A Richard Price Primer
Catching You Up on a Master of American Crime Fiction
The Night Of, a new eight-part miniseries starring John Turturro and Riz Ahmed, premieres this Sunday at 9pm on HBO, the most prestigious slot in television. If the early returns are any indication, this might just be the blue-ribbon crime drama fans and critics have been waiting for since the summer of 2015, when True Detective proved all mustache and no sense. The Night Of is the creation of Steve Zaillian (screenwriter for Schindler’s List, among others) and one certified legend of literary crime fiction: Richard Price.
Price is the crime writer’s crime writer. One part Dickens, one part Ellroy, with a splash of Spike Lee. His books are grand affairs — hundreds upon hundreds of pages of urban decay, gallows humor, desperation, and moral vacuum. His screenwriting, for screens big and small, is just as ambitious.
The Night Of is Price’s first chance at the helm, and the plot serves up his favorite themes. Nasir Kahn (Ahmed), son of a Pakistani cab driver, borrows his father’s car for a night out and, on a whim, gives a girl a ride. When the girl turns up dead, Kahn is arrested. Later, John Stone (Turturro), a night-crawling, subway-advertising attorney is brought in to serve in his defense. This is NYC crime at its twisted, brooding best. This is Price’s wheelhouse.
To fully prepare for the next eight weeks of gritty urban noir, you’ll want a primer to Price’s work (or a refresher, if you’re already in the know). The first episode of the series is streaming now, and with the official launch coming Sunday night, full-on immersion might feel like a lost cause. But don’t worry, we have you covered. Listed here are the essentials: what to read, watch, listen to, and scan in the days before The Night Of premieres.
Okay, you don’t have much time to read, but this is a literary magazine, damnit, so let’s start with a couple books. (Allot yourself 4–5 hours, if you can.)
Clockers is Price’s masterpiece, a vivid and sprawling account of cops and dealers in northern New Jersey. By all means, if you haven’t already, settle in and read all six hundred and some-odd pages of Clockers. But if you’re working on a schedule, the first one hundred pages stand up as some of the finest, most penetrating crime writing in contemporary American letters.
Lush Life (2008)
This is Price’s opus of a gentrifying New York, a tale of two Lower East Sides, with Price’s ear for dialogue on full display. Late one night a hipster is shot. The alleged killers reside in a LES housing project. Expect the many social tensions explored in Lush Life to rear up over the course of The Night Of.
So, you’ve been lugging Price’s tomes around in your bag for a few days and you’re sufficiently impressed with his authorial chops, but now you want to find out what the man can do with live actors, scene cuts, and a union crew…
Fire up that streaming service. Price has an IMDB page nearly as long as Martin Sheen’s rap sheet. Here are a few of the highlights. (Set aside, say, 6 hours.)
The Color of Money (1986)
Price gave up writing books for a while in the ’80s. He was tired of documenting the Bronx and needed to get out of town. Fortunately, Martin Scorsese came along and asked him to tour some pool halls in the South. The result? The Color of Money, Price’s first screenplay to hit the big screen.
Yup, Price adapted his novel of the same name into a classic Spike Lee Joint. Also starring John Turturro.
“All Due Respect,” The Wire, Episode 27 (Season 3, Episode 2)
Price was brought into The Wire family by another luminary of crime fiction, George Pelecanos, in Season 3. His first episode, “All Due Respect,” brings Bunny Colvin (the architect of Hamsterdam) to the fore. But it is probably better remembered as the beginning-of-the-end for the Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell relationship. Stringer pays Avon a visit on the inside and the two OGs lay out competing visions of where their organization is headed.
“Corner Boys,” The Wire, Episode 45 (Season 4, Episode 8)
Any episode where Snoop lays out the finer points of her craft is a winner. There are some solid Littlefinger… uh, Tommy Carcetti speeches here, too.
Listen to This
Want some Richard Price for your commute? Check him out at The Moth. This one clocks in under 15 minutes, so hopefully you’ve got a short commute.
Richard Price at The Moth (2011)
If the podcast summary doesn’t grab you — Richard Price and a wrestling obsessed grandmother — then you’re a lost cause, beyond all saving.
The Moth | Stories | Hatpin Mary
If you have a little time to kill before the show starts, Price is an insightful, compelling interview. Here are two of the best. (You’ll want about 1 hour.)
Richard Price and David Simon in Conversation at the 92nd St Y
The creator of The Wire interviews Price about his latest novel, The Whites.
Richard Price interview in The Paris Review
Back in 1996, Price got the full Art of Fiction treatment in The Paris Review.
Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 144, Richard Price
You are now officially ready to watch The Night Of.
And when it’s all over, don’t fret. The whole gang — Price, Simon, Pelecanos, Nina Noble, James Franco (wait, what? — ah, just go with it)— will be back together next year for HBO’s The Deuce, a new series concerning the porn scene in 1970’s and ’80s New York.
HBO — where good crime fiction goes to get rich. God bless them all.