I first stumbled onto Richard Price with a fifty-cent used copy of "Ladies' Man." It was engaging and fun, kind of like an unusually smart episode of Seinfeld with an NC-17 rating. It convinced me to give "Blood Brothers" a try and after that, forget it. I went forward to "Samaritan," back to "The Wanderers," and tracked down copies of his screenplays in between. I couldn't read enough of this guy.
However, Clockers remains Price's grand achievement to date. It's a crime novel of unusual depth that bears more in common with Dostoevsky than Elmore Leonard. Some reviewers have said Clockers fails as a mystery. I'll be the first to agree: as a genre mystery, Clockers does fail. But it's not a genre mystery. It's a map of the landscape, both urban and personal. It's a novel of morals and it's a tragedy. Price follows the drug-dealing Strike and detective Klein as their stories head inevitably towards collision. Both men are working to do the right thing, but are put directly at odds by forces out of their control. This is tragic to the capital T. Price accomplishes many astonishing feats here, not the least of which include making the world of Demsey real enough to touch and developing deep sympathy and understanding for both Strike and Klein without ever trading his gritty style for schmaltz. Price has incredible powers of observation, his eye for character and ear for dialogue, doubtless honed by his time working in housing project administration.
I absolutely disagree with the reviewer who claims that Price falls short of Lethem, Gibson, and Leonard. Perhaps, if you evaluate a book solely by slickness and cleverness, he doesn't measure up, but Clockers has more heart than Jake LaMotta and Price has an eye for detail that would put the Splendid Splinterer himself to shame. Don't get me wrong: I really loved Motherless Brooklyn, Out of Sight, and Virtual Light, but those books are empty in comparison.
Finally, I think Spike Lee's film adaptation was deeply flawed and does not do the novel justice, primarily because there's too much in Clockers to fit into a feature film. This problem was only exacerbated by the fact that Lee fragmented the film by bringing in his own soapbox issues (violence in video games, the need for strong parental figures) to crowd out more important plot elements. Even if you didn't like the movie, give the book a chance. And then go watch "Sea of Love," a Price screenplay that was done well.