Review: THE SECOND GIRL by David Swinson (Mulholland)

SwinsonD-SecondGirlUSOne of the strongest crime series beginnings in many years

He’s a good detective… with a bad habit.

Frank Marr knows crime in Washington, DC. A decorated former police detective, he retired early and now ekes out a living as a private eye for a defense attorney. Frank Marr may be the best investigator the city has ever known, but the city doesn’t know his dirty secret.

A longtime drug addict, Frank has lent his considerable skills to hiding his habit from others. But after he accidentally discovers a kidnapped teenage girl in the home of a local drug gang, Frank becomes a hero and is thrust into the spotlight. He reluctantly agrees to investigate the disappearance of another girl — possibly connected to the first — and the heightened scrutiny may bring his own habits to light, too.

Frank is as slippery and charming an antihero as you’ve ever met, but he’s also achingly vulnerable. The result is a mystery of startling intensity, a tightly coiled thriller where every scene may turn disastrous. The Second Girl is the crime novel of the season and the start of a thunderous new series from an author who knows the criminal underworld inside and out.

I was rather slow getting around to reading this novel, and damn was that a stupid idea. The Second Girl is easily one of the strongest starts to a crime series that I’ve read in years. The characters, story, pacing… all of it worked perfectly. I was hooked from the opening scene, and all I wanted to do was keep reading.

The novel opens with Frank Marr — former DC narcotics policeman, current PI — staking out a drug stash. He’s not there to bust the dealers. Rather, he’s there to steal their product. As the synopsis states, Marr’s a drug addict, so he spends almost as much time planning his next score and hit than he does investigating his cases. However, and this is very important, his addiction isn’t the predominant factor in the story. Yes, he frequently needs a bump, and he does spend a lot of time thinking about when he can next get one. But this isn’t a Drug Novel.

SwinsonD-SecondGirlUKIn many ways, The Second Girl features many of the best crime novel tropes — most obviously, the flawed protagonist anti-hero. However, Swinson writes so damn well, and has put just enough of a new spin on these elements to make it feel fresh and new. His characters are superbly rendered, and they feel completely real. Despite never reading about these characters before, The Second Girl has that natural, comfortable quality in reading of a long-established series. Marr is a great protagonist, skirting the edge on so many levels, but never falling off. We care about his wellbeing and fate from early on, even if he does commit some pretty heinous acts. (Never too heinous that he can’t be redeemed, however.) There’s nothing overblown or melodramatic in the telling. The action is understated and realistic.

I have already finished the sequel, Crime Song. After finishing The Second Girl, I spent about ten minutes wondering what I wanted to read next, before realizing that the only thing I wanted to read was the next book in the series. I’ll post a review of that in the next few days. (Spoiler: I liked it as much as I did The Second Girl.)

This may very well be my favourite new crime series. A must read for all fans of the genre, and anyone looking for a gripping novel. Superb. Very, very highly recommended.


David Swinson‘s The Second Girl is out now, published by Mulholland Books in the US and UK.

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6 thoughts on “Review: THE SECOND GIRL by David Swinson (Mulholland)

    • Glad my recommendation of Mason Cross’s didn’t steer you wrong! Love that series (bought fourth novel today, actually). Swinson’s is quite different, but just fantastic. Can’t recommend it enough.


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