NOIR LIKE IT'S 1999: SWEET THING BY DAVID SWINSON
As George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane dedicate more of their time to television, the heir apparent for crime stories of both grit and pathos could be David Swinson. He established these credentials with his trilogy featuring Washington D.C. private detective and drug addict Frank Marr. He appears to be mining his own life with the coming of age thriller, City On the Edge, that drew from his childhood as the son of a diplomat in Lebanon, and using his experience as a police detective in his latest, Sweet Thing.
The story takes place in D.C. right before the turn of this century. Homicide detective Alex Blum and his partner Kelly Ryan catch the murder of a street level heroin dealer. At the crime scene, Alex finds a photo of the victim with Arthur Holland, an informant from his Narcotics days. He pockets the photo instead of admitting it to evidence to protect his old colleague until he finds the connection. We soon learn it may be more to protect Celeste, Arthur's alluring, drug addicted girlfriend. Celeste tells him Arthur has been missing for three days. Alex and Kelly team up with two narcotics cops, one a younger Frank Marr, as they look into the dealer's death and Alex searches for Arthur. The two mysteries entwine to something more larger and complex than a simple drug killing and Alex becomes more involved with Celeste as he learns more about her involvement in his case.
Swinson utilizes his police history in interesting ways. He shows the approach to a crime scene and planning of a sting operation, having it reflect the characters. His real strength is his portrayal of the interrogations, a skill Alex excels at. he explains to the reader how everyone has a story to tell and wants to tell it.
This experience plays on how the detectives interact with one another. He captures the partnership of Alex and Kelly as one of acceptance of one another through experience in the way they cover for, stand up for, and call one another out. It's fun to watch the mutual respect grown between Alex and Marr. All of this plays a part in an expertly crafted passage with sting operation at a strip club. These relationships become the main thing Alex risks as he becomes more involved with Celeste.
In Celeste, Swinson has created one of his most interesting characters. She could have simply been.a sexy and dangerous femme fatale, but he gives her a complexity and fragility. Alex actions are as much out of wanting to be her protector as much as lover. It is an attraction that plays on the flaws each have.
David Swinson continues to prove and improve his standing as one of the top modern hard boiled authors today. Sweet Thing is tight, fast, and hard hitting, expressing itself like the best of Elmore Leonard through action, behavior and dialogue. He grounds it all in experienced detail and humanity, Like the best in the genre, David finds the beating heart in the toughest of tales.