An American Tragedy

TITLE: CLOCKERS

AUTHOR: RICHARD PRICE

PUBLISHER: HOUGHTON MIFFLIN; 599 PAGES; $22.95

THE BOTTOM LINE: A remarkable novel sketches broken lives in a drug zone.

You could call Clockers a detective story. There's a detective and there are bad guys, some of them detectives too, some not. There is also a crime that needs solving, which is a slight oddity in "Dempsy," a shabby, 24-hour-a-day nightworld located between Newark and Jersey City. Dempsy's crimes, mostly involving drugs, accumulate in the streets like garbage, but usually they don't require solving, just hosing away. There's nothing mysterious about what's going on.

But detective stories...

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