leaving you sated, it's likely to give you indigestion. As good as Price is, the whole here is less than the sum of the parts and this seems to be proof that you can get too much of a good thing. At a cheapest price of £7.79 from Amazon or £7.40 from the Amazon Marketplace whilst the book is still only available in hardback, at present you'd need to pay too much to get too much of a good thing, so it's really only worth borrowing rather than buying.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk