Old tragedies combine with fresh ones in Brandt’s steely-jawed, carefully constructed procedural.
Few crime novelists are as good at taut storytelling as Richard Price (Lush Life, 2008, etc.), who, for reasons of his own, writes here under a pseudonym. But then, everyone in these pages is hiding bits and pieces of their lives and nursing secrets. Billy Graves, for instance, is well-known among Gotham’s cops for having been an almost mythical crime fighter back in the day, until an errant bullet put a kid instead of a bad guy into the ground. Since then, Graves has been shunted from one graveyard shift to another, and though he nurses hard feelings, he’s also glad just to have a gig in a time when it seldom seems that “the Prince of Peace was afoot.” Certainly that’s true when another perp of old turns up dead at just about the time it dawns on Billy that others nurse grudges, too: “Although money was the prime motivation for those signing up for a one-off tour with Night Watch, occasionally a detective volunteered not so much for the overtime but simply because it facilitated his stalking.” The city quickly becomes a set for a sprawling, multiplayer game of cat and mouse, with vengeance not the province of the lord but of the aggrieved mortals below. Or, as one player ponders while assessing the odds, “To avenge his family, he would be destroying what was left of it.” When vigilantes try to do the work of cops, no one wins—but how can there be justice in a place where everyone seems to consider the law a private matter, if not merely a polite suggestion? The grim inevitability that ensues follows lines laid out in such recent fiction as Mystic River and Smilla’s Sense of Snow—but also, for that matter, in The Oresteia.
In the wake of rage and sorrow, ordinary people respond by going crazy and screwing up. In this far-from-ordinary novel, Price/Brandt explores the hows and whys. Fasten your seat belt.