Duane Swierczynski’s latest novel, Revolver, looks at the 1964 shooting of two policemen and its legacy through the generations, as the son of one of the dead officers plots revenge in 1995, and his daughter Audrey looks into the murder in 2015. Swierczynski is known both for his crime fiction and his contributions to the comics world. We talked to Duane about the book and how he explores family, place, and time.
Duane Swierczynski: This idea was one of those rare gifts from the gods – it was like I had an idea aneurysm one morning (March 23, 2014, to be exact). I’d read a Philadelphia Inquirer piece about the 1963 murder of two police officers in New Jersey, and the impact it had on the family in the present. And then boom – I knew exactly the kind of story I wanted to write, and how it even connected with some characters in my previous novel, Canary. I also knew that it would take place in three different time periods. What I didn’t know? How the hell I was going to pull that off.
“If Revolver has a hero, it’s Audrey Kornbluth, and at first, we think she’s nothing more than a bitter, hot mess who drinks way too much. But by the novel’s end, you kind of fall in love with her. I know I did.”
One of my Top 10 of 2015 is now in paperback. A college student is forced to become an informant for an ambitious narcotics cop. To escape she sets up a plan to play the police and dealers off of one another. A tight, human thriller that gives an interesting look at the war on drugs. You can find copies of Canary on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.
When the a celebrity murderess’ movie star father-in-law is found shot five years after her release, past and present smack into one another. A rich psychological thriller that looks into adolescence, privilege, and the media. Great for Megan Abbott fans. What Remains of Me comes out Tuesday, February 23rd. Pre-order now!
Coleman brings back little person PI Gulliver Dowd for what may be his last book. This time he is asked to look for a missing mob boss’ daughter, finding a history of betrayal and heartbreak. One of the most underrated series in detective fiction. Love and Fear comes out Tuesday, February 9th. Pre-order now!
The nominations for the 2016 Edgar Awards were announced last week. This seemed to be the year where great minds think alike – many of the nominees made in on to our best of 2015 lists, put together by Scott and Molly.
Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
If there was a common thread through the best books of 2015, it was ambition. Authors stretched themselves by taking on large subjects or writing something much different, or taking their series characters down a different path. All of these authors raised the bar for themselves and leaped over it.
Pryor’s smart use of point of view puts us in the head of Dominic – Austin prosecutor, musician, and sociopath – who gets involved with a robbery and to continue to tap into his darker nature when things go bad. One of the freshest and best neo-noirs to come down the pike.
Winslow’s sequel to The Power Of The Dog reignites the blood feud between DEA agent Art Keller and cartel head Adán Barrera in epic fashion to show the disastrous effect of the war on drugs in Mexico. A book that both enrages and entertains.Read More »
One of my favorite books released this spring has been Duane Swierczynki’s Canary, the story of a seventeen-year-old college freshman forced to act as a Confidential Informant. Duane fires on all cylinders in this one: Canary is funny, intense, gritty, and surprisingly moving. We caught up with Duane to talk about the book, its main character, and and her recruitment into the war on drugs.
MysteryPeople: Many of your books have a heightened quality, but Canaryfeels a little more grounded. Was that your intention going in or was that simply where the story took you?
Duane Swierczynski: Considering my previous novel featured a guy being shot into space, I thought it might be time to bring the action back down to Earth. But yeah, this was by design: I wanted to tell a street-level story that felt as real as possible, to the point where I was blending in true crime stories as background and writing the book in “real time.” (The story is set in late November/early December 2013 — I’m proud to say that even the weather matches!)
MP: Confidential Informants are a staple of crime fiction, but rarely as a protagonist. What made a lead in that position unique to write?
DS: Nobody loves a snitch, so I was determined to create one that readers might root for. One of the inspirations was a New Yorker article about the plight of young C.I.s who are often left to their own devices. Fellow comic book writer (and gentleman) Fred Van Lente pointed it out to me one day, saying that it would make an excellent subject for a crime novel. He was right. C.I.s straddle the line between the cops and the underworld, which is an incredibly precarious place to be.
MP: With a lot of the cop and criminal parts of the book, I couldn’t help but think of some of those gritty crime movies from the Seventies. Did you have any influences for the book?
DS: There’s one huge one—the 1972 L.A. drug noir Cisco Pike, which pits Kris Kristofferson’s pot dealer against a manic narcotics officer (played by the legendary Gene Hackman). I love this movie to death, and tipped my cap to it with character names. Sarie Holland’s surname is lifted from the Hackman character, and her sort-of boyfriend’s last name is “Pike.”
MP: Much of the story deals with Sarie keeping what she’s doing from her father and brother. What drew you to the family element of the story?
DS: I think being a father, and having children of a certain age — and worried about the choices they might make down the line. In my previous novels, I was usually throwing some avatar of myself into crazy situations. But I realized that it would be much more terrifying to have my children in jeopardy.
MP: This is your first female lead and also someone much younger than you are. Did you feel you had to approach Sarie differently or ask more questions about her during the writing?
DS: Dude, are you saying I don’t look 17? Thanks a lot, man.
I was very nervous about writing from the POV of a 17-year-old girl. But I tapped into my own memories of being an awkward, 17-year-old college freshman (like Sarie, I was pushed up a year) trying to figure out the near-adult landscape. Her journal entries, though, didn’t really take shape until I realized that she should be writing TO someone, instead of just recording her thoughts. That helped a great deal.
MP: You delve into the war on drugs with little judgement. What was the biggest takeaway from the subject after writing about it?
DS: It’s funny; I think I am fairly judgmental about it. Recently, Don Winslow (the authority in this area) tweeted a link to a piece about how the Mexican cartels are adapting to pot legalization in the U.S. — namely, by seeking other markets. That right there says it all: drug dealing is a business, and the drug war is no more effective than Prohibition was.
Duane Swiercynski is one of the most exciting genre authors practicing today. He has an ability to use his knowledge and passion for crime, horror, and sci-fi and create something fresh and unique, not just a simple homage. He also has the ability to write a different book each time, even in his Charlie Hardie trilogy. Duane proves both of these facts in his latest, Canary.
The set-up and tone for Canary’s opening chapter suggest a satirical direction like some of his previous novels, including The Blonde and Severance Package. Sarie Holland, a college freshman, drives a boy she likes to a sketchy side of Philadelphia. She learns too late that it was a drug pick up. The boy runs off, leaving her with the drugs and arrested. To avoid prosecution, she agrees to be a confidential informant for an ambitious narcotics detective. Soon, she is playing a complex cat-and-mouse game with cops and criminals while keeping it quiet from the school and her family.
Swierczynski writes to a more realistic feel than in previous books. He portrays Philadelphia’s suburbs and mean streets with equal believable detail. The cop and criminal passages have the feel of a great Seventies movie like The Seven Ups or The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. The violence is swift, random, and rarely applied with much skill.
It is in his depiction of Sarie where truly he excels. Swierczynski depicts her predicament in both a raw and sober tone, taking a girl at an age where you’re just starting to navigate the complexities of your emotions and putting those feelings through extreme circumstances. Part of this is done by with first person sections that are done in the form of Sarie writing to her recently deceased mother. Much like Tarantino at his best, Swierczynski has the ability to to deliver all the colorful genre goods, then hit us with an earned poignancy when we least expect it.
Canaryhas everything we like about Duane Swierczynski’s work. The dialogue is crisp, the action passages more with a visceral force, and it has a master craftsman’s pace. However that pace, is less frantic as usual. He appears to be going in a different direction, playing more to emotions, putting more faith in character. Canaryshows you’ll follow Daune Swierczynski wherever he goes.
This February brings us bold releases from longstanding favorites and more recent recipients of our fandom. As the unseasonably warm winter persists, give up on waiting for that snowy day and take one of these to the park for a sunny afternoon.
I loved George’s last novel featuring music scene bodyguard Hunter D, The Plot Against Hip-Hop. In this latest, D has to deal with the fallout when a client goes after someone with guns they bought on Hunter’s watch. He must also bodyguard a genius soul singer out for a comeback, and track down a rare single that has the best of Stax and Motown performing on it. In less that two hundred pages, Nelson George delivers an entertaining and hard-boiled look at the music scene, and raises the question of proprietary rights and black culture. The Lost Treasures of R&B hits the shelves Tuesday, February 3. Pre-order now.
Tess Monoghan is back! Now a mother, the Baltimore private eye gets a case involving parenting, the insanity defense, and reality television. Along with Crowe, her boyfriend, she has a new operative, Sandy Sanchez, the protagonist in Lippman’s last novel, After I’m Gone.Laura Lippman is one of the best storytellers in the genre and Tess one of the most fully realized detectives.Hush, Hush comes out Tuesday, February 24.Pre-order now.
Swierczynski delivers a book both heartfelt and hard-boiled. A Philly college girl gets busted when she unknowingly drives a boy she likes to a drug pick-up. When an ambitious narcotics detective forces her to be an informant, we watch her deal with family, cops, and criminals in ways humorous, human, and heart-stopping in this engaging thriller that is both suburban and streetwise. Canary will be released Tuesday, February 24. Pre-order now.
With great noteworthy novels like Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train already coming out, 2015 could bring a plethora of crime fiction treasure. From new additions to old series, to new editions of old series, and debuts from many promising novelists, here are some books to look out for during this new year.
Swierczynski always knows how to spin a great yarn. This one, about a college girl forced to be an informant for an ambitious Philly narcotics detective, is one of his finest. A bit more realistic than his previous work, he gives us his humor, pace, and sharply defined characters at a more streetwise level. Canary hits the shelves February 24th. Pre-order now.
Tess Monaghan returns. After three years, and now a mother with a new partner (Sandy Sanchez, the protagonist of Lippman’s excellent 2014 book, After I’m Gone), the Baltimore PI is thrown into a case dealing with parenthood, the insanity defense, and reality TV. Lippman’s work has proved she is one of the best writers in the field and it will be great to have a fully formed PI heroine like Tess back. Hush, Hush hits the shelves February 24th. Pre-order now.
Already the front runner for best debut of 2015. A young North Carolina man is caught between his love for a girl and his quest to get out of their small town and the dark shadow of his father’s criminal business. Poetic and poignant with sudden bursts of cold violence, Joy uses voice and character to speak directly and emotionally to his readers. Where All The Light Tends To Go hits the shelves March 3rd. Pre-order now.
Syndicate Books will be reprinting this hard-to-find British crime novel about a smut kingpin rooting out those responsible for bringing down his empire. Syndicate’s reissues of Lewis’ tough and terse Jack Carter trilogy have me primed for GBH, his final and often considered finest work. GBH hits the shelves March 3rd. Pre-order now.
Kerr brings back Bernie Gunther. This time the German wartime private eye is forced to do a favor for Joseph Goebbels that deals with the Nazi film industry and Croatia. Few weave plot, period, character, and thematics together as well as Kerr. Lady From Zagreb hits the shelves April 7th. Pre-order now.
The latest Samuel Craddock mystery has the widowed small town chief of police trying to help his neighbor, Jenny Sandstone when she is threatened. In order to help, he must delve into a past she wants kept private. Shames has hinted at the possibility of these to developing a deeper relationship, so this could be a game changer in one hell of a well written series. A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge hits the shelves April 15th. Pre-order now.
Spenser and Hawk are hired to look into a questionable reform camp it’s connection to a questionable judge. Atkins has taken on the Spenser character without missing a beat; bringing him back to full glory. Robert B. Parker’s Kickback hits the shelves May 19th. Pre-order now.
Hugo Marston leaves Paris for Spain, with CIA buddy Tom Green, to track down a friend’s missing daughter. I’m sure this book will turn into something else with plenty of surprise, action, and banter between Marston and Green. Kickback hits the shelves June 2nd. Pre-order now.
The premise of Shaker immediately intrigued me. A hitman’s life is thrown into violent chaos when he’s mistaken for a hero. What really has me anticipating it, is that it will be the debut novel of Scott Frank, the screenwriter who adapted Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, and A Walk Among The Tombstones and whose directing debut The Lookout was one of the best crime movies in the last ten years. This could be the debut of a great new author in the genre. August. Shaker hits the shelves in August 2015. Pre-order now.
10. Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman
Last year, Reed Farrel Coleman wrapped up one of the best mystery series with his Moe Prager character. This fall he will introduce us to his new creation, Gus Murphy, a retired Suffolk County cop turned private detective. Coleman always delivers, with an engaging plot and character as well as a poetic look at human emotion. Where It Hurts hits the shelves in autumn. We’ll bring you more details as it gets closer to the date.
Mike McCrary’sRemo Went Rogue is a wonderful piece of mean, nasty fun with a slimy lawyer getting his comeuppance. It’s a book that never stops moving. We got a chance to catch up with Mike for a few moments to answer some questions.
MP: How did the idea for Remo Went Rogue come about?
MM: I’ve always been interested in defense attorneys and the special brand of absurdity that their jobs require. Don’t get me wrong, I know they are an extremely important part of keeping our legal system humming along. I don’t want to discount that, but as a writer, the idea of defending the worst people on the planet and, in some cases, getting paid a ton of money to do it presents a strange and wonderful morality playground to hang out in. So that’s where it started and I just tried to come up with a story to build around that basic idea. That and I love characters that are a complete mess. Remo more than qualifies.
MP: What do you have to keep in mind when you’re doing a book with no “heroic’ characters in it?
MM: I think you have to find something human and/or relatable about them. At very least they have to be interesting. The reader has to have something to cling to, something to keep the pages turning, make them want to keep reading. If there’s nothing, it makes it tough to slog through an entire novel. You might not agree with everything Remo does and you sure as shit don’t want him living next door, but he is interesting and fun to read about and has some qualities that are even noble, kind of.
MP: While the book has an original voice, it also has the feel of an old school hardboiled novel. Did you draw from any influences?
MM: Thanks man. Yeah, there are influences all over the place. I’m an average reader at best, but there are without question authors that have put their stamp on me. Not all of them crime/noir. Don Winslow, Savages to me is the gold standard. Charlie Huston, Caught Stealing really opened my eyes. Johnny Shaw, Big Maria = genius. Gillian Flynn is no joke, man. John Rector, his stuff is a master class in stripped-down prose and how economy of words can work wonders. Check out John’s Cold Kiss and Already Gone. Chad Kultgen,The Lie: just read it. There’s others, of course. Obviously Elmore Leonard. A couple more big ones would be Chuck Palahniuck, Richard Stark (Parker novels) and Duane Swierczynski (more about Duane later.)
MP: The shoot-outs are visceral and clear. How do you approach writing action scenes?
MM: Thanks again, man. I have a background in screenwriting so the visual stuff is a byproduct of that style of writing. I was a script reader years ago. So I’ve read a lot of action scripts and I started to see the way different writers attacked action scenes and took note of what I liked. But with books the biggest influence was Duane Swierczynski. I read Severance Package and it was like the world changed for me. I don’t think I realized books like that were out in the universe. His stuff is so big and fun to read that I sat back and said, Holy shit. You’re allowed to write like that? It was almost like that book gave me permission to try. So, thanks Duane. As far as approach? I basically drink a shit ton of coffee, crank the AC/DC and Nine Inch Nails and try to write down what I see in my head as fast as I can. It’s not much different from when I was kid playing with Star Wars action figures. Minus the coffee and the questionable music. MP: What made Remo a fun character to write?
MM: Assholes are always fun to write, I think. Assholes in crisis are even more fun. Remo will say and do almost anything so you pretty much get to unleash and put the hammer down. At the same time there is a human quality to Remo that grounds him and makes him accessible to the reader. That’s the challenge, I guess, making an asshole fun and loveable. Haven’t worked that out in the real world, but I’m hopeful. Just kidding. I’m a expletive peach, ask anybody.
Albany is a quaint city, with rolling hills (I swear I was always walking uphill, even on the way back), historic buildings and friendly people who say, “Absolutely,” when you ask them for a favor. Into this bucolic atmosphere descended thousands of crime fiction writers, publishers, booksellers, and fans like a plague of dark, drunken, philosophical rats from September 19th – 22nd. I can say this because I was one of the them attending this year’s Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference.
Debate went into high gear during the New Noir panel. Moderator Reed Farrel Coleman introduced the idea that there are now two different kinds of noir fiction. One is traditional that relies more on mood and psychology. The newer form relies on violence and shock value. It was probably the most engaging discussion at the conference, with Duane Swierczynski defending the new form along with Jason Starr admitting that his works tend to fall into this category. The discussion wrapped up with a few jokes about Reed’s age and a quip from Hilary Davidson that would make any femme fatale proud.
Les Edgerton’s Pulp Fiction, Baby! panel also discussed playing on the dark and moody side of the street. As happened last year, Les had the best line of the year: “Paint your character black and the light will shine through.”
Josh Stalling talked about how he enjoyed hiding real ideas and social commentary in pulp fiction. He also cited James Crumley’s Dancing Bear and the original Winnie The Pooh as the books most influential in his process. When asked which Pooh character he relates the most with, he answered, “I’m always Eeyore.”
The Shameless Dead Cats & Bad Girls panel hosted by Laura Lippman dealt with taboos in crime fiction. Megan Abbott cited Gone Girlas proof that the mainstream has embraced the type of dark fiction that was more marginalized in the past.
Discussion of what is taboo in noir fiction was the theme amongst most panels at Bouchercon. Taking advantage of that, David Corbett turned his I Go To Extremes panel into a drinking game with the words, “noir,” “taboo,” “transgressive,” and “Tarantino.” Unfortunately for David, he forgot Todd Robinson, Glenn Gray, and I were in attendance. We’re three guys known for being loud and opinionated even when we’re sober.
The panels definitely covered a lot outside the question of what has become taboo.
I learned more about Austin author Mark Pryor at The Liar’s panel, where they played a game with the audience to guess when Mark was telling a lie, the truth, or a half-truth.
At the WW2 and Sons panel, Martin Limon spoke about how the culture clash he witnessed as a GI stationed in Korea between the locals and the US military lead to writing the Sueno & Bascome series.
In a discussion about writing unreliable narrators, Megan Abbott talked about how she believes noir protagonists will always be unreliable, since they are always attempting to justify their actions. Laura Lippman agreed, adding that the
y are also trying to convince the reader that they would have done the same.
You couldn’t let this group of dark, philosophical rats go without a night of revelry. On the first night of the con, authors Reed Farrell Coleman, Tom Schreck and Crimespree magazine’s Jon and Ruth Jordan threw a spectacular party. The Franklin Towers Bar was all shook up with classic rock n’ roll covers flowing from the stage, with Johnny Rebel And The Jail House Rockers at the helm. It was overwhelming to see such a who’s who in crime fiction. The place was so packed, even the sidewalk outside was crowded.
I would love to share more details, but it might be a little too risqué for the blogosphere.
I hung on until the bitter end, so I was able to see every dark nook and cranny of this year’s Buchercon. I went to the annual Dead Dog Dinner with those left over on Sunday night. Then, the next morning, it was breakfast and sightseeing with author RJ Ellory and bloggers Ali Karim and Peter Rozovsky before we had to catch our trains.
I don’t know if we attendees ever answered the question about whether or not we’ve gone too far in noir fiction. Maybe we have.