‘Suburban dope has been stepped on so many times, all you smell is sneaker.’
I thoroughly enjoyed Canary (US) by Duane Swierczynski. Not only is it tense and gripping, it’s an awful lot of fun.
Straight-laced Sarie is learning to thaw out a little and succumbs to the charms of a male friend (D) at a party. She drives him to a dealer’s house which is under surveillance by determined cop, Ben Wildey. As the night moves on, Sarie is caught with her friend’s drugs and decides to take the fall. The only way out of the situation is for her to term informant for WIldey and she sets about investigating local happenings to see if she can earn her freedom without landing D in trouble.
The story follows her efforts as she becomes more and more involved in the shadows of the underworld to solve her own problem. Part of the pleasure here is watching her learn from her mistakes. She’s no inhabitant of the drugs scene, but she applies herself in the way she knows best to find solutions.
As she gets deeper and deeper into difficulty, the world around her tightens its grip. Her little brother knows something’s up and is tracking her movements. Her father manages to shrug off his love of the drink to work out why things are going so obviously wrong. D is trying to help and yet his good looks and free spirit are confusing matters. Wildey is forever tightening the screw in order that he can fulfil his lifetime mission of cleaning up the city. The dealers are all watching their backs (some more effectively than others) and, if that weren’t bad enough, there’s a leak in the police department that’s leading to the deaths of confidential informants and Sarie is quickly rising to the top of the murderer’s list.
The plot in itself is cleverly handled. What makes it work with such strength is the quality of the characters involved. Strong emotional bonds are created with them and the overlapping of the multiple points of view is seamless.
Sarie’s angle comes from diary entries to her dead mother and these allow for us to get in close and personal to her hopes and fears. This helps us to understand the changes she undergoes as life as she knows it disintegrates.
Wildey is also a fabulous cop creation. He has angels and devils in his family tree and has decided to side with his police heritage. His desire to succeed in his missions is equalled only by Sarie’s commitment to everything she does. He wants to bust Chuckie Morphine so badly that he is ruthless, yet he also has a tender and protective side that complicates his relationships with his informants and helps to make him very sympathetic.
The energy in this book is strong. It reaches into dark and complicated places. Bad things happen and it’s clear that nobody is safe and no amount of caring is going to offer them protection. To balance the heavier issues, a sensitive touch and a deft use of humour mean there’s an uplifting quality to the work.
A read that gave me lots of pleasure that I reckon you’ll love.