Richard Price Can Now Truly Call Himself a Crime Novelist

So Richard Price will be writing a series of detective novels for Henry Holt under a pen name – Jay Morris – starting in fall 2011. It’s the same publisher that John Banville has for his Benjamin Black novels, and Josh Gaylord for his zombie novel AND THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS (as Alden Bell) which kind of makes you wonder if this publishing house is where literary writers go to exercise their genre chops. But with respect to Price, this feels like the right move for him career-wise – and one that I suspect has a lot of folks asking “so what took so long?”

Idle speculation might produce this answer: there have been a lot of changes in Price’s life since LUSH LIFE was published to near-universal acclaim in March 2008. He divorced his wife and is now living with the writer Lorraine Adams, who also writes literary fiction with crime elements. He left Gramercy Park and moved to Harlem. Screenplays he was contracted to write, such as an adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s novel CHILD 44, haven’t panned out, at least publicly. And at almost 61, a certain cost-benefit analysis might kick in about whether it’s economically worth it to spend 4-5 years researching and writing a big literary book with crime elements while writing screenplays that never get made (or aren’t offered at all, which means they don’t end up paying the bills) or to produce a series of crime novels at a one-a-year pace, which it appears Price is on track to do.

In other words, this strikes me as a classic “fuck it” move, in the way that Banville had already decided upon the Benjamin Black trajectory before winning the Booker for The Sea. That he got to taste the fruits of literary success and have an obvious blast writing crime fiction in the vein of his two main influences, Richard Stark aka Donald Westlake and Georges Simenon, meant man planned and both he and God laughed.

Anyway, to say my hopes are high for these books is an understatement, but mostly I wish for two things: that Price keeps his prose loose and stays relaxed (my chief complaint about LUSH LIFE was that it felt too worked over, and didn’t have enough room to breathe) and that he can deliver manuscripts on time. I base this on what he told me when I interviewed him around the time LUSH LIFE came out, and brought up that he tended to get behind on work, even screenplays:

Nobody ever hands in anything on time, and when they do, it’s probably

because it’s superficial and they didn’t do a good job. It’s like

construction work; a guy looks at your kitchen, says the job will take

two weeks. Three months later he says “Ah, the stuff from Italy didn’t

come, sorry about that.” From the outside, anticipating how it’s

supposed to go is nice, but there’s that saying, if you want to make God

laugh, tell him your plans.

Now we know Price’s pseudonymous plans, but something tells me this time, he won’t be deterred from them.

UPDATE: Here’s the deal memo from Publishers Marketplace:

Author of Clockers and Freedomland, Richard Price’s crime novel under

the “transparent pseudonym” Jay Morris, the first in a series about a

40-year-old New York City police detective whose career was nearly

derailed by two controversial shootings when he was a member of an

anything-goes anti-crime unit in Harlem, now a night-watch sergeant on a

case involving the fatal knifing of a young drunk in the bathroom of a

Third Avenue pub, to editor at large John Sterling, who edited two other Price novels, fo Holt, for publication in fall 2011, by Lynn Nesbit at Janklow & Nesbit (NA).

Several interesting things about this: first, Price is back with John Sterling, who edited the two other books mentioned in the deal memo, CLOCKERS & FREEDOMLAND (LUSH LIFE was with FSG and edited by Lorin Stein, who has since moved on to take over The Paris Review; SAMARITAN was published by Knopf and edited by Robin Desser, who coincidentally happens to be Lorraine Adams’ editor as well); the other is that the Harlem setting makes me think this is a reworking of the big Harlem novel Price mentioned he was working on in interviews last year, restructured so that it would take as much time and produce more steady work and income.