STORY WRITTEN BY LINDA STEIN
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“Canary,” the new crime thriller by Philadelphia writer Duane Swierczynski grabs you by the lapels and doesn’t let go as it takes you on a roller coaster ride through the dark and drug-ridden streets of the City of Brotherly love.
The main character, Sarie Holland, a naive honors student at a fictional private college in Philadelphia, is busted when a guy she hopes to date leaves his stash of drugs in her car, allowing her to take the fall when a cop pulls her over. From that beginning the tale unfolds at a break neck pace leaving readers biting their nails in suspense as bad guys and cops close in on 19-year-old Sarie.
Readers will be tickled as they recognize local places as “Canary” is replete with Philly atmosphere, from cheesesteaks to abandoned row houses in the “Badlands” of North Philadelphia. Even the ubiquitous Wawa convenience stores make an appearance.
And the characters in this genre novel don’t disappoint as the reader gets to know their quirks and foibles, such as a cop seeking to save the world on the backs of his confidential informants and a father too busy mourning his late wife to see the trouble his formerly straight-arrow daughter has stirred up.
Swierczynski, 43, grew up in the Frankfort section of Philadelphia and now lives with his wife, Meredith, son, Parker, 12, and daughter, Sarah, 11, in Northeast Philadelphia. After going to LaSalle University, Swierczynski began his writing career in journalism as a fact checker for “Philadelphia Magazine” in 1993, a “fun time,” when Ed Rendell was mayor, he said. He thought journalism would “be a way to become a better writer.” He worked for other magazines, living in New York for a couple of years, before coming back to Philly and eventually selling his first novel in 2004.
“My dream was always to be a writer,” said Swierczynski, who was happy to be able to quit his day job and write fiction full time. In addition to the Shamus Award-winning Charlie Hardie series: “Fun & Games,” “Hell & Gone,” “Point & Shoot,” (which is being developed by Sony Pictures Television), he writes a monthly comic series, “Judge Dredd” for IDW and “X” for Dark Horse, and has penned comics for Marvel and DC, as well. He also collaborated with “CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker on the “Level 26” trilogy. For the past nine years, actress Michelle Monaghan has optioned his 2007 novel “The Blonde,” he said.
Swierczynski grew up reading Stephen King and thought he’d write horror novels. Instead, crime fiction became his forte.
“When I started writing, I was drawn to crime, less to supernatural,” he said.
“I was raised a good, Catholic boy. I love true crime.”
He comes at crime from the motive.
“Why does somebody rob a bank or kill a guy?” he asked. “If you’re pushed to a certain place maybe it’s your only option.”
He spends his days writing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a desk in his bedroom.
“It’s my dream job,” said Swierczynski. Depending on deadlines, he spends half his time on prose fiction and half on comic books. And, he has no trouble remembering characters and plots.
“I keep a lot of stories in my head at once,” he said. “I keep a lot of plates spinning on the pencils in my head.”
Swierczynski got the idea for “Canary,” after reading a piece in “The New Yorker” about confidential informants and how they interact with the police. “Canary” has a ripped from the headlines feel, and Swierczynski thanked several area journalists in his acknowledgements.
While writing “Canary,” he was thinking about his daughter and how she would go off to college in “six or seven years” and “what would happen to her,” he said.
“That’s how my parental fear machine works,” he said. “If you put it in a novel, it won’t happen in real life. For me, fiction is laying out your worse fears. It’s based on my own life, a sick or weird fantasy thing. You wonder what would happen. It’s cheaper than therapy.”
“Canary,” was published in February by the Mulholland Books imprint of Little, Brown & Co. $26; 400 pages.