The epigraph to Richard Price's latest book is a quote from the New Testament. The title, of course, is also scriptural. Yet beneath all the biblical bluster, Samaritan is really just a portrait of the artist as a severely screwed-up man.Price's series of socially concerned crime fictions began in 1992 with Clockers and continued in 98's Freedomland. This time the story hinges on the assault on television writer and protagonist Ray Mitchell.
Much like its predecessors, Samaritan forcefully depicts the plight of modern urban-dwelling Americans through believable characters and street-savvy dialogue. Price is no stranger to such territory, having written several novels and numerous screenplays that use the mean streets for both setting and action.
However, Samaritan really only lights up when its focus shifts from mechanical cop-and-criminal plots to the internal torments of the main characters. There's the endless mental hall of mirrors that passes for Ray's conscience, the quietly building despair of Nelson, the young man nearly destroyed by the former's misguided efforts and confused desires, and the moral dilemmas of a handful of other key players.
Unfortunately, all Samaritan's characters are ultimately short-changed by Price's adherence to the contrived plot.
Maybe he just couldn't bear to look too deeply into the life of his fictional writer protagonist, an artist so beholden to his need to entertain that he loses sight of the cost to himself and others. That just hits too close to home.
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SAMARITAN by Richard Price (Alfred A. Knopf), 377 pages, $38 cloth. Rating: NNN