Tuesday, July 19, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: REVOLVER by Duane Swierczynski

     The Walczak and the Wildey Families are True Blue, each with three generations of Philadelphia Police officers. But that is where their similarities end. The Walczaks are white, the Wildeys are black and they might as well come from different worlds. But they are more connected than they think.    
     Revolver, by Duane Swierczynaki, begins in 1967 with the murder of Stanislaw “Stan” Walczak and his partner, George Wildey, in an unmarked corner bar.  From there the story covers the next two generations of Walczak cops, the son, James Walczak in 1995, and grandsons Stas and Cary Walczak in 2015. Each joined the force to slay a demon, and, it seems, none can do so without destroying a piece of the other.
Author Duane Swierczynski
     Each chapter of Revolver is set in either 1965, 1995, or 2015 to tell the story of the Walczak family. 1965 is the story of Stan and George and the months that lead to their murder. In 1995, Jim Walczak is a homicide detective, investigating the rape and murder of a young woman while dealing, poorly, with the parole of the man long suspected but never convicted of killing his father. And in 2015, the family deals with Audrey, the youngest Walczak child, who returned to Philadelphia after hardly talking to the family for nearly three years, for the fiftieth anniversary of the death of her grandfather. Audrey, a graduate student in Crime Scene Investigation, has problems of her own, the least of which is that she’s about to be kicked out of the program because she hasn’t completed her independent project. While in Philadelphia, she decides what that project will be: to solve the murder of Grandpop Stan and his partner, George Wildey.
     Duane Swierczynski not only tells a compelling and entertaining story, he tackles some important social issues from the 1960s and today. Police violence and brutality, prohibition that evolved into a war on drugs, and race. And he does so in a way that clearly demonstrates that these issues are not new to police work. Consider this conversation between Stan and George, in 1965, at the height of Philadelphia’s race riots and months before their deaths:

     “I’ve never done anything to these people.”…
     …“Look, man,” George says, “you talk to anybody in the Jungle. I’m talkin’ anybody, from a street tough to a minister to a gospel singer to a smiling grandma sitting on her front stoop. They’ve all got one thing in common.”
     “What’s that?”
     “At some point—and I guarantee this to be one hundred percent true—some cop has treated them like shit.”
     “Come on, everybody’s been hassled by the police at some point.”
     “Uh-uh. I’m not talking about hassling somebody because they ran a light. I’m talking about cops fucking with them just because of the color of their skin. Man, it happens to me. So you’ve got to cut them a break, give ’em time. There’s good people in this neighborhood. We just have to earn their trust.”

Those words are just as true today as they were in 1965, and resistance to them just as strong.

     I feel it would not be right to review Revolver and not mention that the book contained one of the funniest stories in recent memory; laugh out loud, read to the others in the room funny. While I won’t spoil it, I will give readers a clue: an interrogation technique that must have been developed from a scene in the movie A Christmas Story!

Swierczynski, Duane. Revolver, Mulholland Press, July 19, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-316-40323-8

A copy of Revolver was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via NetGalley.com. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


     Rookie New Orleans Police Officer Maureen Coughlin returns LET THE DEVIL OUT by Bill Loehfelm, the fourth book in the series and the third set Mr. Loehfelm’s hometown. A reader of the series has gotten to know Officer Coughlin as a tough, passionate, determined self-made woman who learned the hard way that she had to take care of herself. But in the course of doing so, has picked up some bad habits that seem to be catching up with her in The Big Easy. 
     LET THE DEVIL OUT begins where the previous book in the series, DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK left off. Maureen is riding out her paid suspension after she was involved in the death of a corrupt New Orleans police officer. But instead of taking the time to deal with her myriad life issues, including an attempt on her life by the Watchman, a Sovereign Citizen group based in rural Louisiana, she spends her time drinking and abusing drugs, hanging out in bars, lurking anonymously in the corner, because, “Somebody in this bar who didn’t even know she was there needed her.” Maureen is embroiled in inner conflict between the pain, anger, and desire for violence, a proxy fight against long dead enemies, and her return to work, upholding the law, order, and justice, which she views mystically:

“She realized that when she had thought about her badge over the past weeks, she had assigned it a mystical identity, like a lost relic in an old adventure movie, a glowing and humming talisman lost in the depths of a yawning cave or crumbling temple. An object of power and value like Excalibur or the Ark of the Covenant or the One Ring, it waited for her, only her, to rescue it from useless oblivion. The badge had become her Precious.”

     Not unexpectedly, Maureen’s unhealthy habits seem to influence her behavior more than her desire to protect and serve the people of the City of New Orleans. But when she’s asked for a favor from the FBI that, if things work out well, could fast track her to a detective badge, and a series of shootings that target police officers, she works hard to do the right thing, to make her training officer and sergeant proud, and solve the case against the Watchman and the people funding them that was left unfinished. 

     LET THE DEVIL OUT is a story about Maureen Coughlin. At that, Mr. Loehfelm succeeds, creating a character on the brink of either complete and utter self-destruction or becoming a hero all readers can love and respect for becoming the police officer she wants to become while overcoming the scars left behind by the many devils of her past. But in the development of Maureen, a lot of reality of policing was sacrificed, allowing a rookie police officer the latitude and independence to blow-off entire patrol shifts, to disappear with FBI agents and witness shootings with little or no follow-up, and having veteran officers participate in what would otherwise appear to be schemes of a troubled, rookie patrol officer.
     But just as Maureen, and the novel, seemed too far gone, there is hope, both for Maureen and the case against The Watchman, setting up for what fans of Bill Loehfelm and Maureen Coughlin can only hope will be a fifth book in the series.

“If there was anyone she’d get a medal for gunning down, Maureen thought, here he was. But was that the kind of hero she wanted to be? Because, she thought, here also was the head of the Watchmen, wanted by the FBI, the NOPD…Taking him alive would save lives. Many lives. And she had him caught. He had nowhere to go…Then his gun hand whipped right at her.”

I’m looking forward to it.

Loehflem, Bill. Let the Devil Out. Sarah Crighton Books  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. July 5, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-374-29857-9. 

An advance copy of  Let the Devil Out  was provided by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review.