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Buy *Canary* by Duane Swierczynskionline

Duane Swierczynski
Mulholland Books
400 pages
February 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This story has a novel premise: an innocent college honors student arrested for drug possession and forced to become a confidential informant (CI) for Philadelphia Narcotics Field Unit Central South, but failing to conform to the expectations of her handlers. For reasons of her own, nineteen-year-old Sarafina Holland resists the unrelenting pressure applied by Ben Wildey, the detective who hopes to make her one of his current string of CIs. Sarie grows weary of Wildey’s texts on the burner phone he supplies, his constant demands for more, rewriting the script along the way to better suit her needs. It’s a tricky situation for a novice about to become part of a violent drug culture, especially when the NFUC-CS’s other CIs begin to turn up as dead bodies.

It’s a common police practice to turn low-level arrests into opportunities to land bigger fish, but Sarie’s refusal to supply the name of the boy she unwittingly drives to a known drug house sets in motion an event that puts the protagonist at the proverbial wrong place/wrong time. But it is her stubbornness in responding to Wildey’s unrelenting pressure that escalates the jeopardy she faces. Naïve in the extreme about the extent of drug trafficking that thrives not only on the streets of Philly but on her college campus, it is somewhat illogical that this girl would refuse to name a suspect who is not even her boyfriend--a suspect that escapes with her help, leaving his cache of drugs in Sarie’s car. Her choices continue to be shaped by the particular absence of logic she applies in dealing with this crisis on the eve of Thanksgiving. It’s better to engage in a violent drug culture, putting her future, her freedom and maybe even her life at risk for a young man she hardly knows?

Such is the nature of this unusual protagonist, a girl who has lost her mother a year earlier to a brain tumor, whose father is waging a losing battle with alcoholism, and whose younger brother idolizes her but keeps a careful eye on her suddenly unpredictable comings and goings. Sarie is used to keeping her own counsel, avoiding drugs and drinking, attending the pre-holiday party where she finds herself vaguely affected by a sip of beer and the smoke from a bong, sitting next to the attractive boy she secretly has a crush on, the one she calls “D.” because she doesn’t know his name. His request for a ride to his friend’s house to pick something up is a no-brainer, her reluctance later to divulge his identity buried deeper in her subconscious, save a resistance to deal with one more demand on her young and painful life.

In a narrative that segues from Sarie’s letters to her dead mother about her recent dilemma to the texts between CI-137 and Wildey, the unfolding of Wildey’s association with his lieutenant, Kaz Mahoney, and growing suspicion of a rat in the squad, and the activities of a family that never quite understands what is happening to an honors student suddenly behaving differently, the author paints a picture of modern life in the age of drugs, where the innocence of a college student can be corrupted by a random chain of events and an encounter with law enforcement. As the simple act of buying drugs and setting up a bust grows more complicated and her handlers demand riskier meetings with dangerous men, Sarie not only depends on D. to help her navigate this unfamiliar territory but begins to suspect there is no safety for a CI, no real assistance from authorities when facing a dealer with a gun. Sarie stumbles from one violent situation to another, getting deeper into an unpredictable, deadly world, her youth forever relinquished the night an eager narcotics cop pulls her over to make a bust. This honors girl is smarter than most of those she is forced to trust to keep her safe, with only her wits to keep her alive--and a few tricks up her sleeve.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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