I have not read any previous Richard Price books, although the name is familiar. Doing a little reading on Goodreads, it seems that Price fans don't universally consider The Whites to be one of his better books. That's a good thing, because reading it left me "meh" and not inclined to seek out his other books, except for the fact that there is some good writing in here, and some interesting characters. But...
The Whites is the story of Billy Graves, police sergeant and member of a 1990s group of cops that called themselves the Wild Geese, an aggressive anti-crime unit. The unit fell apart when Billy accidentally shot a 10-year-old boy while chasing a crime suspect. All the members are still alive and around, some still in the police force, some having moved on. But one thing that they all have in common is their "whites": The criminal they were chasing that got away, or "white whale" (yes, Moby Dick is referenced). Now, in the current day, something is happening to these whites, and something is happening to Billy and his family: They're being targeted by someone, they don't know who or for what reason, but whoever it is clearly wants to intimidate and terrify them--or maybe worse.
Compelling set up, yes? Yes. But here's the thing. If this wasn't a Tournament of Books finalist, I never would have made it past the 50-page mark. The author firmly believes that every character has a backstory, and the reader needs to have that backstory. That's fine if we're talking about a few characters. But this book is teeming with characters, and the first third of the book is drowning in characters and their backstories. It's hard to keep them all straight, and after a while you (or at least I) can't help but wonder: Do we really, really need to know all this?
No, we don't. If the focus had been kept to Billy and his immediate family--who have great stories--that would have been sufficient, would have kept the narrative moving and kept it much tighter. As it is, it's bloated and slow and doesn't really pick up pace until the last third. That's a lot to ask of a reader who's picking up a book that promises police and crime and bad histories and tension.
And when I pick up a novel published in 2015 titled "The Whites," and it's about police officers, am I wrong to expect some kind of racial exploration? I realize he could have been writing the book long before events like Ferguson, but it was published in a post-Ferguson world. If he didn't want to delve into that, maybe he needed another image than white whales to tag the escaped criminals. I kept waiting for race to come into play, and it mostly doesn't. The title feels misleading.
That said, the characters that stuck with me were portrayed well; when the action finally (finally) (FINALLY) kicked in, it was gripping; and there were spots where the writing was breathtaking, profound and with sharp humor. There just weren't enough of those moments overall.
Would I pick up another Price book? Maybe, given how many people online weren't wild about this one and say that previous novels are much better.