Gritty streets, grim housing projects, grim, edgy lives teetering on desperation, hope writhing in hopelessness yes, you're back in Dempsy, New Jersey, Richard Price's turf and the setting for his novels Clockers and Freedomland. Ray Mitchell, the homeboy hero of Samaritan, has returned to his childhood haunts after a checkered career teaching school, driving a cab, kicking a coke habit and making it as a TV writer. He's desperate too, but desperate to do good, to reach out that helping hand to the less fortunate in his old hood. But he's sideswiped by his own reckless need to intervene in other people's lives and, literally, by a vase someone bashes into his head. Who did it and why and why Ray won't give up the perp allows Price to go back and forth in time, to explore the inner lives of his inner city characters and to keep the drama tingling and taut. Michael Boatman narrates, keeping his cool and losing it in all the right places.

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