Duane Swierczynski examines the reverberations of the slaying of two policemen in mid-1960s Philadelphia in his latest white-knuckle thriller, Revolver. Written with his trademark ruthless efficiency, and coupled with an ambitious structure that sees three linked storylines being played out over three different years – 1965, 1995 and 2015 – at its core, Revolver is about a city laden with racial tension, and the resultant (and incendiary) consequences. But with Swierczynski focusing on his prose’s delectable sparseness and sheer narrative thrust, the novel lacks essential gravitas. What we’re left with is a brisk page-turner, undeniably stylish, but lightweight.
Revolver opens with two Philly police detectives – a black man and a while man – being gunned down in a working-class bar. The man presumed to be their killer was never convicted for the crime – instead he went to prison for another crime, and was paroled thirty years later; thus becoming the target of Jim Walczak, the dead while cop’s son, who is now a cop himself. Twenty years later, Jim’s estranged daughter Audrey – an aspiring crime-scene investigator with attitude to burn – reopens her grandfather’s case, and her findings have deadly repercussions. Each chapter rotates between protagonists, and while this initially feels choppy, the narrative quickly gets into its flow. It helps that Swierczynski keeps his chapters short and sharp – readers won’t get lost with various plot threads – but characters can feel a tad rote.
My main issue with Revolver is its insubstantial focus on the black side of the racial conflict plaguing the city. I get it – this is a novel about a murder’s lingering effects on a family who just so happen to be white – but given the importance of the race to the overall plot, it feels undercooked. Not that the book needs an additional black protagonist; I’m not suggesting that Swierczynski should’ve shoehorned a “black perspective” into the story. But there could’ve been a few nuanced inclusions of the racial disparity plaguing Philly throughout the text to clarify circumstances.
That gripe aside, Revolver provides everything long-time readers of Duane Swierczynski want: taut prose, smart twists, and supreme page-turnability. He remains a must-read author, and one of the genre’s shining stars.
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Mulholland Books
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 28-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
Open a Duane Swierczynski novel and prepare for whiplash. Wherever you think his plot is going, it’s not. And when you think he’s headed down a one-way road, he screeches, swerves, and pummels through whatever blockade you thought prohibited such a turn, then rockets through uncharted terrain, always with two hands on the wheel, never lost, following a route only he knows. Because for all the twists and turns, there’s never any doubt: Swierczynski knows exactly where he’s headed and how he’s going to get there.
Following a successful trilogy of thrillers, Swierczynski has returned with a standalone novel: Canary. Honours student Sarie Holland is book-smart, not street-smart. A hard-working teenager who rarely strays too far from the straight and narrow, one bad decision sets in motion a chain of events that changes her life – and her family’s – forever. The one time she does something slightly brash – offering a ride to a college crush – she pays the ultimate sacrifice. The guy she’s crushing on is a low-level dealer. And while she’s waiting for him one night, thinking the only act she has committed is a kind favour, a Philly narcotics cop nabs her. Detective Ben Widley is desperate to clean up his city; fuelled by an almost unstable fervour, he reckons Sarie’s non-boyfriend holds the key to dismantling a key link in the Philadelphia drug chain. And so, young Sarie Holland becomes Confidential Informant #1373 – Widley’s canary, in other words – and enters the brutally violent world of the Philly underground, just as police informants start disappearing from the streets, presumed dead.
Canary boasts a large cast of characters, all of whom have their moment in the spotlight, and Swierczynski deftly flicks between perspectives as he ratchets up the tension. Swierczynski pulls off improbable plot twists with aplomb, linking these characters’ stories together. His sparse style is perfect for such a convoluted tale; there’s nothing burdening the novel’s raw pace. At its heart though, it’s a family tale: Sarie’s dedication to her brother and father, following the death of her mother a year earlier, is its emotional hook, and this remains prevalent. Despite the violence and bloodshed, Canary has heart. Without it, the novel would be little more than loud noise; with it, it’s something special indeed.
Canary is an intricately plotted and spectacularly structured crime thriller, demonstrating Duane Swiercyznski’s mastery of the form and underlining his status as one of the genre’s A-Grade authors.