Tuesday, August 16, 2016

REVOLVER :: Duane Swierczynski

"The trick to being a cop, a veteran detective once told him, is to go home at the end of the day."

A law enforcement family. Multiple generations. Five decades. Three timelines. A city steeped in racial turmoil. Murder. Revenge. Redemption. All these elements are boxed up inside one well-wrapped package in Duane Swierczynski's Revolver, which knocked my socks clean off.

There are plenty of things to love about Duane Swierczynski (his unparalleled sense of humor, his humility, and his deep-seated love of 70s Billy Ocean singles to name just a few), but one of the things I admire most is that he's always pushing his envelope and changing things up.

Duane has a hat full of speedily-breeding rabbits and you never know which rabbit he's going to pull out next. All you know is it's going to be a fierce, wise-cracking rabbit. (I have no clue where that analogy came from, apparently my rabbits have been drinking.)

He's written a few series books (the Charlie Hardie trilogy is fantastic), some terrific standalone novels and also works in the comics industry. He writes in a wide array of subgenres and does them all well.

This time, he put one right in my bread basket. Realistic cop drama - check. Multi-POV format - check. Alternating timelines - check. Snark - check. When something is that dead center in your alley, you're sometimes a harsher judge than if you're pushing your reading comfort zone. No matter, Revolver knocks it out of the park.

May 7, 1965. Philly PD Officer Stan Walczak and his partner George Wildey don't go home at the end of the day. Shot down in cold blood in a corner bar while waiting for an informant, the murders haunt their families for generations.

May 7, 1995. Homicide Detective Jim Walczak is one of the haunted. Son of Stan, Jim is obsessed with the man he knows killed his father and George Wildey. The man is in prison on another charge but about to be set free. For decades Jim has dreamt of being able to look his father's killer in the eye. He's about to get his chance; the only question is what he'll do with it.

May 7, 2015. Audrey Kornbluth is a bit of a disaster, in no small part due to the ripples from the waves that first capsized her family back in 1965. Daughter of Jim, Audrey is the black sheep of the family. A hard-drinking, tattooed, foul-mouthed (i.e., in Duane's hands, fairly delightful) forensics student in Texas, Audrey has strained relationships with her cop brothers and her parents. Audrey is particularly confounded by her father, who she hasn't seen in three years, calls "the Captain" and describes as "an emotionless golem."

On the 50th anniversary of her grandfather's murder, Audrey reluctantly returns home for a ceremony dedicating memorial plaques to Stan and George. Feeling angry and out of place even with her family, Audrey gets the brilliant (i.e., destined to stir up major shit) idea to solve her grandfather's murder as her long overdue graduate school independent project. Of course, the more people -- including her own family -- fight her efforts, the more determined she becomes.

Via these three timelines, Swierczynski brings to life a family hit hard by life and legacy, a city mired in racial tension that may or may not have had something to do with Stan and George's deaths, and a troubled young woman bound and determined to set a few things right, even if she doesn't fully recognize the depths of her mission.

I'm a sucker for a multi-timeline work, and Duane does a great job with that format in Revolver. He weaves the three disparate decades together such that you know where you are in each arc and yet in many ways they are all set in the same place and time. Philly comes out in full color (or maybe stark black and white, Philly feels like it would always be in black and white) to tie all of the decades and characters together in a tight knot.

Part mystery, part procedural, part character study, social study and family drama, Revolver is a dark and gritty love story about a family, a city, legacy and what it is to be a cop. This is sure to be one of my favorite reads of the year. Philadelphia Police Officer Joseph T. Swierczynski (1892-1919) would be proud.

STREET SENSE:  I highly recommend Revolver to everyone who enjoys a good crime story, thick with history, that doesn't short-change on character or place. Although I had small issues with one minor plot point and Audrey could be a bit over the top at times (which is also what made her such a stand-out character), I loved this book unabashedly.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  And there he is, bold as day. His father's killer steps out of the halfway house, fists shoved into the pockets of a fleece jacket. The weird thing is, he looks nothing like the mug shot Jim knows in vivid detail (obsesses over). The guy in the mug shot looks feral, ready to punch you in the gut as soon as say hello. But this later, post-prison version is just a skinny old man, walking down Erie Avenue with his head hung like there are invisible weights attached to his forehead, presumably headed for the El so he can ladle out chicken noodle to the less fortunate.

COVER NERD SAYS: This cover is perfect. It evokes historical fiction and police procedural to a T. It might not give a clue about the deep character work inside, but anyone who is interested in stories based on cops and police work won't be able to resist this one anyway. I love the sepia tint and the stark fonts. Great work.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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