Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book Review: "Crime Song" by David Swinson

Retired DC police detective Frank Marr returns in Crime Song, the second book in David Swinson's great series. Frank is, for lack of a better term, a total mess. His addiction to cocaine and alcohol got so bad that he was forced to resign from the police force, so now he works as a private investigator, making just enough to live and (mostly) support his drug habit.

He agrees to do a favor for his somewhat-estranged aunt, who helped raise him after his mother died, and figure out what trouble his college-aged cousin Jeffrey has gotten himself into. Frank hasn't seen Jeffrey since he was a little kid, but when his aunt says that Jeffrey has been skipping his classes at George Washington University, he figures it should be easy to determine what he's up to. And after some surveillance at a trendy nightclub downtown, he confirms that Jeffrey has become a relatively small-time drug dealer.

Frank remembers Jeffrey as a kid, and part of him wants to talk some sense into Jeffrey himself, but instead he's going to report his findings to his aunt. Just before making that phone call, Frank's house is ransacked and a body is left on the floor—Jeffrey's. There's even a possibility that Frank's missing gun might have been the murder victim. It's more than enough to strain the fragile relationship with his aunt, not to mention possible damage his reputation for good.

Once the police are reasonably convinced Frank didn't have a hand in any of this, they promise to try and find all of his stuff and, more importantly, figure out what happened to Jeffrey. Of course, the police's involvement doesn't dissuade Frank from running his own investigation. He has some latitude as a private investigator, but he just can't get caught interfering. He wants answers, and perhaps equally important, he needs to replenish his stash, so if he comes into contact with a drug dealer he can steal from, so much the better.

As Frank follows the trail of his missing stereo equipment, records and CDs, and other electronics, he finds a pretty extensive operation involving drug dealers and addicts selling to fences who look the other way, and thinks he's found his guide into the madness in the persona of a conflicted cab driver. But there's a lot more than meets the eye than burglaries and drugs—and somehow, unknowingly, Frank is in the middle of all of it.

Will more lives be endangered, including his own, before he figures out the truth? How far can he let things go without telling the police what he's found? Can he even trust the police, or should he deliver his own justice? And how is he involved, and by whom? No matter what he does, he risks it all—his ability to work as a PI, the possibility of a relationship with his aunt, his friendships and his fragile relationship with a former police colleague-turned-defense attorney, his reputation, and his life.

Swinson tells a great story. This was an addicting crime novel from start to finish, and in fact, having a little bit of a staycation (and a sick husband), I read the book in one day. Frank Marr is a terrific character. He's utterly flawed and has his own skewed sense of right and wrong, yet he's doggedly loyal once he's trying to solve a case. He knows his addiction will destroy him, but he doesn't see a way out, and frankly, he's not too interested in finding one.

Not a lot of what happens plot-wise is too surprising, but that doesn't really matter. Following Frank, seeing how good of an investigator he is despite his issues, and watching his conflict between sharing what he knows with the police and dealing with everything on his own is fascinating and compelling. I like some of the supporting characters in these books, and I was sad that Swinson didn't give us a little more Luna or Leslie, but ultimately this is Frank's show.

Having lived in the DC area for years, I love a good locally set crime novel. Swinson's series is definitely worth picking up, and you'll marvel over the complexity of such a flawed, yet good, man.

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