Price (The Breaks, 1982, etc.) has spent the past ten years writing for Hollywood (Sea of Love, etc.)--but you wouldn't know it from the dense textures and supple dramatics of this epic slice of urban grit about frazzled drug-dealers and burnt-out cops. Of the many impeccably authentic urban types here, Price focuses on two: 20-ish "Strike" Dunham, black chief of a crew of crack-dealers ("clockers") in the dead-end burg of Dempsy, N.J., and 43-year-old white Dempsy homicide cop Rocco Klein. Each is suffering an identity crisis when a murder puts them on a collision course. Strike, in a constant panic from dealing with his homicidal boss, crack-kingpin Rodney Little, is considering changing jobs; Rocco, six months from retirement, is thinking that his life is a big zero--a nullity underlined by his humiliating antics to curry the favor of a film star who might portray him in a movie. Then someone guns down another of Little's henchmen, and--shocking both Strike and Rocco--Strike's solid-citizen older brother, Victor, confesses to the killing: "self-defense," he claims. Not so, thinks Rocco, who decides that Victor is covering for Strike and starts harassing the young dealer by framing him as a stoolie--certain death at Little's hands. Meanwhile, myriad subplots vivify Strike's and Rocco's worlds: Rocco initiates the film star into the horrors of jail-life; Strike apprentices a young boy into dealing; Rocco's baby girl disappears; Little's legendary hit man wastes away from AIDS; Strike nearly dies from a bleeding ulcer. Finally, Strike, with a vengeful Little literally steps behind, turns to Rocco for help--a move that allows both to find a kind of hope and renewal. A vital and bold novel rich in unexpected pleasure, with Price generally avoiding melodrama, sentimentality, and stereotype to portray a harsh world with cleareyed compassion.