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Like his previous novels Freedomland and Clockers, Richard Price's Samaritan is a crime drama set in the explosive slums of fictional Dempsy, New Jersey. Ray Mitchell, a former TV writer, has returned to his hometown to reunite with his estranged teenage daughter, Ruby. Eager to contribute to his beleaguered community, Ray begins volunteering as a writing teacher at a local high school. When a brutal assault leaves him hospitalized, Nerese Ammons, a nearly retired detective and lost childhood friend of Ray's, investigates. She discovers, however, that while Ray can identify his attacker, he is unwilling to disclose their identity. Anxious to end her career with fireworks, Nerese continues digging, only to find that Ray made several generous donations to poor acquaintances and recently began a romantic relationship with the wife of an established criminal. While the case looks closed, Nerese continues to find evidence of Ray's troubled past and shortsighted altruism, increasing the number of possible assailants and suggesting Ray's complicity in the crime.
Price's narrative, which alternates between Ray's story and Nerese's ongoing investigation, gains momentum as the mystery nears resolution. Samaritan falters, though, in its awkward attempts at timeliness and, more acutely, its underdevelopment. The selfish, people-pleasing Ray is a multifaceted character, but he fails to inspire sympathy, while the savvy Nerese never escapes two-dimensional limbo. Price brings the streets of Dempsy to life, however, with informed, realistic descriptions and inner-city survivors like junkie-turned-independent-social-worker White Tom Potenza, who still "couldn't pass a pay phone without flicking the coin return, still stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of salvageable debris." While the plot will keep readers engaged, it's the world into which they're drawn that makes Samaritan a worthwhile visit.
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