The Whites tell two stories. One is that of Billy Graves, a Manhattan night watch commander who is one of a close-knit group six mostly former NYPD detectives, each haunted by the one that away - a 'white' in cop lingo, a case in which the known offender literally gets away with murder. As the story unfolds, these same six offenders begin to die in circumstances suspicious enough that Graves begins to wonder reluctantly whether one of his group ins't completing the job the legal system could not.
Graves' story is interspersed with that of Milton Ramos, another New York detective, but one that operates on a different spectrum from Graves: violent, moody and anchored in neither a stable home life nor a satisfying existence as a detective.
The best crime fiction often stems from dark secrets screaming out of the past to bring chaos to the present and destroy futures. The Whites comes from that tradition, albeit with something of a twist as in the case of the six detectives it appears, to Graves at least, that one of their number is hunting in the past rather than vice versa. In the case of Ramos, there is no twist, tormented as he is by his own violent past and an incident that threatens to breach the fragile peace Graves has established in his own life.
Another characteristic of great crime fiction is that it tells stories of cops rather than crimes: what drives them, haunts them, kills them. This is one such tale. Many of Graves' chapters open with a vignette of life on Manhattan's streets, small stories of high comedy, low drama, violent crime and damaged people (not all of them on the wrong side of the law). As Graves drives away from each of these scenes, we travel for a short time in his seat and those of the tens of thousands that have travelled with and before in what the great Lawrence Block called the "naked city". It's a tough, dangerous and unsettling life and Brandt tells Graves story with aplomb.
While many reviewers have likened The Whites to Joseph Wambaugh's brilliant Hollywood novels, and there are clear parallels, I found more parallels in Block's Matt Scudder books. Although Graves is a cop and Scudder a PI, what I found most interesting was this one good man's struggle to do the right thing when that road is not straight and carries few clear sign posts.
This is a good read, and for those who particularly enjoy fiction set in New York City, it is essential reading.