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Samaritan by Richard Price
Paperback $17.00
Jun 08, 2004 | ISBN 9780375725135

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  • Jun 08, 2004 | ISBN 9780375725135

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  • Jan 07, 2003 | ISBN 9781400040636

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“A whodunit with substance and suspense…Price is known for terrific dialogue, and there are moments when you feel as if you are listening to [his characters] speak, not just reading words on a page…It’s the most interesting kind of mystery–one in which the villain is not so easy to spot even when we know who committed the crime.”
–Anne Stephenson, USA Today

“Engaging…provocative…Price has a fine ear for the subtle tension between sentimentality and real devotion, and he understands the way that chronic black poverty plays into the needs of ‘the selflessly selfish.’ If this is a novel that raps the knuckles of a helping hand, it’s nonetheless one to grab on to.”
–Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor

“It’s a tribute to Price’s originality that [his] characters become as distinct and real as they do…Well-intentioned Ray [is] enigmatic and fresh…Price has a great way with dialogue, [and] a better-developed-than-usual sense of structure. Samaritan unfolds on twin time tracks, [and the] carpentry works…Price’s revelation of the culprit is absolutely consistent with his characters and thematically right on the money…Anyone who thinks fiction or literature too small a shelf to include the other stands to learn a lot from Richard Price.”
–David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle

“Giving new meaning to the term “inner city,” Price yields up not just the familiar, blanched moonscape of urban blight but the inner lives and jackhammering hearts of those who pace and patrol it.”
The New Yorker

“A dream of a book…a supremely suspenseful novel (with a denouement that will leave you marveling at how artfully the author kept us from guessing the perpetrator’s identity), but to call it a thriller would be selling it short. Part police procedural, part high-wire psychodrama, part social study, it’s a wholly engrossing hybrid that packs an emotional wallop….”
–Tom Sinclair, Entertainment Weekly

“Dazzling…The perfect pace of a superb storyteller is but one of the gifts Mr. Price brings to Samaritan. Razor-sharp dialogue is another, as well as his urban-poetic descriptive flair. It all makes for an extraordinary novel, with the gritty plot of a hard-edged thriller and the cosmic concerns of a streetcorner Dostoyevsky.”
–Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

“A whodunit only in format, Samaritan is that rarity, a novel of race relations written with authority, panache and heart.”
–Dan Cryer, Newsday

“Powerful…Wise…The novel is alive because writers like Price are crafting books like Samaritan, about a guy who discovers the hard way what a complicated transactions charity can be…For all the homework that went into Clockers, Price was never a dealer or a cop. But he has been what Ray is in Samaritan, an intruder in other people’s lives. His fellow feeling with this character goes deep. What he knows about Ray you don’t learn by researching the streets. Instead, you prowl your own heart. It’s one more beat that Price knows how to walk with authority.”
–Richard Lecayo, Time

“Without dictating Price’s fiction, reality inspires his imagination, provoking a finely detailed and immensely readable inquiry into what might be called the double nature of benevolence…Where a typical crime novel would traffic in surprises and twists, Price has always eschewed the formula. The wisdom and impact of his recent books derive from his insight into just how unspectacular crime can be. The perpetrators in Price’s fiction act less out of passion or greed than drudgery and shattered hope…On the narrative journey from mystery to resolution, Price demonstrates his usual gifts for dialogue, detail and empathetic portraiture…When a novelist stays that close to the ground, there is no confusing illusion with actuality…Wrenching.”
–Samuel G. Freedman, Chicago Tribune (front page)

“Price is renowned for in-your-face fiction: violent, fast-paced, yet morally complex…He’s also demonstrated a flair for believable dialogue and visual detail…[Samaritan is] another of Price’s first-rate urban morality plays–a compassionate, politically savvy whodunit that reads like Dostoevsky circa 2003…He proves himself to be one of our best chroniclers of big-city experience.”
–Paul Evans, Book

“A full-to-bursting package held together by a strong, suspenseful plot… Unknowability is the key to Ray Mitchell, the essence of what makes him such a fascinating saint…Ray is preternaturally alert, alive to the mental states of those around him. Price, through Ray’s alertness, gives even minor characters a real, if temporary, being. And yet–and here’s the miracle–because it’s Ray’s alertness, the novel, though various and populous, feels centered on his character and therefore strong. Price does this in few words. It’s not a function of I.Q. It’s not articulate. It’s more like a prickling of the flesh…A demographic epic filled with little people who command true human feeling…”
–Mark Costello, New York Times

“Price’s seventh novel ranks with the best of the others…His books have the gutsy appeal of the classiest hard-boiled mysteries: fast pace, tripping idiomatic dialogue, unpredictable plot swerves, zingy sex, and genuine suspense…But [Samaritan] also possesses philosophical breadth, clearheaded social commentary, and a fine facility with language…Price’s vivid documentation may tease us into thinking we are in Dempsy, New Jersey, but in fact we are in existentialist territory… So quirky a mix of virtues makes [Price] unique…Terrific.”
–Lynne Sharon Schwartz, The New Leader

“[Samaritan] hurtles along like the PATH train that traverses Price’s urban landscape, weaving back and forth, before and after the severe beating of Ray Mitchell [whose] complexity is matched by the detective investigating the crime…Price’s dialogue rings true throughout, and his sense of place is solid and of the moment.”
–Ellen Rubin, Elle

“Price is not just a gifted writer but also one who thinks long and hard about human behavior…We know from page one that we’re in good hands, with masterful detail, vivid scene-setting, and acutely observed, naturalistic dialogue. The crime-solving framework pulls us forward but is unencumbered by the pedantic detail of a police procedural, and the depth of the characterizations is magnificent: [The main characters] and the considerable supporting cast are fully imagined beings who surprise us but never test our credulity. Enmeshed in this taut storytelling is a meditation on the complicated nature of giving, and a caution that, with ill-considered charity, we can hurt others even when we think we’re doing them a favor. Superb.”
–Keir Graff, Booklist (starred and boxed review)

“Richard Price is, without a doubt, one of our greatest living novelists. His voice is comic, skeptical, and at all times, deeply humane. Samaritan is a masterpiece, a novel that is actually about–surprise of surprises–the world we live in now. Violent, tender, hilarious, and heartbreaking, it is a world that, in Price’s hands, is so ably rendered that even its smallest truths attain the power of universal myth.”
–Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River

“It seems to me that Richard Price has taken his gifts for rendering human speech and for describing the jittery uncertainty of life at the bottom, and created a narrative filled with the sweet despair such as would come from angels looking down on us and watching us suffer.”
–Scott Spencer

“The great literature of the world is derived from the mean streets, and no American writer knows them better, or can drive a story line harder, than Richard Price. Samaritan burns, not only with stylistic eloquence but with relentless certainty–from each richly evocative scene, each amazingly felt character, to the next. Price writes the way an architect builds, sketching out his plan, thinking it over to the most minute details. Thus the foundations of Samaritan are so fundamentally valid that its presentation is a masterpiece of the form. Price has artfully concealed a haunting treatise on the nuances and ambiguities of human decency, compassion, and generosity in the guise of a superlative thriller. Samaritan is Price’s best book to date.”
–Thom Jones, author of The Pugilist at Rest

“One has come to expect from Richard Price, the most brilliant of sardonic ironists, an eye for revelation in the commonplace, even a kind of modern social history. But Samaritan is also a subtle story of seduction and abandonment, of the dangerous luxury of responsibility, and the risks that are inevitable when one is capable of love.”
–Susanna Moore, author of In the Cut

“The mastery of urban melodrama that Price demonstrated in literate blockbusters like Clockers (1992) and Freedomland (1998) keeps growing and deepening–as evidenced in [this] story of a neighborhood and of conflicting ways of life…A virtuoso alternation of advancing action with detailed flashbacks shows how…this mystery raises troublesome ghosts from the past, while also introducing a boldly drawn gallery of involved and potentially guilty characters…A ferocious admixture of bleak wit and sorrowful compassion…The story positively vibrates with Price’s trademark virtues of pinpoint observation and punchy dialogue…And the killer climax and ironic denouement couldn’t be improved upon. Magnificent stuff. If Elmore Leonard broke out of genre and were 30 years younger, he’d be Richard Price.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Richard Price’s Samaritan is gripping, ambitious, and resonant entertainment, everything you hope to find in an American novel and so rarely do. This is the work of a fiercely honest writer at the top of his game.” –George Pelecanos, author of Hell to Pay

“I read Richard Price for the cool, spare sound of his writing, his words, the language he has in his bag that fits so exactly in his settings. The characters talk the talk; the main one, Nerese Ammons, a gem, 20 years a cop in the NY-NJ iron triangle, lays open the plot, scene after scene, at a beautiful pace. Richard Price has written a terrific novel.” –Elmore Leonard

Samaritan blew my mind . . . I don’t think anyone ever sent me a book in hopes of a comment that was this good . . . An absolutely riveting story. The reader is hooked from the first page . . .” –Stephen King

“The mastery of urban melodrama that Price demonstrated in literate blockbusters like Clockers (1992) and Freedomland (1998) keeps growing and deepening–as evidenced in [this] story of a neighborhood and of conflicting ways of life…A virtuoso alternation of advancing action with detailed flashbacks shows how…this mystery raises troublesome ghosts from the past, while also introducing a boldly drawn gallery of involved and potentially guilty characters…A ferocious admixture of bleak wit and sorrowful compassion…The story positively vibrates with Price’s trademark virtues of pinpoint observation and punchy dialogue…And the killer climax and ironic denouement couldn’t be improved upon. Magnificent stuff. If Elmore Leonard broke out of genre and were 30 years younger, he’d be Richard Price.” –Kirkus (starred review)

Author Q&A

An Interview with Richard Price

Q: Samaritan is your third novel (following CLOCKERS and FREEDOMLAND) to bring to life the streets and housing projects of Dempsey, NJ. What made you want to return to this fictional landscape and how do you see this book in relation to those two?

I created the city of Dempsey, which has been the setting for all three books, because I didn’t want anyone to associate the location with a specific city and think, “Oh this is about Camden, New Jersey” or “This is about Gary, Indiana.” I want people to think of Dempsey as the nearest mid sized city. It’s about urban America. The fictional setting also allows me to invent whatever small realities, political quirks or other customized universalities I want without fear of misrepresentation. Socially tainted fiction like mine should be called Accurate Lying.

I see these books as connected in that each is an exploration of a facet of race relations in urban America. Clockers is about economic survival on the street and the relationship between cops and citizens in a world where people see the police as an occupying army. Freedomland is about racial paranoia, using the kidnapping hoax at the center of the story to write about white America’s readiness to buy the worst assumptions about the black people that live nearby but are not really neighbors (and also how the media is so willing to jump on that particular bandwagon). Samaritan is a much more intimate take. It’s about the Haves reaching out without really understanding what the Have Nots are all about, and the trickiness of trying to connect in a real and meaningful way across the lines of race and class.

Q: Near the beginning of SAMARITAN, Ray has been beaten and left for dead and it is up to a cop (and the reader) to figure out whodunit. Is SAMARITAN a mystery? A novel of suspense? Or something else?

Like many writers before me, I find that the basic structure of a police investigation offers a natural framework for writing about almost any aspect of human nature with the built-in bonuses of criminally bad behavior and a strip-tease of gradually revealed identities. But this is not a “mystery,” or a detective novel. Of course I want people to fall into the book, to be eager to know what happens next, but Samaritan, like Clockers and Freedomland, is more of a “whydunit” than a whodunit. The social fabric, the background tapestry of everyday life is important, if not more so than the actual misdeed that propels the story.

Q: Nerese is convinced that Ray’s humanitarianism comes from a need to feel good about himself. As she says, “You need too much to be liked. . . That’s a bad weakness to have. It makes you reckless. And it makes you dangerous.” Is she right? Can the impulse to do good ever be free of a certain narcissism?

In terms of doing good deeds or extending yourself to others, I would imagine for most people there is something coming back to them in terms of “well, this is one way to get to heaven.” No interaction of this nature is ever completely selfless and certainly there are times when narcissism can poison altruism. Sometimes it’s very hard to find the line between delivering to people what you promised and leaving them feeling seduced and abandoned.

Q: In Ray, you have created a multi-layered character; the reader often feels both the urge to slap some sense into him and to applaud his noble efforts. How would you prefer for people to react to him by book’s end?

Basically, the guy’s an unregenerate human being, which is to say, like everyone else his ass is three and a half feet from his head. He’s a weak, needy but good-hearted person with too much power in too small a world. He has a hard time seeing the selfishness drizzled through his acts of selflessness but he means well, so. . .

Q: Are there any similarities between you and the character Ray?

Although this is a work of fiction it is obviously informed by a lot of my life experiences. In the course of doing the work for Freedomland and Clockers I found myself, in exchange for information or access into people lives, offering up anything – from money to jobs to simple human company to whatever would make it seem a fair exchange. And I also found myself doing a lot of pro-bono teaching.

I’ve given Ray many of the external elements of my life. We both grew up in public housing projects, had a history with drugs, and basically made our way out in the course of our lives through writing. We both grew up in a racially mixed environment – in the 1950s and 1960s, at least in New York City, housing projects were as close to “melting pots” as America would ever see.

And to this day I find myself, for a million different reasons, going back to the projects where I was raised and will occasionally, like Ray, drag one of my daughters along with me.

Q: This novel deals with what one character calls “the enormity of small things;” how the smallest gesture of kindness can have immeasurable effects. Have you had such an experience in your own life?

Obviously, we’re all a product of our upbringing, schooled in how to be, who to be by the people that raised us. Yet, if the timing is right someone coming along and reaching out in a way that goes completely against the grain of that instruction, can be an earthshaking experience. As for myself, there were certain people, teachers for the most part, who have occasionally but lastingly turned my world upside down, although I imagine most of them weren’t aware of the impact they were having on me.

Q: Storytelling features prominently in SAMARITAN–in Ray’s relationships with Ruby and his students; in his role as father, teacher, and television writer. What is the power of storytelling in daily life, especially for kids?

Sometimes it is easier for people to express their feelings towards others by sharing small stories that have always been close to their heart, these narratives a kind of long hand for “I love you.” Everyone, no matter what age, no matter how limited their experience or education, can tell a dozen great stories and usually they center around the mythology of their family. What makes them great is not that they are true or false or even well told, but that these anecdotes have been living inside them all their lives and when offered up they’re like giving a piece of your soul.

Q: The World Trade Center appears on the sidelines in this novel, its absence an integral part of the city as Ray gazes across the Hudson from his terrace. Did you feel it was important to somehow incorporate the events of 9/11 in the novel?

Writing a book about the New York area after 9/11 and ignoring what happened is like writing a book about Hawaii in late December, 1941 and ignoring Pearl Harbor. The question becomes: How do you integrate it without exploiting it? And how do you integrate it without losing sight of what you were writing about before September 11th?

Q: The family units that appear in your novel are non-traditional: single-parent, inter-racial, and joint-custody. Would you say that this contributes to the problems many of the characters experience?

I’m so used to non-traditional family units that I wasn’t even aware I was creating them. Sometimes I feel like a two parent house is as exotic as any other type of arrangement.

Q: Ray is a white guy who in SAMARITAN operates in a mostly black world. You are a white guy who covers racial territory and captures experiences many would shy away from. What has made you want to explore this terrain?

The whole notion of being white and creating black characters is a non-issue to me. A writer’s job is to imagine lives not his or her own so no race no gender no sexual preference, no religion should be out of bounds. The only mandate is that whoever you create on paper should be a multi-dimensional, full-blooded human being.

I choose to write novels with strong racial elements because race is the heart and soul of American history, race relations the great American obsession, and racism the American flu.

Q: What kind of preparation or research went into this novel?

Compared to the last few books there was no real research. Experientially I’d done everything that the character had done. I grew up in public housing, made my mark in Hollywood, taught in urban public schools. I’ve also spent alot of time with cops and around housing projects for the better part of the last fifteen years, because I believe in what Jimmy Breslin once said regarding Damon Runyon, “He did what all good reporters do. He hung out.”

Author Essay

Richard Price spent time with a real-life detective to help to make his fictional police detective in Samaritan a believable character. He also admits that the main character is very much like himself. Clearly, using reality to create fiction paid off. "There are literally a hundred places in the book where I said to myself, ‘Yeah! That’s how things look, that’s how people act and talk, I believe this," Stephen King wrote in a letter to Price’s editor. But where is the line between fact and fiction when an author works the way Price does? Read on and watch the three video clips below for a glimpse into his personal writing process.

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