'Clockers' is an unrelentingly bleak novel, set in the Projects of Dempsey, New Jersey, at the height of a crack cocaine epidemic. Bleak, but after a slow beginning, this novel makes for compulsive reading.
I struggled at first to find my way in; set in the late eighties, 'Clockers' is slightly dated now, there is a lot of colloquial language and its characters have few redeeming qualities, making for an uneasy read. If I hadn't been watching 'The Wire' around the same time as reading this, I would have probably failed to understand what was happening in the opening hundred pages. There are large amounts of detail about the way drug deals are handled, and how the various police departments interact with the disenfranchised youths selling the drugs. 'The Wire' owes a huge amount to this book, and fans of the series will find much to like here.
Once past the first section, and the fatal shooting around which the rest of the novel hinges, 'Clockers' really takes off. Price has a very descriptive way of writing; no detail remains unanalysed, his characters are full bodied and his two protagonists (a dealer, and a cop) are very well drawn. The reader is pulled into their world and is forced to sympathise with both, despite them being fairly unlikeable characters. The sense of deprivation, despair and the impossibility of escape in both walks of life is acutely assessed.
'Clockers' is no ordinary thriller; the reader is asked to make an emotional and cerebral investment that is not required for your average crime novel, but the book is all the better for it. For me, 'Clockers' drops a star because of its slow beginning, which almost led me to put it down unfinished, but if you can push past that, and care about plot and characterisation, then this is a must read.