“It doesn’t mean much to me when a writer signs a deal with a major publisher. The publisher typically has dreams of a best-seller and I don’t generally care for best sellers. I’m happy for the writer, as I’m in favor of anything that gets a writer paid and doesn’t involve potential prison time. I’m just not likely to read the book.
Hold that thought.
I first became aware of David Swinson at Bouchercon in Long Beach, where I saw him on a panel and made a note that this guy has more on the ball than most. I hadn’t got around to reading his first book, A Detailed Man, by the time I got to Raleigh last year, where I saw him on another panel just as educational and thought-provoking, but did score an advanced reader’s copy of The Second Girl. The big publishers—in this case Mulholland—don’t fool around. They held events at Bouchercon a full eight months before the book was to drop. They expected big things.
Much as it pains me to agree with a large publisher, they were right to think so. The Second Girl is a hell of a book.
Frank Marr is a former Washington DC cop with a problem. Several, actually, but the one that keeps him jumping in his new job as private investigator is his cocaine habit. PI work doesn’t pay enough to keep Frank in the quantity and quality of drugs to which he’d like to become accustomed so he rips off drug dealers to make up the difference. It’s on one of these covert raids he discovers a teen-aged girl chained in a bathroom. Marr’s a drug abuser and kind of an asshole, but he’s not a bad person. He rescues the girl while concocting a story about how he came across her that won’t incriminate him.
Bad luck for Frank: now he’s a hero. Another family with a missing daughter hears the story and begs him to help them. He doesn’t want to but can’t help himself and agrees. Actually, he can’t help himself from helping himself, as what he has to do to get the second girl back draws on all his expertise—legitimate and otherwise—and shows him in concrete ways where his life has gone off the rails.
Swinson has an economical style that tells Marr’s story without apology or self-justification. He’s the kind of anti-hero that could require a book of its own to do justice. A good guy with many bad habits and tendencies, he wavers and often does as much as his conscience demands, only to find his conscience has been only temporarily satisfied and wants more. The internal and external struggles compete without a hint of melodrama.
I’m also not much for awards discussions, but if The Second Girl doesn’t receive substantial notice at awards time next year, it’s prima facie evidence the various bodies are even more clueless than I suspected. This is a substantial and relevant book that is still entertaining, and David Swinson is a writer to whom we should all pay much attention in the coming years. — Dana King, One Bite at a Time
“My first post-Bouchercon reading, David Swinson’s The Second Girl, takes every cop-turned-P.I. trope you can think of and turns it on its head.
Swinson’s protagonist is a former Washington, D.C., cop named Frank Marr, but Marr does not bristle with hatred for the FBI officers with whom he must work. He drinks too much and indulges to excess in a range of drugs, but he does not not wallow in self-pity over this. He commits other crimes and misdeeds, but Swinson portrays these neither as adventures not as self-lacerating hell trips; they’re just what Marr does.
Swinson doesn’t get in the reader’s face with his character’s damaged quirkiness, either. His revelations of plot and character are gradual until, not so many chapters in, the reader is apt to be hooked without knowing it.
He does something similar with the narrative. The second girl of the title is a young woman whose parents hire Marr after their daughter falls in with drug-dealing lowlifes. There’s also a first girl, Marr’s recovery of whom is a bracingly rapid surprise that kicks the larger narrative into gear.” — Peter Rozovsky, Detectives Beyond Borders
“Frank Marr turns the PI mold on its head; he’s an addict with a self-serving vigilante streak. But he’s also a pretty decent guy deep down who works the streets with expertise, and readers will be fascinated by the day-in-the-life perspective of an unrepentant cocaine addict. A gritty knockout debut that screams for a series.” — Christine Tran, Booklist
“PI Frank Marr, the narrator of this highly original noir from Swinson (A Detailed Man), has a big problem: he’s a cocaine addict. When the former Washington, D.C., police detective breaks into a house in search of a stash he hopes to score, he finds Amanda Meyer, who can’t be more than 15, chained to the floor in the bathroom. Instead of calling 911 or taking Amanda to the hospital, per standard police procedure, he delivers the girl to his sometime employer and lover, attorney Leslie Costello, who ensures that the teenager is reunited with her parents. Frank becomes a hero, and Leslie refers him to another set of parents seeking help in locating their missing daughter, 16-year-old Miriam Gregory. As he searches for Miriam, Frank must spin an ever-murkier web of lies to conceal his activities from his friends and the authorities. Frank constantly makes bad choices, and Swinson keeps the outcome in doubt to the end. He also does a fine job portraying the varied neighborhoods of contemporary Washington.” — Publishers Weekly
“Old habits die hard, and sometimes cause collateral damage, in this character-driven crime story.
Retired D.C. cop Frank Marr works as a private investigator. He’s a pro at the job but uses it as a means to fuel his drug addiction. While looting a house of its stash—he had it under surveillance for just this reason—he finds a kidnapped girl, and doing the right thing threatens to unravel the life he’s built. Author Swinson, himself a former D.C. police detective, brings the neighborhood and its criminal underworld to gritty life and gives the drug trade’s handoffs and turf disputes an insider’s intimate view. Marr is a compelling mess, saving the day not once but twice while constantly checking his nostrils for powder residue or the odd trickle of blood. When it suits his purpose (or covers his hobby) he’ll take a life, but the lines he will or will not cross seem to be in constant motion, and that unpredictability keeps the tension high. Threats from some who know Marr’s “early retirement” was a de facto firing don’t cow him so much as push him to rebel. If the bad guys kill first and worry about the details later, doesn’t justice require someone equally unconstrained to take them on? Marr may be a disaster on legs, but he gets inside a reader’s head with ease; when he leaves someone to die then doubles back with second thoughts, it’s shocking to note how infectious his perspective is. The ethical questions about his lifestyle aren’t settled here, so it’s good news that this is merely an introduction to a character who plans to return.
An auspicious, and gleefully amoral, series debut.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Swinson was a big punk-rock promoter in Long Beach before reinventing himself as a highly decorated Washington, D.C., detective. He’s got a great hook in this sweaty, suspenseful saga of a coke-addicted retired D.C. cop-turned-private investigator deep in the world of sex-trafficking. This book will sell like crazy. Publication date is June 7.” — Tim Grobaty, Long Beach Press Telegram
“Longtime addict Frank Marr was a decorated police detective in Washington, DC. Now two years after his retirement, he works sporadically as a private investigator to support his drug habit. Leslie, a defense attorney and Marr’s occasional bedfellow, keeps him on retainer to investigate cases for her clients. But one day when Marr’s stash of drugs runs low, he discovers a teenage girl in a closet while canvasing a local gang’s safe house for illicit drugs. Upon delivering the abducted girl to Leslie, Marr is hired by a family from the suburbs of Virginia to investigate the disappearance of another girl—who has a connection to the first girl. VERDICT Swinson (A Detailed Man) delivers an excellent addition to the noir genre as he unveils layer after layer of his gritty protagonist. Readers of Dennis Lehane and Richard Price as well as fans of The Wire will appreciate the bleak description of inner-city Washington, DC.” — Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE, Library Journal