Friday, March 4, 2016

Review of Canary by Duane Swierczynski (Mulholland, 2015)

Sarie Holland is a straight A’s honors student who barely drinks and never does drugs.  At a party she agrees to drive a fellow student across Philadelphia.  Only the run is for drugs and the location of the deal is under surveillance by Officer Wildey.  Sensing an opening to bust a difficult case once Sarie’s friend collects the drugs Wildey pulls her over, her friend doing a runner.  Sarie is given a choice – name her friend, become a police informer, or go to prison for five years or more.  She chooses informer.  Wildey and her boss think that by leaning on her hard, Sarie will give up the name of her friend.  Instead, Sarie tries to buy her freedom by tracking down other dealers.  She’s out of her depth, but proves quite adept of finding suitable felons.  Only Wildey has a particular dealer in mind. To complicate matters a gang is bumping off informers and it’s only a matter of time until Sarie is in their sights.

The hook in Canary is an appealing one.  The first time that a goody-too-shoes student does something stupid she is made to pay a heavy price, forced to choose between friendship, informing or prison.  However, a weakness in the book’s plot is that she barely knows the person she is taking the rap for and it’s hard to believe that she’d sacrifice her own future for him.  Added to that, the tale is propelled along by a number of fairly crude plot devices, barely believable twists, and a storyline that was somewhat telegraphed.  Nonetheless, Canary is an entertaining read, held together by the likeability of the two main characters, Sarie, the resourceful student, and Wildey, an honest, caring cop, and their interactions, and a strong sense of place with respect to Philadelphia.  The double narrative works well, swapping between their points-of-view, and also that of Sarie’s brother and father.  And once the seemingly inevitable telegraphed ending is revealed as a false summit the tale gets interesting and gripping.  The result is an enjoyable tale that requires a fair bit of suspension of disbelief.

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