Picks and Pans Review: Clockers
by Richard Price
As clear as graffiti on a ghetto wall, this long-awaited novel by the author of The Wanderers and Blood-brothers has "best-seller" written all over it. Chronicling the intersecting lives of teenage cocaine dealers in a fictional New Jersey town and the cops who hunt, beat, bribe and occasionally befriend them, the book displays Price's near perfect ear for street language and his peculiar empathy—both for good-guy cops torn between private ambition and public service and the desperate strivings of the "clockers," hustling their wares as fast as they can before the law can swoop down on them.
Six months shy of retirement, Rocco Klein is a burned-out cop, drinking too much and entertaining his much younger wife's friends with rambling stories about dead relatives. Strike Dunham, a clocker who never does drugs himself, oversees a crew of junior clockers and considers the trade "his best shot at having a life, like going into the army, or working for UPS." He, like Rocco, starts thinking about retirement. Then Darryl Adams, another dealer, is shot dead in a fast-food restaurant. Strike's straight-arrow brother, Victor, immediately confesses to the crime, but Klein, who takes the confession, thinks Victor is covering for his brother. Strike, meanwhile, has his own ideas about who killed Darryl.
Price spent many months hanging out with cops and dealers. The research shows: He gets so deep under the skin of both the cops and the clockers that it's hard to believe he himself has never been either. "Strike hated posters," Price writes. "If you were poor, posters followed you everywhere—health clinics, probation offices, housing offices, day-care centers, welfare offices—and they were always blasting away at you with warnings to do this, don't do that, be like this, don't be like that, smarten up, control this, stop that."
Thanks to Price's ear and knowledge of his subject, the characters remain believable. That you really aren't sure who killed Darryl until page 550 of a 600-page book testifies to Price's skill at maintaining suspense. That the denouement is both surprising and satisfying shows his psychological insight and cinematic imagination. Coming attraction: Clockers the movie. Price, who scripted The Color of Money and Sea of Love, got $1.9 million from Universal for the book. (Houghton Mifflin, $22.95)
On Newsstands Now
- Amy Robach: 'I'm Lucky to Be Alive'
- Paul Walker: Inside His Tragic Death
- Julia Roberts: Choosing Family Over Hollywood
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine