Home > Book Review > Book Review- “Canary” by Duane Swierczynski

Book Review- “Canary” by Duane Swierczynski

Canary coverI’ve been a crime fiction fan for years, but for the longest time I didn’t appreciate stories about amateur sleuths or criminals. They often seem too quaint and tidy or to stretch disbelief like the person stumbling around in the world of murder and mayhem that is a good crime fiction tale should be arrested or killed right off the bat.

The past several years though some good television shows, comics, and novels have been working to change my opinion and now thanks to those forms of media there is one particular type of “amateur” crime fiction protagonist I have great love for and find fascinating, the type of person that suddenly discovers they’re really good at committing or stopping crime. I’m talking about the Walter Whites and Saul Goodmans of the world. I’m also talking about the Veronica Marses as well, and with his latest novel “Canary,” writer Duane Swierczynski gives us a tale that reads like a mash up of “Breaking Bad” and “Veronica Mars.” Plus the writer introduces us to a fascinating new character in the form of Serafina “Sarie” Holland.

When we first meet Sarie in “Canary” she’s an Honors Student at a small Philadelphia College. She’s likeable and conscientious, but she also makes some poor decisions involving a boy she just met. Those decisions lead to her being left holding the bag when a Philadelphia Police Detective, named Ben Wildey shows up to arrest the boy for the drugs he just bought. So Sarie is left with a choice: be prosecuted or become a confidential informant for the special narcotics unit that Wildey is part of.

This starts Sarie’s journey into Philadelphia’s drug underworld and it’s a fascinating one to watch. Like all amateurs duaneshe makes a few blunders, but soon the Honors Student discovers she has an apptitude for more than just academics. She’s also quite good at walking the edge between law breaker and law enforcer that is required of a “snitch” that wants to stay alive and stay out of jail.

Much of “Canary” is told to the readers first hand from Sarie’s perspective. As I said. she’s a very likeable protagonist with some fun and interesting insights and watching her deal with and overcome the strangeness and horrors of the Philadelphia drug underworld is at times funny, exciting, and terrifying. I mentioned “Veronica Mars” earlier and Sarie has the same mix of cunning, likeability, and interesting perspective that Veronica has.

Sarie isn’t the only interesting character in “Canary.” Over the course of the novel we meet a whole host of interesting players from both the underworld and suburban environments Sarie is straddling throughout the story. They include previously mentioned cop Ben Wildey, “D” the boy whose dealing leads to her arrest at the beginning of the story, and several shady criminals. My favorite underworld character is a veteran Philly mobster named Ringo that Swierczynski introduces in the latter half of the novel. He has some great scenes, especially with Sarie.

The Holland family is also a big part of the story. Sarie lives at home with her father Kevin and her younger brother Marty and they’re all dealing with the recent death of her mom in different ways. Kevin is probably dealing with it the worst. So there were a lot of moments in “Canary” where I didn’t like him, but by the end of the book Sarie’s father becomes a very sympathetic and likeable character. It’s the same for 12 year old Marty. He comes off as a sort of nuisance figure early on, but Swierczynski does a fantastic job establishing what motivates Marty.

On top of great characters and action “Canary” also features some other elements that Swierczynski is a master at. First and foremost of those of course is bringing the city of Philadelphia to life. All of the books that the writer sets in his home town crackle and make you feel like you’re right there walking the mean streets with the characters. They’re almost travelogues and documents of the weird, wonderful, and warped places of the City of Brotherly Love.

The other element that Swierczynski excels at is immersing a character in a shadowy world that they previously weren’t familiar with or had no idea existed. He did that fantastically with his Charle Hardie trilogy of novels and he does it again here. The more Sarie becomes immersed in the twisted world of Philly’s drug wars the more thrilling “Canary” became. The last half of the novel is harrowing and very, very cool.

So in “Canary” Swierczynski introduces to a thrilling new character whose journey into the world of crime is both fun and exciting to read about. I don’t want to say much about the end results of Sarie’s journey because I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say though that “Canary” is a deeply satisfying novel and the best book Swierczynski has written since “Hell & Gone,” my favorite of the Charlie Hardie trilogy. I eagerly await the writer’s next novel.

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Categories: Book Review
  1. FictionTimes.com
    March 25, 2015 at 7:19 am
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