Reviews > Published on February 24th, 2015

Bookshots: 'Canary' By Duane Swierczynski

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review



Who wrote it?

Philadelphia born-and-bred pulp writer, Duane Swierczynski.

'Canary' contains the usual Swierczynski traits: Well-rounded, complex characters, balls-to-the-wall action scenes, and, yes, it does contain a bit of conspiracy...

Plot in a Box:

Sarie Holland is your typical college honors student (you know, other than the fact she doesn’t drink or do drugs), at least until she gives her fellow honor student and secret crush a ride to a friend’s house. Little known to Sarie, the house she drives the crush to is his drug suppliers pick-up point, and it’s being surveyed by a hard driving narc named Ben Wildey. Before she knows it, Wildey flips Sarie and turns her into a confidential informant and sends her in deep into the Philadelphia drug world.

Invent a new title for this book:

CI #137

Read this if you liked:

Savages By Don Winslow, Caught Stealing By Charlie Huston, The Professionals By Owen Owen Laukkanen.

Meet the book’s lead:

College honors student, Sarie Holland, academic over-achiever turned narc through circumstances way beyond her control.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Maria Thayer. Most of you probably don’t know who Thayer is unless you’re a fan of Adult Swim’s live action shows such as Eagleheart and Children’s Hospital, but I would pick her for the role of Sarie because:

A) She’s as cute as a bug
B) I have no problem with seeing her going 100% badass.

If you kind of need a description of Thayer, think Jessica Chastain without all the hard edges.

Setting: would you want to live there?

Philadelphia? Yeah, probably.

What was your favorite sentence?

Well, Mom, if I’m a snitch, I guess I’d better learn how to be one. BTW, I hate the word snitch. I checked the internet for synonyms and they’re all horrible:




Rat Fink

Deep Throat





Stool pigeon

The only one that isn’t completely awful is canary, which will probably make you laugh. Remember Dad and his stupid songs about my name? Sadie Canary, who’s she gonna marry? Okay, so I’m a canary. I can deal with canary. Better than being a snitch-ass motherfucker.

The Verdict:

I’ve never considered Duane Swierczynski a crime writer.

Sure, all of Swierczynski’s novels typically start off with a crime, but then they veer off into some nutty, conspiracy-laced, high-speed paranoia fest with a touch of weird science fiction thrown in to screw with your head. In fact, the only straight crime novel Swierczynski has written was his second novel, The Wheelman, and even then, the novel was seriously cuckoo banana-pants. And I’m not complaining about any of this, I read Swierczynski for the paranoid nuttiness and genre defying plot lines, but he’s by no means a crime writer.

But then Swierczynski’s latest, Canary, hit my desk.

I read the synopsis, and I thought to myself: Okay, there’s got to be a catch. I mean, come on, it’s just about a sweet college girl in the wrong place at the wrong time who gets turned into a drug informant by the cops because she doesn’t want to rat out a boy she’s got a crush on, or go to jail? Where’s the hook? Where’s the angle? Where’s the part where the girl has to travel back in time to the date her crush’s parents meet and fall in love so she can ruin their union so the boy will never be born, thus ensuring she’ll never get caught with his stash of Oxy’s? But then I figured the science-fiction-y, secret shadow government thing must be a hidden plot point, something tucked away to jolt the reader.

But, nope, then I started reading, and I discovered Canary was just a crime novel. A straight forward, breakneck paced, utterly believable (except for one minor point, which concerns our heroine, Sarie Holland. I kind of found it hard to believe that Sarie wouldn’t flip on her crush the minute the cop—Ben Wildey—found his drugs in her car. I mean, Sarie is the epitome of a driven college student, so why ruin her future on someone she barely knows? But, I get it, there wouldn’t be much of a novel if she did this, so I digress.) crime novel, and it’s one hell of a crime novel.

Canary contains the usual Swierczynski traits: Well-rounded, complex characters, balls-to-the-wall action scenes, and, yes, it does contain a bit of conspiracy, but it’s the kind of collusion that you can actually believe is happening in the vast underworld of the drug dealers and cartels. Those of you who read Swierczynski for the off-the-wall plot points, you’re going to be a bit disappointed. But, for the folks who’ve maybe balked at when they’ve read synopses that involve secret agents having their heads exploded, or a schluby nobody being imprisoned in space because he knows too much about a shadowy Illuminati-esque organization, Canary is going to be the perfect stepping off point.

For the rest of us who like all of Swierczynski’s crazy shit, there’s still plenty of strangeness. Plus, I get the feeling that Canary is only book one in what I’m sure is going to end up being a Sarie Holland trilogy, so I bet Swierczynski is going to serve up some unconventional twists and turns in the near future.

About the author

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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