Swierczynski, Duane. Canary.

NY: Mulholland Books, 2015.

I’ve been a big fan of Duane’s idiosyncratic crime novels for some years now and this one may be his best. There’s a reason it was nominated for an Edgar. Serafina Holland is a very straight-arrow 17-year-old college freshman in an honors program and her future looks very bright. It’s the day before Thanksgiving and she’s at a party (pretending to drink beer and smoke pot), taking a break before term papers are due and then finals. A guy she barely knows begs her to give him a lift down to South Philly, supposedly to pick up a book and, being a nice person, she agrees.

Only it wasn’t a book, it was a sack of drugs and Serie is grabbed by undercover cop Ben Wildey, who was staking out the place. So she has a choice: (a) be arrested, charged, and tried, with the certainty of at least a few years in prison and the loss of her chances at college, or (b) become a confidential informant for the police.

Serie is a very bright person, and very resourceful, and a very quick study. She can do this. And she can keep her drug-counselor father and her suspicious twelve-year-old brother from finding out, too. So she does her best, and gets sucked deeper and deeper into the ongoing struggle between those who run the drug trade in Philly and those who would like to run it. And, of course, there are crooked cops involved on both sides of that growing war. She just has to grit her teeth, keep her head, and keep emptying that bucket. And before he quite realizes it, Officer Wildey “doesn’t feel like he’s talking to an informant anymore. It’s the damndest thing. He feels like he’s talking to a colleague.” (Serie has to tell someone what’s happening, though, so she writes long letters to her mother, who died last year of a brain tumor.)

The characters of both Serie and Wildey are very nicely developed, and so are all the supporting players. There’s also a good deal of deadpan humor. (“Please don’t arrest me. It’s finals week.”) And I’ve always liked Duane’s style. With the right casting, this one would make a terrific film.

Published in: on 10 May 2017 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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