Swierczynski, Duane. Revolver.

NY: Mulholland Books, 2016.

I stumbled on one of this author’s earlier crime novels a few years ago and became an almost instant fan of his rather noir style. He’s a Philadelphian through and through and the seamy side of the city he knows so well becomes a character in his books, too. And this time, he indulges in an unusual sort of narrative strategy.

Back in 1965, forty-year-old police officer Stan Walczak, never more than a street cop (but he’s happy with that), is on duty in the race riots of the time and is almost accidentally paired up with a black cop, George Wildey, when his previous partner has a flaming sofa dropped on him from a ghetto rooftop. And within a few months, both Stan and George will be shot to death.

Thirty years later, in 1995, Stan’s son, Jimmy, is a homicide detective — an automatic career choice because he has been haunted since adolescence by his father’s murder. He’s working on the case of a young jogger who was raped and killed and dumped in a stairwell in what is supposed to be the safest part of downtown Philly. But the leads he’s developing are taking him into politically very sensitive areas. At the same time, the man he’s convinced killed his father is now out of prison (on other charges) and Jimmy has to decide what to do about him. And about the oath he swore to get vengeance.

Jump again twenty years, to 2015, and Jimmy is now a retired police captain and his eldest son, Stas, is a not very enthusiastic cop himself. But his youngest, his daughter, Audrey, is struggling through a graduate course in forensics down in Houston. And she’s not talking to any of the family anymore for a number of reasons, but she agrees to come home for the unveiling of a memorial plaque on the fiftieth anniversary of her grandfather’s death. And she decides that solving that long-ago killing is just what she needs to earn her degree.

It’s a complex story and Duane tells it from all three chronological perspectives in alternating chapters. I’ve never seen foreshadowing accomplished on the basis of later memories about the past, but he pulls it off very neatly. We learn things in each period that inform our understanding of what really happened in other times — even reaching all the way back to the Repeal of Prohibition in 1933. He also has a lot to say about cops and racism, keying on both the Poles and their view of the murzyns and on George Wildey’s fears about the white Plan to eradicate his own people. His characters are real and you’ll suffer with some of them and loathe others. And it’s all very much worth your time and effort. Swierczynski just gets better and better. He’s now one of my handful of “automatic” authors; anything he writes, I want to read.


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