Richard Price is the author of numerous captivating urban morality tales—including cult fave The Wanderers and, more recently, the brilliant Clockers and the real-as-the-evening-news Freedomland. He is a realist who eschews postmodern mumbo-jumbo and metatextual pyrotechnics to paint Dickensian portraits of life in America’s benighted inner cities. A Sinclair Lewis of Mean Street, Price has no equal when it comes to writing novels that not only stand as Literature-with-a-capital-L but also function as mysteries of the first order. Price’s world is one of lawless housing projects where children peddle drugs, liberal pieties are as out of place as trickle-down economics, and the price of doing the right thing is prohibitive. He has a genius for creating complex characters who leap right off the page (nobody who’s read Clockers will soon forget Strike, the Vanilla Yoo-hoo swigging crack peddler) but this time he’s outdone himself. In Price’s latest, Samaritan, Ray Mitchell is a crack-addict-turned-successful-TV-writer who returns to his old New Jersey neighborhood to teach high-school creative writing. Instead of finding any moral fulfillment, Mitchell becomes the victim of a savage assault, and it falls to police detective Nerese Ammons to unravel Mitchell’s past and identify his attacker. If that sounds like your standard premise for a thriller, believe me when I tell you that Richard Price is to Richard Patterson as Muhammad Ali was to Leon Spinks. Get knocked out at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686. (Michael Little)