Lately it seems that each new crime debut must include some idiosyncrasy—the detective must have a quirk that sets him or her apart from the many crime solvers populating the suspense genre. They’re overeaters, opera lovers, poets, phobics, depressives or wise guys. Debut author David Swinson goes one step further, presenting his antihero, former cop and current part-time PI Frank Marr, as effectively part of the problem of drug-related crime he’s often out there solving.
In The Second Girl, Swinson makes sure we know only too clearly how Marr’s own drug addiction affects his day-to-day; how it can cloud the faculties and hold judgments hostage to the need for the next fix and a consistent resupply. Marr’s secret is a heavy one, though he stays away from crack and heroin, sticking to powder cocaine, pills and booze. But he’s constantly at risk of discovery by colleagues and friends. The only person who knows of his addiction is his former deputy chief, who forced the detective’s “early retirement” but left his record clean, due to both the fragility and success of the many cases Marr successfully resolved.
Marr has been on a days-long stakeout at the house of a D.C. drug gang. Only thing is, he’s hoping to score drugs for his own use on the sly. Instead, complications present as he searches the house and discovers a teenage girl, abducted and held captive. In the wake of the publicity Marr receives following her rescue, he gets tapped to help some former police colleagues search for another missing teen. He reluctantly agrees, walking an even more precarious line of possible discovery.
Readers learn in detail what it’s like to plan one’s whole life around scoring that next hit, maintaining a level of personal control and evading discovery. Just as lying and subterfuge are part of the world of crime Marr investigates, they are equally part of his own daily grind.
The crime story in The Second Girl is itself mildly interesting, and it’s clear that this detective doesn’t play by any rule book. He’s alternately clever, intuitive and violent in his pursuit of these street criminals. It’s Marr’s addiction and its effects on his life that take center stage here, and they’re given first-person immediacy in this fast-moving yet still introspective narrative. It’s often nerve-wracking, sometimes gruesome, but in the end carries a note of wearying sameness throughout.