In the years that it has been since I’ve read a crime novel, I’d forgotten the way it clings to your hands like velcro. Not in the greedy way that it is impossible to put down a good book, but in a way that you are physically unable to find a place to quit. Who can sleep when it seems there is no rational way that strong Irish-jawed detective Matty Clark will ever figure out who killed Ike Marcus? This is exactly why my mom stopped buying me Mary Higgins Clark books in the late 80s. Lush Life by Richard Price is like that. First, Price dumps about two dozen personalities onto the page: detectives, kids, Quality of Life patrolmen, thugs. It’s dizzying. They all scatter, then comes the novel’s crime.
Eric Cash, at 34, is the oldest guy working at a trendy restaurant in the Lower East Side. He goes on a booze fest with the new bartender, Ike Marcus the hippest hipster in the neighborhood, and Ike’s friend Steven, an actor who celebrates himself silly.
Ike and Eric are lugging Steven home when they are held up by two young kids. Eric hands over his money, but Ike steps forward and says the words that soon become the LES hipster anthem: “Not tonight, my man.” He gets shot. Steven, meanwhile, plays possum. Slumps to the ground and hopes he’ll be spared.
Price creates a whole mess of yin yang characters, good but a little evil, evil but a little good. Eric Cash may be innocent of the crime. But Eric Cash is guilty of loathing the idealism of Ike and Steven, and the way the latter will later mourn publicly and have marches and eulogies for the victim. Matty Clark, who is the primary investigator, is working his ass off to solve the crime. But sometimes this requires manipulation and knocking tongues with Ike’s stepmother. It also requires using a grieving father as a pawn in negotiating the precinct’s rules. And speaking of the grieving father, he is the best character. Unsure how to mourn, he wants to help. He keeps popping up in the Lower East Side. Sometimes wasted. Sitting by his son’s memorial sidewalk display or writing down distinguishing characteristics about kids who may have information. Matty Clark keeps bringing him home, only to find him back in the neighborhood.
Dialogue-wise, this book is great. I’m learning to love copese. The characterization of this neighborhood and the mixing of hipsters doing poetry readings and 12 men and a carp sharing an unlocked apartment next door is also great. The small townness of seeing the same people over and over and over. Sometimes, later on, it drags like the one dud episode in a great serialized drama [Price of course wrote for “The Wire” the granddaddy of all serialized dramas]. I’m not a great crime novel mind, and while it was good, I’m surprised it was on so many Top 10 lists in 2008. Although I can’t stop thinking about the characters, so maybe that’s my answer.