Trigger: A Frank Marr Novel
By David Swinson
Mulholland; hardcover, $27.00; available Tuesday, February 12
Frankie Marr returns in all his jittery, mordant brilliance, as he has kicked his addiction to cocaine, but he’s drinking more, and he has lost the woman he’s crazy about. The one thing that hasn’t changed is how he moves through the nation’s capital, balancing accounts his way.
In the final book of David Swinson’s trilogy of crime novels, Trigger, Marr’s balance of wired intelligence and a need for oblivion lives on. In this fallen detective, Swinson created a character that critics and his fellow crime writers have praised.
As this trio comes to an end, Marr seems to find his match in an unlikely new partner, and there is redemption and new beginnings to emerge from the disorder of his life.
True to who he is, Marr’s method of recovery is distinct and disturbingly his own: breaking into the homes of dealers,flushing their drugs, even his coveted cocaine, taking and disabling their firearms and putting their cash into his from pocket.
When his cell phone buzzes, unnerving him in the midst of one of these “texts,” he sees it is Leslie Costello. Marr knows it’s serious since he torched his relationship with her a year before and has been paying penance ever since.
Swinson writes of when Marr hears from Leslie, “Clouds are high, moving over the city slow. Smells like snow.
“On the way to the car, I toss the Taurus spring into a gutter drain, try to be discreet when I pull the gun out of my pack, drop it at my feet, and kick it into the drain.
“After I start the car, I check the phone, see who called.
“Damn. Haven’t talked to her in more than a year. Don’t wanna think about that morning we last talked. I was so fucked up. I fucked up. I can’t even remember most of what was said. She kicked me out of her house after, so it must have been bad. One of the worst days of my life. Losing her was. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, even tougher than giving up blow. That shit was the reason I lost her to begin with. After I got myself four months clean, I called her and confessed and asked for forgiveness. Didn’t matter. I think it made it worse ’cause I lied for all those years, even about why I had to retire from the police department – pissing dirty. According to her, I’d even jeopardized her law practice. So that was that.
“What does she want now, after all this time?
“She left a message on the second call. I hesitate to listen, but tap the screen, put the phone to my ear.
“‘I’m calling on behalf of Al Luna. It’s important, so please call me back.’ That’s it.
“On behalf of Al?
“What kind of message is that, unless he’s in trouble or sick? Al’s still one of my closest friends, but I haven’t talked to him in a few weeks. I was caught up in this bullshit domestic-violence, cheating-husband case that was resolved just yesterday. In fact, Al’s busier than me, working that same Narcotics Branch assignment from when we were partnered and I went down, forced into early retirement.
“Best thing to do is drive home, catch my damn breath, and call her from there.”
Detective Luna is Marr’s ex-partner, and he is accused of fatally shooting a young boy, an African-American who Luna swears had a gun, yet it wasn’t found. The city is outraged, the community is calling for answers, and the police is facing a challenge in the age of Black Lives Matter.
As Marr delves into what really happened on that day in that deserted industrial lot, he discovers more about his friend, including Luna’s disturbing connections to a confidential informant, and his own sense of justice than he ever wanted.
When Marr runs into Playboy/Calvin, the young man he left for dead on the banks of the Anacostia River years before, he faces his own moral reckoning as well. In a move he fully doesn’t understand, Marr brings Calvin into his investigation as a partner, one who calls into question the shades of difference, both in language and law, between those who wear the badge and those who don’t.
Throughout this series, Marr’s complex mix of outlaw instincts and allegiance to those he once served beside creates the tension powering Swinson’s razor-sharp narrative.
This outlier character owes as much to Swinson’s punk rock days as it does to his decorated career as a detective with the DC Metro Police.
Swinson worked as a record store owner, concert promoter, and independent filmmaker in Southern California, working with the likes of Timothy Leary, Hunter S. Thompson, the Violent Femmes, John Cusack, X frontman John Doe.
From his law enforcement days, Swinson brings to his novels the clear-eyed view of how crime and justice, the poor and the well-heeled, collide and yet are more connected than either side wants to acknowledge.
Swinson’s novels, filled with dark humor and insight, are so compelling because of his instinctive understanding of this chorus of tragedy and commerce that hums and moves through the nation’s capital like a subterranean river.
Trigger is a compelling read centered on a character readers came to be fascinated by in the first two books of this trilogy, The Second Girl and Crime Song.