Much has been made of the recent influx of crime fiction titles featuring the word girl, and rightfully so, given that in the majority of cases, the “girl” in question is in her mid- to late-thirties or beyond. David Swinson is no trend chaser, nor does the titular character follow the same mold as just described. The Second Girl is David Swinson’s debut thriller and the second girl – like the story’s first – is indeed a teen caught up in a situation beyond her comprehension.
The opening section of The Second Girl is all about introducing the readers to Frank Marr. With little in the way of plot development, Swinson allows readers to bond with this new anti-hero. Frank is a broken man; since losing his job on the police force, he is working side-jobs doing some private investigating for a friend named Leslie Costello. Frank is a functioning addict willing to bend (and break) the rules to secure the next fix. The remarkable thing is that even as readers watch him defiantly sidestep legality, it is impossible not to root for Frank Marr. He wants to do the right thing and morally, Frank’s heart is always in the right place.
With the second part of the novel, the plot kicks into high gear. Ian and Elizabeth Gregory, the parents of Miriam Gregory, hire Frank to investigate the disappearance (three months ago) of their daughter. Since this case appears to have ties to another situation he was recently involved in, Frank agrees take on the assignment. In order to avoid the discovery of his own vices and misdeeds, Frank must do everything he can to stay one step ahead of the police while conducting his investigation. Having already been in the line of fire with the department in the past, Frank knows that such a path can only lead to further ruin.
David Swinson’s writing style is eminently readable; even the passages which are intended to give leisurely insight into Frank’s character contain a spark of energy that will keep readers turning the pages. Since this is the first book in a series, Swinson populates the text with interesting side characters – such as Leslie and Detective Davidson – who no doubt will play larger roles as the series develops. But make no mistake about it, Frank Marr is the focus here and Swinson imbues him with enough gravitas and contradiction to keep readers intrigued for many books to come.
As a former Washington DC police officer, David Swinson knows his way around the DC landscape, but like the best regional novels, he manages to include just enough details to keep things credible without overdoing it and alienating those who might be unfamiliar with the area. Similarly, Swinson knows the havoc drugs and addiction have reaped on the streets of the Capitol and does a convincing job of providing readers entrée into that sordid world.
By the time Frank Marr discovers the fate of The Second Girl, readers will be championing David Swinson as a first-class writer and a heck of a storyteller.
MD/DC/VA fans and followers: Don’t forget that I will be interviewing David Swinson for the launch of The Second Girl at One More Page Books on Tuesday, June 7 at 7pm.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was distributed at Bouchercon in Raleigh. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.