Richard Price’s novel Lush Life has what it takes to please both crime fiction fans and those who like contemporary literary novels.
The set-up is simple: three guys leave a Lower East Side bar. A few seconds later, one is dead. The second is in a drunken stupor. The third man, Eric Cash, reports that two hold-up men approached them and that his companion, Ike Marcus, was shot after acting aggressively toward them. But as Detective Matty Clark begins to investigate with his partner Yolanda, discrepancies in even this simple story begin to appear.
There is an element of the whodunnit in Price’s story, but more exactly this is a novel of social realism. The reader knows the killer early in the game, and the book is more about how the different parties–Eric Cash, the other suspects, the detectives, Cash and Marcus’s co-workers, the press, the victim’s family, the people of the projects–react to the murder. This is very much a story of New York City, or at least a large city where the young white hipsters of gentrified neighborhoods begin to flood the same streets where project kids try to survive.
There’s much to think about here. The police, particularly an ironically named group called the “Quality of Life” squad lie with impunity to every crime suspect, essentially shaking down every black youth that they come across in an attempt to reveal bigger criminals. The victims of crimes are in many ways the least likable characters in the novel. The criminals are equally misguided, but one can sympathize with some of the reasons that lead them to their behaviors. The cops face more obstruction from the bureaucracies of their own department and city than they do from the perpetrators, and many of the novel’s best moments come from the dark comedy that ensues as they try to follow police procedure. In the end, you’ll be left shaking your head at the amount of destruction that leads up to and cascades down from one random and stupid act of violence.
Fans of the book should seek out other Richard Price titles. Clockers, Samaritan, and Freedomland are equally exceptional reading. If you like audiobooks, by all means seek out actor Bobby Canavale’s reading of Lush Life. He’s a Tony nominee on the stage and has had memorable appearances on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Nurse Jackie. In reading this work, he’s pitch perfect on every character.