Book: Freedomland

Cover image


Author: Richard Price
Publisher: Dell

A white woman, her hands gashed and bloody, stumbles into an inner-city emergency room and announces that she has just been carjacked by a black man. But then comes the horrifying twist: Her young son was asleep in the back seat, and he has now disappeared into the night.

So begins Richard Price’s electrifying new novel, a tale set on the same turf—Dempsey, New Jersey—as Clockers. Assigned to investigate the case of Brenda Martin’s missing child is detective Lorenzo Council, a local son of the very housing project targeted as the scene of the crime. Under a white-hot media glare, Lorenzo launches an all-out search for the abducted boy, even as he quietly explores a different possibility: Does Brenda Martin know a lot more about her son’s disappearance than she’s admitting?

Right behind Lorenzo is Jesse Haus, an ambitious young reporter from the city’s evening paper. Almost immediately, Jesse suspects Brenda of hiding something. Relentlessly, she works her way into the distraught mother’s fragile world, befriending her even as she looks for the chance to break the biggest story of her career.

As the search for the alleged carjacker intensifies, so does the simmering racial tension between Dempsey and its mostly white neighbor, Gannon. And when the Gannon police arrest a black man from Dempsey and declare him a suspect, the animosity between the two cities threatens to boil over into violence. With the media swarming and the mood turning increasingly ugly, Lorenzo must take desperate measures to get to the bottom of Brenda Martin’s story.

At once a suspenseful mystery and a brilliant portrait of two cities locked in a death-grip of explosive rage, Freedomland reveals the heart of the urban American experience—dislocated, furious, yearning—as never before. Richard Price has created a vibrant, gut-wrenching masterpiece whose images will remain long after the final, devastating pages.


In Freedomland, Richard Price returns to the gritty terrain he first explored in Clockers. This time, the fictional (but all too convincing) urban eyesore of Dempsy, New Jersey, is convulsed by a high-profile carjacking. A single mom named Brenda Martin insists that a man stopped her car, yanked her from behind the wheel and drove off with the vehicle—and her young son. Behind these horrific facts looms another: the victim is white and the perpetrator is black. Immediately the racial calculus of American life comes to bear on the crime, which becomes a focus for long-smoldering animosities. As a three-ring circus of media, cops and gawkers converges on the crime scene, Dempsy and the adjoining white community of Gannon seem primed for an explosion. Price passes the narrative baton back and forth between Lorenzo Council, an ambitious black detective, and Jesse Haus, a no-less-ambitious reporter for the local paper. Lorenzo’s street-smart, agitated voice is the more convincing of the two. Jesse, with her frantic compulsion to squeeze local colour from the crisis, never quite attains three dimensions—though her outsider’s relationship to her material suggests some faint, fascinating echo of the author’s. In any case, Price allows the story to proceed at an irresistible slow burn. His ear for dialogue is as sharp as ever and nobodycasts a colder or more accurate eye on our fin-de-siècle urban existence.

Related Works

Album:Freedomland: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Freedomland: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

James Newton Howard

In this soundtrack to the thriller starring Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson, James Newton Howard takes a departure from his usual neo-traditional scores. Oh sure, there are atmospheric pianos and lush orchestrations here (“Brenda’s Apartment,” “Inside Freedomland”), but Howard also ventures out a bit closer to the edge (which still isn’t that far-out, but should make his fans jerk to attention). “Main Title,” for instance, deploys harsh guitar riffing against discreet synth whooshes reminiscent of the 1980s soundtracks of Giorgio Moroder (a feeling that also…



Joe Roth

There are an abundance of outstanding performances in the uneven dramatic thriller Freedomland, with leads Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore leading the way for a string of strong actors. The disappointment comes in the telling of the tale and getting all those performances on the same page. The movie is based on a dense novel by the talented and highly acclaimed writer Richard Price (who adapted the screenplay); the setting is a fictional town in Northern New Jersey and the low-income housing complex at its heart. As a housing project cop who’s…

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